NASA TRACKING STATIONS
From Murray Weingarten, Chairman and President of BFEC at the time.------------------------------------------------------------------------
"From a Letter of Transmission, from Rep. Ken Heckler, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aeronautics and Space Technology, to the Honorable Olin E. Teague, Chairman, Committee on Science and Astronautics, House of Representatives, dated September 26, 1974. The report speaks of an "extensive staff analysis, several on-site studies of tracking stations, and two days of public hearings on October 24, 1973 and January 29, 1974". Larry Jochen and I participated in the January hearing. Of interest to BFEC was the following:
"....The people working in the program--both government and contractors--are doing an excellent job and are to be commended for their contributions to the success of the U.S. space program. One committee member stated it very well: "They are the unsung heroes of the space program."
I thought some of our people may be interested in what they accomplished almost 27 years ago.
"I salute--from my space helmet--the Range Rats, the unsung heroes of the space race to the future."
Dr. Buzz Aldrin, Gemini XII, Apollo XI
The following historical information was taken from area information facts and figures pamphlets given to employees being assigned to tracking stations during the late 60's and other sources and pertains mainly to the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) sites during the Apollo Program. Many thanks to George Spencer who furnished the pamphlets and Tracking Station Designators and Jim MacDonald who furnished numerous Technical Information Bulletins (TIB's) from the era.
A LIST OF NASA GROUND TRACKING STATION DESIGNATORS
ANTIGUA WEST INDIES - ANT **
ANTOFAGASTA, CHILE *
ASCENSION ISLAND - ACN
BERMUDA - BDA
BLOSSON POINT MARYLAND, BPT
BOTSWANA, AFRICA, BOT
BUCKHORN, EDWARD AFB CALIF, BUC
CANARY ISLANDS - CYI
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, CNB
CANTON ISLAND, CTN
CARNARVON, AUSTRALIA - CRO
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - TEX
COSTAL SENTRY, CSQ
DAKAR, SENEGAL, AFRICA, DAK
EAST GRAND FORKS MN, **
EGLIN AFB, FLORIDA - EGL
ELEUTHRA, ELU **
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA, ULA
FORT MYERS ,FLORDIA, YRS
GOLDSTONE APOLLO COMPLEX, CALIFORNIA GDS
GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND - GBM (GGBM)
GRAND TURK ISLAND, GTI
GREENBELT, MARYLAND (GBLT)
GUAM - GWM
GUAYMAS, MEXICO - GYM (GGYM)
HAVANNA, CUBA *
HONEYSUCKLE CREEK, AUSTRALIA - HSK (AHSK)
JOHANNESBURG (JOGURG) SOUTH AFRICA. BUR
KANO NIGERIA, KNO
KAUAI, HAWAII - HAW
LINA PERU ,LIMAPU
MADRID, SPAIN - MAD (LMAD)
MERCURY SHIP, MER
MERRITT ISLAND, FL - MILA
MOJAVE, CALIF, AVE
MUCHEA, AUSTRALIA *
NTTF GREENBELT, ETC
ORRORAL, AUSTRALIA, ORR
POINT ARGUELLO VANDENBER AFB CALIF. *
QUITO, ECUADOR (GQUI)
ROSE KNOT VICTOR SHIP, RKV
ROSMAN NC., ROS
SANTIAGO, CHILE, AGO
SEYCHELLS INDIA OCEAN, ISO
ST JOHNS, NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA, NFL
TANANARIVE, MADAGASCAR (LTAN)
TULA PEAK TUL **
USN VANGUARD SHIP, VAN
WALLOPS ISLAND, WOP
WATERTOWN SHIP, WTN
WHITE SANDS NEW MEXICO, WHS
WINKFIEFD ENGLAND, WNK
WOOMERA, AUSTRALIA *
YARRAGADEE, AUSTRALLA YAR **
ZANZBAR EAST AFRICA, ZZB
* indicates the call sign was not known
** indicates I had a question about the station.
Note from Bill Dickinson:
"A couple of relevant items of trivia come to mind........ The "G", "L", "P" and "A" first letters of the 4-letter call signs arose from which NASCOM switching center hub the site was directly connected to: "G" for Goddard, "L" for London (before it was closed and moved to Madrid), "P" for Pacific (the switching center was actually located in Hawaii), and "A" for Australia. These call signs were in use by the time NASCOM was using a Univac 490 message switching system at GSFC for the main teletype router (by 1965 or so), with Univac 428's (I believe) located at the sub-switching centers initially in London and Hawaii, and then later in downtown Canberra, Australia. The 3-letter call signs (without the sub-switching center prefix) came into being earlier, probably when we were using the Western Electric 83B2 mechanical teletype switching system at GSFC starting sometime in 1961 for all manned flight message traffic."
