Honeysuckle to Canberra to Sydney



The Television pictures of the Apollo 11 Moonwalk were relayed from Honeysuckle Creek to Canberra using a temporary microwave link.

While there was a microwave link (for voice and telemetry) from Honeysuckle Creek to Tidbinbilla via the passive repeater on Deadman’s Hill, there was no capability to send live television out of the station and to the rest of the world. So, for example, during Apollo 8, while live TV from lunar orbit was watched in station, the world saw the TV via Goldstone and Madrid.

 

microwave links

The large dish on the Honeysuckle microwave tower was directed towards the passive repeater on Deadman’s Hill. This provided the link to the Wing (HSKX) at Tidbinbilla.

The smaller dishes added to the tower for Apollo 11 (see below) were directed at the temporary tower next to the road. This tower had a line of site to Williamsdale.
Base: Google Earth.

 

As Apollo 11 approached, NASA planners worked on finding a way to connect Honeysuckle Creek to the Cooma to Canberra microwave radio link. The nearest of those repeater towers was on Gibraltar Hill, 4km east of the hamlet of Williamsdale, approximately 18km east of Honeysuckle Creek.

Honeysuckle was shielded by hills, which also meant that a line of sight link from the station to Williamdale would not be possible. However, a point 170 feet (50 metres) above ground level, and 470 metres ENE of the Honeysuckle microwave tower could see the Williamsdale tower.

The PMG (The Australian Postmaster General’s Department) erected a 170 foot temporary guyed tower, and a passive repeater (two dishes connected by a waveguide) was installed at the top.

 

microwave links

The location of the temporary TV tower is marked on this image derived from Google Earth. It was next to the road, less than a kilometre from the station’s front gate. Signals from Honeysuckle’s microwave tower were beamed through the passive repeater on the temporary tower and on to Williamsdale.


microwave links

The location of the temporary TV tower is still a cleared area. John Saxon inspects it in this March 2009 photo by Betty Saxon.



Four smaller microwave dishes were installed on Honeysuckle’s microwave tower, right next to the Operation Building.

microwave links

Mike Dinn remembers: “Two dishes were for Parkes (via Sydney) incoming – prime and backup. The other pair for outgoing TV, prime and backup.”

Screenshot from ABC footage taken on the morning of the Moonwalk. Used with permission.


microwave links

And another view, taken from the top end of the car park, in the direction of the dish. From ABC footage shot about a week before the landing.


microwave links

Here’s a side view of the dishes – taken from an ABC TV report filmed shortly before the mission. Used with permission.


microwave links

This photo is one of only two we’ve seen of the tower. It was taken by Hamish Lindsay from the water tank in 1969, probably shortly after Apollo 11.

Click image for a larger version, or here for detail.


PMG Senior Technician Trevor Gray was based at Honeysuckle for the Moonwalk, and monitored the outgoing video.

At Williamsdale, 18km away, an Outside Broadcast van belonging to AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia) was station at the base of the Cooma to Canberra microwave tower. The van remained in place, in bitterly cold weather, for the duration of the mission. The Williamsdale microwave tower’s diesel backup power supply was kept running throughout the mission in case the mains power failed. (Bruce Ekert recalls that similar precautions were taken throughout the microwave network which carried Apollo 11 signals.)

Once the TV signal was inserted into the link, it was sent the 27 kilometres to Red Hill in Canberra, where PMG technician Bruce Ekert was monitoring the signal. PMG technician’s assistant Bob McFadden also helped with the link and with the extensive testing beforehand.

microwave links

The Williamsdale microwave tower still stands on a high hill to the east of the hamlet of Williamsdale. Base: Google Earth.

 

From Red Hill the TV could be sent either via microwave link or coaxial cable to Sydney – and from there to Moree and via Intelsat to Houston.

Bruce Ekert

Bruce Ekert, PMG Tech

audio Listen to a 13 minute interview
(4.3MB mp3 file) with PMG Electronics Communications Technician Bruce Ekert.

Bruce helped set up the microwave link from Honeysuckle Creek to Williamsdale to Red Hill. He manned the link at Red Hill during the Moonwalk.



(There’s more to add to this section.)



 

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