Orroral Valley Tracking Station, ACT



The Orroral Valley Tracking Station
was established as a member of the STADAN – the Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network as Station 21.

Orroral’s Philip Clark provides a compact history, by timeline, of the Station.

(Illustrations, and some minor additions by Colin Mackellar. More to be added.)


1963 – Survey and site works begin.

1964 – Building construction begins.

1965 – Equipment installation starts while building construction is completed.


Orroral Valley

This photo from the Tidbinbilla archives shows DAF (Data Acquisition Facility – i.e. Orroral Valley) roadworks, 2nd March 1965.

Orroral Valley

August 1965, cabling is run throughout the Operations Building by a team from Collins Radio as equipment is unloaded outside. Australian Collins team member Ken Clay is in the white overalls.


Late 1965 – Limited tracking operations started while equipment installation completed.

24 February 1966 – Official opening ceremony.

Orroral Valley

Opening ceremony page.


1966 – Full tracking operations underway. Orroral has 3 transmitting antennas and 4 receiving antennas. It has 4 telemetry receiving and tracking systems.

1966 – Minitrack system moved from Woomera to Orroral. Minitrack begins tracking from Orroral in late 1966. Orroral now has 3 transmitting systems and 5 receiving/tracking systems.

Orroral Valley

The Minitrack antenna is installed in freezing weather.

Photo via Philip Clark.

Orroral Valley

A view of part of the Minitrack antenna field.

This print preserved by Kevyn Westbrook. With thanks to John Westbrook. Scan by Colin Mackellar.

Orroral Valley

Inside the Minitrack Operations Area, Ted Peppercorn stands at left and George Riddell sits at the receiver control console.

This print preserved by Kevyn Westbrook. With thanks to John Westbrook. Scan by Colin Mackellar.


1966 – Full tracking operations with between 30 and sometimes up to more than 70 tracks (passes) per day. The first fully versatile digital computer is installed for support of the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory project. During 1967 Orroral tracks Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT, launched from Woomera in South Australia.


RF Tests

WRESAT was shipped from Salisbury, Adelaide, to Orroral Valley for RF compatibilty tests.

Photo: Clive Broomfield.


1968 – The access roads to Orroral are flooded on several occasions but tracking operations continue without interruption.

Orroral Valley

Transitting Rocky Crossing using the cherry picker in February 1971.

Photo: Jim Thompson. Scan: Clive Broomfield. From this page.


1974 – The access roads to Orroral are flooded on several occasions but tracking operations continue without interruption. In August there is one occasion of very severe flooding. After the station had been isolated for about 3 days supplies are running out. Relief is arranged by the use of RAAF helicopters. New staff and supplies are flown in and the staff are flown out. Orroral continued tracking throughout the flood period. Orroral staff levels reach over 200. Orroral is the largest tracking station outside of the United States. Construction of extensions to the operations building to support manned space flight. Another antenna is added to Orroral – a 9 metre dish for both transmitting and receiving. Orroral now has 4 transmitting systems and 6 receiving/tracking systems.


Orroral Valley

The 9 metre antenna installed to support the Apolo-Soyuz Test Project with the original 26 meter antenna in the background. Photo: Philip Clark.


1975 – Orroral tracks the Apollo-Soyuz joint USSR-United States mission. A laser tracking system is constructed near the Minitrack site. Orroral can now track up to 7 spacecraft at once. Orroral has taken over tracking of manned spacecraft from Honeysuckle Creek tracking station.

Orroral Valley

The laser system installed near the Minitrack site. 1983 photo: Philip Clark.


1975 – The Island Lagoon Baker Nunn tracking camera was also brought to Orroral.

Late 1976 – A major upgrade is made to Orroral’s 26 metre antenna. It can now additionally receive the S-Band radio frequencies and track manned spacecraft. Orroral takes over tracking the scientific packages left on the Moon (ALSEP)


Orroral Valley

S-Band upgrade for the Orroral 26 metre antenna.

Photo: Philip Clark.


1977 – The operations room is remodelled and new equipment installed for the Digital Data Processing System (DDPS) to improve tracking operations and data flow back to control centres in the United States.

30 September 1977 – Orrroral switches off the experiment packages left on the Moon (ALSEP).

1977 – Two antennas are installed to track radio signals from the planet Jupiter.

1981 – Orroral tracks the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle. John Young and Bob Crippen are on board the ‘Columbia’. Later in the year the astronauts visit Orroral and present awards. Another antenna is installed – a 6 metre dish S-Band command antenna. Orroral can now command up to 5 spacecraft and track up to 7 spacecraft at once.

1982 – Orroral is surrounded by bushfires. Firefighting helicopters and trucks use the station as a base. Tracking staff travel to the station on specially protected roads.


Orroral Valley

Bushfires threaten Orroral Valley, 1982.

Photo courtesy Philip Clark and Rob Quick.

Orroral Valley

Firefighting operations, Orroral Valley 1982.

Photo courtesy Philip Clark and Rob Quick.


1983 – Staff from Orroral carry out the first official amateur radio experiment with the space shuttle during the STS-9 flight. They connect the space shuttle back to Houston with using any NASA systems.


Orroral Valley

Antennas are set up on the roof of Deakin Telephone Exchange.

Photo: Philip Clark.

Orroral Valley

VK1ORR’s equipment in the Deakin Telephone Exchange.

Photo: Philip Clark.


1984 – Orroral’s last space shuttle track is STS-14 launched 8 November. Orroral’s last tracking operation is on 21 December.

31 January 1985 – the station is officially closed. There is no ceremony, saddened staff simply walk away. Equipment dismantling and removal is done.


1986 – Although there had been proposals to preserve some of the site and equipment, nothing is done to preserve anything on site. Before the station closed, the 26 metre antenna was given to the University of Tasmania where it is still in use for radio astronomy and has more recently been used for space tracking support. The Baker-Nunn camera was donated to the University of Wollongong.

1987The Canberra Times documents severe vandalism at Orroral.

1992 – The damage from vandalism is so severe that the site is bulldozed. Only some foundations are left to mark the places of the buildings and structures of what was once the largest tracking station in the world outside of the United States.