The Parkes Radio Telescope


 

During the Apollo Program, Engineers and Technicians from Tidbinbilla regularly spent time at Parkes.

At Parkes for Apollo 12

Part of the team who supported Apollo 12 at Parkes, standing in the shadow of the dish – November 1969.

Bruce Window led a team from Tidbinbilla to support Apollo 12 using the Parkes Radio Telescope. The Tidbinbilla people were all contractors of SpaceTrack Pty Ltd.

Left to Right:

1. Roy Stewart (Engineer in Charge of SpaceTrack staff)
2. Harry Westwood (Recorder/Instrumentation Senior Technician, SpaceTrack P/L)
3. Dennis Gill, CSIRO
4. John Shimmins, CSIRO
5. Peter O’Donahue sitting on Tidbinbilla car bonnet.
6. David Cooke CSIRO
7. Jack Dickinson (RF Senior Technician, SpaceTrack P/L)
8. ?? CSIRO
8. ?? CSIRO
10. ?? CSIRO
11. Dr John Bolton CSIRO, Director of Parkes.

On the left, note the recently-completed concrete ‘jacket’ – added between Apollos 11 and 12 – to strengthen the Parkes structure. During the wind storm which hit as the Apollo 11 EVA began, there had been real fears for the integrity of the 1000 tonne radio telescope.

Photo, scan and names by Bruce Window.

 

As a radio telescope, Parkes is receive-only, lacking a transmitter.

CSIRO agreed, at NASA request, to provide mission support on a number of key occasions during the Apollo Program – this was to provide additional signal level margin, and antenna/tracking redundancy. (In addition, the larger antenna meant a narrower beam-width, which was expected to be a help during the Apollo 13 emergency when both the LM and the SIVB IU were transmitting on the same frequency.)

Parkes used NASA payments to enhance the capabilities of the facility and this happy arrangement has continued to the present day.

During Apollo, Parkes was not always called up because the radio telescope cannot point below an elevation of 30° – thus reducing potential tracking time.

For Apollo 11, a team from the Goddard Space Flight Center (led by Robert Taylor) were stationed at Parkes (assisted by John Crowe, who had worked at Honeysuckle).

At Honeysuckle Creek, Mike Dinn was responsible for co-ordinating Parkes’ telemetry through to Honeysuckle, where it could be used as another source (as was the telemetry from Honeysuckle’s wing at Tidbinbilla).

For later Apollo missions, Manned Space Flight Network personnel from Tidbinbilla, spent considerable periods at Parkes. Keith Aldworth – who was a part of the team at Tidbinbilla – writes,

“When the Apollo missions began, Tidbinbilla’s 64 metre antenna had not been built and as we all know, Parkes Radio Telescope was seconded to NASA for periods of about six weeks around the Apollo missions. At the Parkes site, the equipment necessary for these missions was installed and remained there throughout.

A team of people from Tid was detailed to man the Parkes site. I was not on that team until Apollo 14 and I was nominated to take the place of Mil Perrin, who no longer wished to be away from home for the extended periods necessary. My responsibility there was for telemetry and video recording and the ground communications to Canberra.

During the lead up to missions, the group travelled up to Parkes to prepare and install equipment. We commuted weekly and stayed in either The Coach House Motel or The Park View Motel. At weekends, we went home to Canberra. The two motels had their advantages and disadvantages. The Park View was a little bit out of town and the Coach House was in the centre of town. The two specialised in different cuisines. The Park View’s steaks were superb, whereas the Coach House served wonderful seafood.

During the pre-mission periods, we preferred to stay at the Coach House but during the mission periods, the peace and quiet of the Park View was preferred.

We worked for up to sixteen hours per day during the actual mission periods and did not get to go home until the mission was completed and our equipment [was released from support].”

 

(from Keith’s biographical note.)

When Parkes was used for Apollo support, the Parkes telemetry was available at Honeysuckle Creek as an alternate source to its own antenna and that at Tidbinbilla.


Here are some photos taken by Keith Aldworth and Harry Westwood.

Parkes

The Sun is occulted by the Parkes focus cabin.

Clearly visible in this photo are the extra panels added to the dish’s surface to allow observation at higher frequencies.

John Sarkissian at Parkes writes:

“The centre, solid aluminium panels, were added after Apollo 11… in order to allow the dish to observe at very high frequencies around 115 GHz. They extend out to 17m. The perforated aluminium panels, out to 33m, were added in the 1970s in stages. The work began in 1970 and finished around 1973… This work was explicitly funded by the Apollo 12 tracking contract… In the early 1980s the surface was upgraded out to 45m and in 2003 the perforated aluminium panels were extended to 55m.”

Photo by Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.

For comparison, below is a photo taken in April 2007, showing the extent of the aluminium panels. (Photo: Colin Mackellar.)

Parkes in 2007

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The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Photo by Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.


Parkes

The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Keith Aldworth rests in a quiet moment at Parkes.


Parkes

The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Apollo equipment at Parkes Radio Telscope, Keith Aldworth with newspaper.

Photo from Keith Aldworth.


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The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Keith Aldworth Mike Meizio and Dave (Smokey) Dawson at Parkes during Apollo 15.

Photo from Keith Aldworth.


Parkes

The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Parkes 16 hour shifts: Peter O’Donahue, Keith Aldworth, Smokey Dawson, Mike Meizio, unknown, resting as they wait for aquisition of Apollo.

Photo from Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.


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Apollo equipment at the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Photo by Harry Westwood.


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Apollo equipment at the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Photo by Harry Westwood.


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Parkes

Top photo: The Parkes Radio Telescope.

Peter O’Donahue does some wiring on Apollo equipment at Parkes.

In the background, from left to right – The Ampex VR-660 2" video recorder; TV rack (green, with monitor at top); and Mincom M-22 telemetry recorder.

After Apollo 11, the Apollo equipment was mounted on a false floor to ease cabling and cooling of the racks.

Photo by Harry Westwood.

Below, for comparison, here’s the same spot as it was in April 2007. (The main control room is now on the level below.)

Photo by Colin Mackellar: Parkes’ John Sarkissian is standing at left.


Parkes

Early one morning Keith climbed up to the Parkes focus cabin and captured this photograph of a ‘mountain glory’ (i.e the Sun is directly behind him and he is looking down on his shadow on the ground fog below).

Photo by Keith Aldworth.


Parkes

It’s a long was down from the focus cabin to the dish surface.

Photo by Keith Aldworth.



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Looking down on the plinth from the dish substructure.

Photo by Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.


Parkes

Looking ENE towards the 60 foot (20 metre) antenna of the interferometer. The Goobang Range is in the distance.

Photo by Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.


Parkes

Looking to the NW, the main access road is visible. (The road is now lined with trees.)

Photo by Keith Aldworth, probably during Apollo 15.