ANTIGUA - ANG (GANG)
ASCENSION ISLAND - ACN (GACN)
The location for the NASA Dow Hill Tracking Station was selected in early 1966 and construction of the station began shortly thereafter. The site was situated on the southern tip of the island, approximately fourteen miles southeast of St. Johns, the capital city. The site became operational in November of 1967.
The name chosen for the station is that of an adjacent hill which is famous as a site of some 18th century English naval fortifications.
Because of the location relative to Cape Kennedy, the Antigan station served as a vital link in the Manned Space Flight Network. Its primary role was to track the manned spacecraft while in earth orbit and its secondary function was to provide backup to the 85 foot stations during lunar travel.
The principal electronic systems installed at the Dow Hill station were the Unified S-Band, PCM telemetry, Computers, Spacecraft Air to Ground Communications, Time Standard, High Speed Data Systems and a Microwave link to the Air Force Eastern Test Range Station (AFETR). The AFETR Station, located on the northern end of the island relayed data from Dow Hill to the Goddard Space Flight Center.
The site was closed June 30, 1970.
Ascension Island is a British Colonial possession and is located in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 5,160 miles downrange from the launch facility at Cape Kennedy.BERMUDA - BDA (GBDA)
The Devil's Ashpit site was located at an elevation of 1761 feet on the southeastern portion of the island. The Apollo Station and the Deep Space Facility were located there.
The Ascension Island facility supported all phases of the Apollo mission and Deep Space programs. The site was strategically located to provide data on the Apollo spacecraft soon after insertion into earth orbit.
The Unified S-Band facility included a single 30-foot antenna system and the electronic equipment necessary to provide data from two spacecraft links simultaneously. In addition to supplying data soon after insertion into earth orbit, the facility supported long-duration earth orbital missions of the Apollo command module and earth orbital rendezvous tests of the Apollo command module and the Lunar Excursion Module (LM). The station was used for in-flight checkout prior to injection into the lunar transfer orbit and furnished data during the early stages of the lunar flight.
Because of its strategic location, the Ascension Island station was critical in filling gaps existing between the 85-foot antenna facilities which supported the lunar phases of the Apollo mission.
BFEC personnel were housed in barracks (single assignment ) during their tour at Ascension.
The Ascension site closed in the 90's..
Read Roger Lee's personal account of his tour at Ascension Island. "Ascension Island"
CANARY ISLANDS - CYI (LCYI)
Installation of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) station at Bermuda commenced in 1960 and was a dual site in that the control and main body of equipment was located at Coopers Island and all of the spacecraft communications receiving equipment was located at Town Hill, some 6 air miles from Coopers Island. The Town Hill station also included active acquisition aid and receiving antennas installed on separate towers.
Because of its location in relation to Cape Kennedy, the Bermuda station had a dual-purpose role for The MSFN. At the time of launch, the primary mission of the station was to provide trajectory data to the computing facilities at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Computations based on data obtained during the final portion of powered flight was used to confirm the orbital "Go-No Go" decision. Bermuda normally acquired the spacecraft at approximately T + 3 minutes. The station was usually able to supply a minimum of 60 seconds of valid radar data prior to engine cutoff and orbital insertion. For subsequent passes of the spacecraft, Bermuda served as a normal remote tracking station with command capabilities.
Principal electronics systems installed at Bermuda were the FPS-16 and Verlot radar, two active acquisition aids, both narrowband and wideband telemetry, 10 KW command capability, and ground-to-air spacecraft communications equipment. See the Canary Island article (Late Note:) below for the S-Band system history.
Because of its strategic location in relation to both Cape Kennedy and Wallops Island, it was often called upon to support launch missions other than those of the MSFN. Fully half of Bermuda's tracking activity had been concerned with Scout vehicles launched from Wallops Island. Bermuda was one of the last stations to be closed staying in operation into the late 90's.
Also, see "Bermudians at NASA" web site by Bob Burgess.
From Bill Way, Station Manager NASA Tracking Station Bermuda, 9 May 2001.
