DSIF 51 – The Beginning
What is now the SARAO Hartebeesthoek site was originally built in 1961 by NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the USA, as a tracking station for its probes that were being sent to explore space beyond Earth orbit. It was also known as the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility (DSIF).
The facility was actually operated by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on behalf of NASA, until its closure in 1974. It became a radio astronomy observatory, operating under first the CSIR, then the Foundation for Research Development (FRD), which became the National Research Foundation (NRF) in 1999.
Construction of the Johannesburg station began in January 1961 and it became operational in July 1961, supporting Ranger 1 pre-launch tests (NASA SP-4012 V2 p 573). A photographer named Roelie van Wyk was employed to record progress, and he was caught in action above. In August 2008 Roelie visited the station and presented us with the photo shown, taken 48 years previously. He is the person hanging from the crane.
The official opening of the station in 1961 is shown above. The antenna was originally built with an aluminium mesh surface, and operated at a frequency of 960 MHz, i.e. a wavelength of about 30 cm. The lightweight mesh surface was quite transparent optically.
The original stations in the Deep Space Network are shown above – the three original 85′ antennas were DSIF 11 at Goldstone, California, United States (retired 1981 to become a museum exhibit), DSIF 41 at Island Lagoon, Woomera, Australia (decomissioned and demolished in 1972) and DSIF 51 at Hartebeesthoek, near Johannesburg, South Africa (decommissioned and transformed into a radio telescope operated by the South African CSIR in 1974).
DSS 51 – The End
The engineering and technical staff just before the closing of DSS 51 in June 1974. George Nicolson, the future Director of DSS 51 transformed into its next incarnation as the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, appears in a black blazer immediately below the north ladder of the telescope.
Beryl and Roy Coetzee have provided this list of names of the staff in the photograph:
Back row, left to right –
John Dinham, Obie Oberholzer, G.I. Fourie, Keith Jones, Mr Miller, Willem de Lange, Kobie van Zyl, Les Field, Joe Pheiffer, Mike Ainley, Gunther Krantz, George Nicolson, Bill Grieves, Harry Bryant, Peet Carstens, Jeff Glennister, Andre de Wet, Louis Alberts, Tommy Llewellyn, Hennie Roesch, Garth Alexander, Howard Jarman, Jannie Duvenage, Peter Jardine.
Front row, left to right :
Jimmy Archbold, Gibby Gray, Hennie Pieterse, Hennie Naude, ? (store’s assistant), Tony Eyre, Gina Jacobs, Colin Kroesen, Martin van Rijswijk, Paul Jordaan, Paul Michelow, Nick van Rensburg, Pete Longmore, with Pieter Bosch, Terry Button and an unidentified student in front.
Information on the Deep Space Network
For more information, see:
- “A History of the Deep Space Network” (pdf) by William R. Corliss, May 1976
- History of the Deep Space Network at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website
- “Uplink-Downlink – A History of the Deep Space Network 1957 – 1997” (pdf) by Douglas J. Mudgway
- JPL’s DESCANSO book series provide much technical background on NASA’s Deep Space network, e.g.:
- “Large Antennas of the Deep Space Network” by William A. Imbriale
- “Low-Noise Systems in the Deep Space Network” edited by MacGregor S. Reid.
- “SP-4012 NASA Historical data book: Volume II Programs and Projects 1958-1968” pp564-596 (pdf) covers the Deep Space Network and provides a chronology
- “SP-4012 NASA Historical data book: Volume III Programs and Projects 1969-1978” Chapter Six Tracking and Data Acquisition.
NASA’s other tracking station at Hartebeesthoek – Minitrack / STADAN / STADN
The function of DSS51 was primarily tracking spacecraft going beyond Earth orbit. But NASA also needed to track unmanned spacecraft in Earth orbit. A Minitrack station was established at Esselen Park between Johannesburg and Pretoria in 1958, but owing to increasing man-made radio interference it was moved in 1960 to a site at Hartebeesthoek, on the hill above what was to become DSS51. This expanded to become a Space Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN) station and it became operational in this form in June 1961, with station code BUR. It was also operated by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of South Africa for NASA. Its largest antenna was 40′ (12m) in diameter. STADAN was incorporated with the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) in May 1971 to form the Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network (STDN). The station at Hartebeesthoek was also decommissioned by NASA in the 1970’s, after completion of the near-Earth phase of the Viking Mars mission. It then became the Satellite Application Centre of the CSIR. On 1 April 2011 this facility became the Space Operations Directorate of the newly formed South African National Space Agency (SANSA, phone +27 12 334 5000). The two stations (HartRAO and SANSA) are adjacent at Hartebeesthoek with a common entrance from the R400 Broederstroom road and are often confused.
For more information see:
- “Read you loud and clear! The story of NASA’s Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network”, by Sunny Tsiao, 2007, NASA SP-2007-4232 / SP-2007-4233 provides a 481 page history from a recent prespective
- Vanguard – A History – Chapter 9 The Tracking Systems” by Constance McLaughlin Green and Milton Lomask, 1970, NASA SP-4202
Last Updated on March 28, 2023