Diorama - Cooby Creek Space Tracking Station
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The Cooby Creek Space Tracking Station was a joint Australian and American (NASA) facility which operated from 1966 to 1970. It was NASA’s sixth facility to be established in Australia. The station was equipped with technology to send, receive and record voice, high-speed data, teletype and colour TV signals. Its purpose was to track Applications Technology Satellites (ATS) and take part in a series of experiments designed to improve satellite flight control, technology in communication, meteorology and navigation.
The following is a description of the Cooby Creek tracking station supplied by the Department of Supply in 1966:
Why Cooby Creek?
The present site at Toowoomba was chosen because it is in a comparatively ‘silent’ environment where there is minimum radio interference.
ATS Cooby Creek – Its purpose
The ATS programme will involve the station in experiments in communications at both microwave and very high frequencies, satellite control and stabilisation, meteorology, navigation and propagation of radio waves through the earth’s atmosphere. The Cooby Creek station is one of three ground stations. The other two stations, which are permanent installations, are located in California and North Carolina in USA. The first of five satellites in the ATS programme scheduled for launch late 1966 will be aboard an Atlas-Agena rocket. The maximum height of the satellite with which the ATS station will be in communication is in the order of 24,000 miles (38,624km) above the earth.
Looking towards the main antenna from the entrance, the tower on the left has been provided to obtain standard timing signals emanating from the United States. The vans on the left are in the main, office vans and messing facilities. The large 40 foot [12.12m] parabolic antenna is controlled from a complex of three trailers which contain electronic equipment capable of measuring the range, rate of movement and angular position of the satellite. Measurements can also be carried out on the quality of the communication signal and the information it contains; the results are recorded and processed using a digital computer and are finally transmitted over teletype system direct to the control centre in America. There is another single van just to the right of this complex which contains electronic equipment associated with a smaller antenna for receiving telemetry information and transmitting commands to the satellite. This equipment has its own receiving, display and recording equipment to monitor the status of the satellite and a transmitter by which means coded commands may be sent to the satellite to change its state of operation. The trailers immediately in front of these are, from left to right: communications centre, test equipment workshop trailer, two storage trailers and two power generation trailers. The latter two contain four turbo generators which supply sufficient 60 cycle power for driving the antenna and the electronic equipment. The shelter to the right of these vans contain a 60 cycle diesel generator for emergency use. Fuel is supplied from the large tanks to the right of the vans. Across the Cooby Creek reservoir you may notice a tower located on the top of Mt Moor. This tower is used for collimation purposes, that is, the means by which the antenna can be accurately aligned. The main antenna is capable of tracking the ATS satellites with an accuracy of fifteen thousandths of a degree.
Staffing the station
The station is operational for about 16 hours per day with a small maintenance shift on site for the remaining 8 hours. The Contractor’s staff consists of the Senior Representative, four engineers, nine supervising technicians, 57 technicians and about 30 supporting staff, a total of 101. The Station Director and his Deputy are officers of the Department of Supply. There are also several American evaluation engineers and some Australian evaluation engineers (system analysts) from other agencies with an interest in the activities of the station.
The agencies and their particular interest in the activities of the station are as follows:
1. PMG Department – Satellite communication technology generally and in particular its use as a means of providing long distance communications with remote localities in Australia.
2. Department of Civil Aviation – Long range aircraft communications for control using VHF.
3. Department of Supply – Assessment of advanced communications technology.
The ATS project has been designed as a multi-faceted attack on the problem of deriving practical advantages from space exploration and technology. A major part of the programme will be concerned with the use of satellites for high quality video, voice and data transmission, and applications to be investigated include, for example, long range communication with aircraft, multi-access experiments for telephony and data, TV and radio relays, and high speed transmission of weather information.