DRTE AND CANADA'S LEAP INTO SPACE: THE EARLY CANADIAN SATELLITE PROGRAM
While the Alouette satellites brought Canada into the space business, an area of obvious interest to DND, the program's resounding success also caused the demise, ultimately, of DRTE. To this day, the whole story of the space program and its impact on DRTE, DRB, and DND is not entirely clear. It is, however, worth tracing the beginnings and early history of DRTE's involvement in the space program, because much of DREO's modern electronics-related work (and its three Electronics Divisions) have roots in this program.
Thc roots of what was to become DRTE were in the ionospheric sounding activities carried on by the Canadian Armed Forces and NRC during WW II, and sounding of the ionosphere to understand better thc relationship between that region of thc exosphere and long distance radio communications was a major activity of the Radio Physics and later the Communications Laboratories. Dr. Eldon Warren, head of thc section involved in the "bottomside" sounding also carried out a series of imaginative "oblique incidence" soundings, over circuits in Canada, and in the late 1950's across the Atlantic. There was a large international community also involved in ionospheric research, as HF propagation (via thc ionosphere in this era before artificial satellites) was the main method of long distance communications, other than land lines or microwave relay. (Just to round out the picture, DRTE was also at the forefront of meteor burst communications research and of some aspects of VLF/LF communications.)
With this scientific background, it was natural that the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the USSR caused Dr. Warren to realize the implications for long distance HF communications of being able to sound the ionosphere from above (topsidc sounding) from a satellite. The origin of the idea is not clear: it appears to be been current in discussions in many places; within DRTE among Dr. Warren, Dr. C. Hines, Dr. Chapman, Dr. Paghis, and others, and at about the same time was being discussed by Dr. P.A. Forsytb, then at Saskatoon. However, it was Dr. Warren who picked up thc concept and put forth the daring proposal that DRTE should build a topside-sounder satellite; not a simple sounder operating on one or two frequencies, but a swept-frequency topside sounder that duplicated in a satellite the sounders then used in ionospheric sounding stations on the ground.
Conditions were right for such a proposal. DRTE had a first-rate Electronics Laboratory that had proven its capabilities in the "Velvet Glove" project and development of data-processing equipment for the Mid-Canada Radar Line, and had a considerable team working on transistors and other electronic devices. Young EL scientists and engineers, such as Dr. Colin Franklin. Dr. M.A. MacLean, Dr. John Mar, and their supervisors, Mr. Keith Brown and Dr. Langille saw the proposal to build a satellite as just the major challenge they needed, and picked up the idea with enthusiasm. Dr. Warren had complete and unshakeable faith that the Electronics Laboratory was the best in the world and could build one of the most complex satellites ever built at the time. To their credit, the new Chief Superintendent Mr. J.C.W. Scott, and Mr. F.T. Davies who had become the Assistant Chief Scientist at DRB HQ, also supported thc further exploration of thc concept
There was, however, one major problem: launch. Canada had no launch facilities nor any programs to develop such facilities, and this portion of putting a satellite into space required cooperation from the Americans. At that time, the US was scrambling hard to develop a reliable launch vehicle. As soon as the Canadian concept had been generally fleshed out, Dr. Warren and Mr. Scott went to the Pentagon to try to arrange for a joint topside-sounding project with the US Department of Defense (DoD).
It is said that they were greeted at DoD by a big Texan USAF Colonel who listened attentively, Cowboy boots on his desk and smoking a large cigar, as these boys from the far north explained their proposal. When they had finished, he put his feet down, snuffed out his cigar and said "Sure we'll launch it for you. But there's a new agency just starting up - called NASA - who are supposed to do international space research projects. Probably won't amount to anything but you'd better go and see them first. But if they aren't interested, y'all come right back and we'll look after you."
Mr. Scott and Dr. Warren went along to NASA.
NASA officials listened to the Canadian proposal with more than a little skepticism. They were convinced that the power and antenna problems involved, and the sheer technical complexity of building this first Space-Based Radar (and a sweep frequency one, as well) was beyond the capability of the western world at that time. International science was a definite plus for the fledgling NASA, however, so they agreed to invite DRTE to join their Topsidc-Sounder Working Group, and that they would launch thc Canadian satellite. They sent the proposal along to the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory (CRPL), at Boulder, Colorado, to examine it for scientific merit and engineering feasibility. The CRPL agreed with the NASA view that the proposal was too ambitious, so their report recommended a fixed-frequency experiment as a first-generation Topside Sounder, and that DRTE "be encouraged to develop its swept-frequency system as a second-generation experiment."
Thc rest, we can say, is history: the CRPL/NASA fixed-frequency satellite (S-48)* suffered delays, the Canadian S-27 kept more or less to its schedule; S-48 suffered more delays, S-27 was launched on 29 Sept. 1962, to become Alouette I; a complete success and an engineering and scientific coup. NASA admitted publicly afterward that it was one of the most complex satellites ever built at that time, and that both they and CRPL had been so convinced that it could not possibly function for more than an hour or two in space, if at all, that they had made no plan to use the data from it. In fact, Alouette I continued to function and provided a wealth of data for about 7 years before it was turned off from the ground It was turned on again briefly, during its lOth Anniversary celebrations, and found to be still operational.