"As you might know, I'm the last of the BFEC Mohicans at the NASA Bermuda Tracking Station. We're officially closing down at this time, having supported our last Shuttle A/G Mission launch (STS-102) on April 19th, 2001. We will be all buttoned up by the end of this FY on 9/30/01. NASA is, I believe giving up the Tracking Station Agreement (TSA) of 1961 and will be turning the property over to the DOS and maybe the DOD, I don't know. I'm not sure whether the Leased Bases Agreement of 1941 (for 99 years from 1941-2040) will stay in force or will be terminated 39 years early".
CANTON ISLAND, So. PACIFIC
The Canary Islands, a province of Spain, are located off the northwest coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 15 degrees west longitude and 27 degrees north latitude. This is approximately the same latitude as Cape Kennedy. The MSFN site was located on Grand Canary near the sea and about 40 miles south of Las Palmas at the southern tip of the island.
The station was originally built for the Mercury program in 1960 and started support in January 1961. The site was modified in 1964 for the Gemini program and in 1966 a new facility was built approximately 2 miles from the Gemini site for Apollo support. The new facility had the 30 foot antenna and USB system, VHF telemetry and associated equipment.
The Grand Canary station was closed in the mid 70's.
Read Roger Lee's personal account of his years at CYI which were extracted from his autobiography. Contact Roger at his email address to receive more info on his book.
Rogers email address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Read Roger's personal account:
The Canary Island 9 meter S-Band Antenna and equipment was later removed and installed at Madrid, Spain. After the Challenger disaster a Bendix team removed it from Madrid and installed it at Bermuda as a backup to the existing S-Band 9 meter system to eliminate a single point failure. The existing S-Band had a North/South keyhole. The Canary Island/Madrid system was installed with an East/West keyhole to reduce dead spots on 39-42 degree Shuttle launches.
The original Bermuda S-Band (9 meter -1) Antenna was dismantled in late/early fall of 1998 and disposed of in the Bermuda Airport land fill. The 20 KW transmitter was shipped to Goldstone in 1997. The majority of the RF equipment was shipped to Wallops Island in 1998.
The Canary Island/Madrid/Bermuda (9 meter-2) Antenna was dismantled in the fall of 1998 and is stored near it's foundation on the fill above the Operations Building in Bermuda. The 20KW transmitter was shipped to Goldstone in 1997. The majority of the RF equipment was shipped to Wallops Island in 1998.
The antenna dismantling and transport was no easy task as they weighed 75 tons, the roads were narrow and tall cranes with the required lift capability were not readily available.
Many thanks to Ken Sanderson for this information.
Canton Island, a coral atoll, is located approximately 1660 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu. The NASA Manned Space Flight Network Station was located four and one-half miles southeast of the Canton airport terminal in an area used as a fighter strip during World War II.
The site was designated by NASA as Site No. 11. Designed only for telemetry and spacecraft communications, the site had no radar or spacecraft control capability.
Communications was maintained with Mission Control Center by the Goddard teletype and voice loop networks. Communications with PMRF Hawaiian area was maintained over a teletype circuit and by a limited traffic single sideband circuit.
The island was staffed by the Bendix M&O supervisor and approximately 47 BFEC personnel.
Canton Island was closed in late 1967 after more than 6 years supporting Mercury & Gemini as it was decided that it would not be needed for Apollo support.
CARNARVON, AUSTRALIA - CRO (ACRO)
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - TEX (GTEX)
The Texas MSFN Tracking Station was located at Rodd Field near Corpus Christi, TX and was opened in March 1967. The stations administrative offices were located in an old Navy hangar, referred to as the main operations building. In addition to the admin offices, the hangar housed the M&O Console, the Telemetry systems, the Command system, the 1218 Computer, the Comtech Console, and the Ground Communications equipment.EGLIN AFB, Florida - EGL
Located about one mile south of the hangar was the VHF Acquisition Aid equipment. Van mounted Air-to-Ground and Digital Command Transmitter systems were located near the hangar. The Unified S-Band system and power generating equipment were located about one-half mile north of the hangar.
During the Apollo Program, this Texas station acted as a remoted station, remoting telemetry data, tracking information, and voice communications to MCCH in Houston. The station also acted as an uplink facility between the lunar vehicles and the MCCH Control Center.
The station closed in the early 70's.
The Eglin site (EGL) was located at site A-20 on Eglin AFB, FL. The site was operated for NASA by Vitro Services.
The site equipment consisted of an FPS-16 C-Band Tracking Radar, MPQ-31 S-Band Tracking Radar, Acquisition Aid and TTY Communications gear.