Keith Brockelsby – Tidbinbilla

1932 – 2023


A tribute by John Heath

John Lovering

Keith Brockelsby
Tidbinbilla Tracking Station, 1968.


Keith Brockelsby was a likeable, competent and respected engineer. He was born in New Zealand but spent most of his working life in Australia and later in Canada.

I first met Keith in mid 1963 when I joined a Company called SpaceTrack Pty Ltd in Adelaide.

SpaceTrack was a consortium of three British Companies – Hawker Siddeley, Elliot Brothers and Associated Electrical Industries, that had just won the contract to operate and maintain a US space tracking station that was going to be built at Tidbinbilla, near Canberra. At the time the three Companies had large technical teams at Woomera undertaking missile tests and these provided a ready source of expertise to staff the new tracking station. Keith, who had been working on a missile system called Seaslug, had joined the Tidbinbilla team a few weeks before I did.


Keith Brockelsby

On 7th August 1963, Keith Brockelsby (right) and Jeff Newnham conduct test at the proposed Tidbinbilla site, to see how much interference might be received at the site from transmitters in Canberra.

With thanks to Jeff Newnham for the photo.


The systems at the tracking station were broadly grouped into two categories – the RF Systems and the Data Handling Systems. The RF systems comprised the transmitter, microwave and receiver subsystems and each was assigned an engineer. Keith was responsible for the Receiver Subsystem, the Microwave Subsystems were my responsibility and the RF Section Leader Alan Lum, our boss, was responsible for the Transmitter Subsystem.

In early 1964 Keith spent approximately six months learning about the subsystem at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the tracking station had been designed, and at Goldstone in the Mojave Desert, where the US had built the prototype tracking station and where the equipment destined for Tidbinbilla was rigorously tested before shipment to Australia.

On returning to Australia Keith was actively involved in the installation and testing of the receivers at Tidbinbilla and in February 1965, he and the other engineers, technicians and operators anxiously performed the station’s first official track of Mariner IV.

At that time time the transmitter and the travelling wave maser, which were critical for successfully tracking the spacecraft, were experiencing problems, which were to result in Keith becoming the RF Section leader and me taking on the responsibility for the transmitter following the resignation of our boss.

In 1968 Keith left the station to take a position in the SpaceTrack Head Office in Canberra but returned to Tidbinbilla about a year later to be the Chief Engineer.

Despite the exciting work at Tidbinbilla and the exposure to cutting edge communications technology and engineering, all of which had been developed by the USA, Keith decided he wanted to pursue a more ‘hands-on’ engineering career. So in 1970 he decided on a complete career change and he left Tidbinbilla to commence working on the development of electronic identification systems. These were systems that used coded tags attached to individual items such as animals, shipping containers etc. to precisely track them. This work took him to Edmonton, Canada where he remained until 1995, when he retired and returned to his native New Zealand.

In retirement, he maintained a keen interest in space related matters and I was delighted when he attended our Apollo 11 50th Anniversary celebrations in July 2019 and I was to meet up with him after 51 years! This photo, which was taken at the 50th Anniversary celebration, is of four of the original Tidbinbilla Engineering team that was formed in mid 1963 – Keith Brockelsby (Receiver Engineer), Clive Jones (Facilities Engineer), Jeff Newnham (Instrumentation Engineer), and John Heath (Microwave Engineer).



Four of the original Tidbinbilla engineering team that was assembled in mid 1963.

L to R – Keith Brockelsby, Receiver Engineer; Clive Jones, Facilities Engineer; Jeff Newnham. Analogue Instrumentation Engineer; and John Heath, Microwave Engineer. (The positions of the four were those they held in 1963).

Photo by Bruce Window at the Apollo 11 50th luncheon, Southern Cross Club, Woden, 21 July 2019.



Additional notes by Colin Mackellar:

Keith obtained his Batchelor of Electrical Engineering from the University of Auckland in 1954. Also while at university he met Lynette and they were married in Hastings in 1954. After a stint with the NZ Civil Aviation Administration, and then the New Plymouth City Electricity Department, in 1958 Keith was offered a position at Salisbury, South Australia. This work involved development and testing of the Seaslug surface-to-air missile at Woomera.

In 1961-62, Keith spent a year at Mawson Base in the Antractic as an Ionospheric Physicist with the Australian Antarctic Research Expedition.

After that service, he was honoured by having an Antarctic mountain (Mount Brockelsby) named for him.


Keith Brockelsby

Keith Brockelsby on the ice, 1961. Photo: Brockelsby family.

Keith Brockelsby

Keith Brockelsby at Mawson, 1961. Photo: Brockelsby family.


From 1963, as outlined by John Heath, Keith joined the pioneering Tidbinbilla team.

After a time with SpaceTrack, and another stint at Tidbinbilla, in 1971 Keith applied his experience to tracking of crocodiles using radio technology, through the University of Sydney’s School of Physics.


Keith Brockelsby

Keith with radio tracking equipment.

Photo: Brockelsby family.


This work led to the development of related technology eventuating in almost two decades in Edmonton, Canada. There, Keith formed several private companies involved with the electronic tracking of trains and also in the tracking of stolen cars.

During his time in Edmonton, Keith was active as technical advisor for a local radio observatory, including their SETI efforts.

Back in New Zealand from 1995, Keith continued research into voice biometrics.

Original members of the Tidbinbilla team were delighted to welcome Keith back to Canberra for the Apollo 11 50th anniversary celebrations in July 2019.


Keith Brockelsby

Keith Brockelsby with son Mark (left) and grandson Conor in front of DSS46, the old Honeysuckle antenna, at Tidbinbilla, 20th July 2019.

Photo: Iain Schwilk.

Keith Brockelsby

Tidbinbilla Originals Jeff Newnham, Keith Brockelsby, Bruce Window and John Heath catch up at the Apollo 11 50th celebrations in Canberra, 21st July 2019.

On the table is a box of copies of “DSS42 – Tidbinbilla’s forgotten role in the Apollo Program”.

Photo: Louise M.