The success of Alouette I resulted in the joint US/Canada/UK Alouette/ISIS program, and demonstrated to all including Canadian officials and politicians that Canada was in the high-tech space business. An excellent account of the Alouette ISIS Program is to be found in two publications by Mr. J.E. Jackson**. Mr. Jackson was Chairman of the Topside-Sounder Working Group, and has given a generous and comprehensive account of the Alouette ISIS Program.
The total cost of Alouette I was estimated to have been about $3M, not a modest sum in the late '50s and early'605. It drained resources from other projects at DRTE, and many scientists not involved in the project were somewhat bitter about their perception of the impact of this high-profile venture on their quieter, less spectacular fundamental-research activities.
This satellite program had another major impact upon DRTE, DRB, and DND. The success of Alouette/ISIS led directly to the creation of the Department of Communications (DOC), and the transfer of DRTE in 1969 to the new DOC to become the Communications Research Centre (CRC).
With Alouette I a complete success, the equally successful performance of the modified Alouette II, and with work well under way at DRTE and in Canadian industry on thc next satellite to be developed, ISIS-A, the stage was set for consideration of some fundamental issues with respect to Canada and Space Activities. Early in the 1960'5 Dr. Chapman had become Deputy Chief Superintendent of DRTE, had become deeply involved in the Alouette/ISIS program and was a well known figure in NASA and Ottawa for his promotion of Canadian Space activities. Accordingly, in May 1966, the Science Secretariat of the Privy Council office, commissioned Dr. Chapman to chair a study of upper-atmosphere and science programs in Canada and to examine the scientific, technological, economic and social benefits from space science. The other members of the commission were Dr. Forsyth, University of Western Ontario, Mr. P.A. Lapp, DeHavilland Aircraft of Canada and Dr. G.N. Patterson, University of Toronto. Their report to the Science Council of Canada and became known as the Chapman Report*. In it, and in the Science Council report "A Space Program for Canada**, the case was made for a Canadian Space Program, to concentrate on satellite communications, Canadian industrial development, cooperation with other countries, and the establishment of a central co-ordinating and contracting agency for space research and development, to oversee and manage the Canadian space effort.
In typical Canadian fashion, the government accepted thc general premise of the report, but did something quite different; it established a new Department of Communications and a Crown Corporation, Telesat Canada. It gave DOC responsibility for the existing Alouette/ISIS program, and to support Telesat Canada with background research and development. It also transferred DRTE, its staff, buildings, resources, and programs to the new Department. to become its research branch, CRC. It insisted that Defence R&D in Communications and other areas then current at DRTE should be continued by CRC for DRB so that facilities and resources lost by DND would not have to be re-acquired
The transfer took place formally on 1 January 1969 under a "transfer agreement" covered by an exchange of letters between Mr. E. Kierans and Mr. Cadieu, the Ministers responsible for Communications and for Defence. DRTE ceased to exist, and the transfer agreement became thc governing document whereby defence R&D was carried out at CRC for DND.
DRTE had a short, illustrious life. During those 17 years it established itself as one of the foremost research establishments on the continent, on a par with any in the world. This brief historical sketch does not attempt to do justice to the multitude of scientific and engineering achievements that came from the Establishment That is another story. However the main legacy of the DRTE was not in the research and development that it carried out; it was in the dedication - almost obsession-- to excellence that DRTE instilled in its member scientists and engineers. As a young scientist in DRTE during the last dozen years of its existence, I can attest (without the embarrassment of claiming any credit for it) to the scientific and professional rigour that was forced upon one by the "atmosphere" of the place. The supervisors, from Section head to Chief Superintendent exuded a confidence that DRTE could do anything (scientific) it set out to do, do it better and more successfully than any other organization, and that if you wanted to be part of this team you had better be certain that your science was impeccable, that your approach left no avenue unexplored, and that you knew your specialty "inside-out'. If you did not measure up, you were torn to ribbons when you presented your science to your peers and supervisors. In other words, it was taken for granted that competence and excellence were mandatory and nothing less would be tolerated.
I believe that this legacy, instilled almost unconsciously by the management of the Establishment, was a rare gem, and that it is the reason why most ex-DRTE staff remember the Establishment with such fondness and dedication. I salute the great scientists of DRTE who were able to make it happen.
G.L. Nelms, Sept 1991.
* 'Upper atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada" Science Secretariat Special Study No. 1, Queens Printer, Feb. 1967.
** "A Space Program for Canada" Science Council of Canada Report No 1, Queen's Printer, 1967.
*** The S-48 was eventually launched two years later to become Explorer 20 (25 Aug 1964).
**** "Alouette/ISIS Program Summary", National Space Science Data Center Publication No. 86-09, August 1986; and "Results from Alouette I, Explorer 20, Alouette 2, Explorer 31", National Space Science Data Centre Publication No. 88-10, July, 1988; both by J.E. Jackson, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. USA.
Source: The 50th Anniversary Edition of the History for Defence Research Establishment Ottawa, compiles and edited by Jim Norman and Rita Crow, 1991.