At dinner following the workshop the subject of the Alouette satellite came up, Peter Forsyth said something along the lines of "You probably don't realize that the University of Saskatchewan was responsible for the initial idea of the Alouette satellite." Although slightly tongue in cheek, there was some basis to the statement, as Peter went on to explain. This prompted Colin Hines to take up the story from the DRTE end, and together they described a story of the origins of Alouette which is certainly not well known. I asked both Colin and Peter Forsyth if they could write down their recollections for me. Peter responded by providing me with a copy of a letter which he wrote to Jim Scott, giving an account of Saskatchewan's involvement, as well as a copy of the original Saskatchewan proposal. Colin also responded with his recollections, and on this page I have reproduced all of this material. Don Moorcroft

Excerpt of Letter from Peter Forsyth to Jim Scott, dated September 22, 1981.

You also ask about the proposal for top-side sounding. You are quite right that we, at Saskatchewan, did make a proposal for a very rudimentary top-side sounder, but in its initial form it was for only single frequency sounding. When I heard at the Cornell meeting that Booker and some of the potential American contractors were thinking of a much more complex and expensive satellite, I did modify the original proposal to include four frequencies, but that was not part of the original proposal. I believe that the Saskatchewan proposal was the first specific proposal that Berkner received, although there is no particular credit due, since I'm sure that everyone was thinking at the time of top-side sounding.

As to the chronology of the affair, it goes something like this: June or July 1958, Berkner sent out a circular telegram to many research groups saying that the USA would soon have some (specified} space and facilities in satellites available to do short-term experiments on the upper atmosphere. Anyone with suggestions for good experiments should reply by telegram. I remember Balfour Currie giving me the telegram and saying that he thought we should reply the next day. I wish I had a copy of that telegram and of our reply but apparently I do not. The reply was succinct. As I recall it, it just said; we propose an ionospheric sounding satellite, sounder cost - $120,000, weight - 25 lb., construction time - one year, details follow. I did find the actual proposal, a copy of which is attached. The next thing that happened was that I was invited to a meeting at Cornell in October. My summary of what went on is also attached. As you can see Eldon Warren was at the meeting and I believe that it was within a month or two after that that you went to Washington and negotiated the DRTE/NASA arrangement.

Looked at now, the Saskatchewan proposal was very primitive, but I have always felt that it might have saved some later effort and uncertainty if some such very simple experiment had been conducted first, just to sketch out the structure and global features of the top-side ionosphere.

It's years since I have thought of those days and the tremendous sense of adventure there was in having rockets and satellites available. This little bit of information probably will not help you much but I found it a pleasure to sort through the old pieces of paper. I had long since forgotten exactly what I had kept from those exciting times.

U of S Proposal for a top-side sounder


By radio sounding from the earth's surface it is not possible to determine the ionization densities which exist in the regions of the atmosphere situated above the maximum of the F region. The amount of ionization and the shape of the electron density distribution curve for the upper part of the ionosphere 1s of considerable importance in studies of the composition of the high atmosphere and the formation of the ionosphere. The way in which this electron distribution changes with latitude, and the extent to which it is modified in auroral regions during disturbed periods, are also important characteristics. Our present knowledge of the ionization at great heights is derived from moon-echo and whistler studies. Both these methods give only results which are integrated over great distances. The determination of the electron density at a given height (or the height corresponding to a given electron density) would assist in the interpretation of these integrated results by indicating the shape of the electron distribution curve. This determination could be made by means of a simplified ionospheric sounder carried in a satellite. The experiment is of greater value for orbits of higher inclination and is best performed using a pole-to-pole orbit.


(a) To measure the distance from the satellite to the nearest point in the ionosphere where the electron density is sufficient to reflect a given radio frequency, say 5 Mc/s. In general this distance will be measured very nearly in the vertical dir- ection. (b) To measure the background of radio noise radiation at the frequency of operation, outside the earth's ionosphere. This will include galactic noise measured with the degree of reso- lution provided by earth shielding and solar radiation during disturbed periods on the sun. This measurement will give only approximate results but will be of value in studies of noise generating mechanisms.


A pulse transmitter operating at a frequency of, say, 5 Mc/s, will be carried in the satellite. The transmitter has a pulse length of 200 sec. and normally has a peak power of 10 watts and pulse recurrence frequency of 150 cycles per second. Associated with the transmitter is a receiver operating at the same frequency which is made insensitive during the transmitter pulses. If an echo is detected by the receiver the next trans- mitter pulse is radiated exactly 700 sec. after the echo is received. In this way the pulse recurrence frequency is varied according to the distance of the reflecting layer from the satellite, being 1000 cycles per second for a distance of 50 km and 150 cycles per second for a distance of 1000 km. The peak radiated power is reduced for the shorter ranges (higher pulse recurrence frequencies) so that the average transmitter power is kept below 0.5 watt.

Since the receiver must incorporate some method of automatic gain control it continuously measures the background noise level at the frequency of operation.


(a) The fourth harmonic of the satellite transmitter is made particularly strong and radiated efficiently. This harmonic is monitored on the ground in order to determine the pulse recurrence frequency which conveys the information.

(b) Every nth pulse of the transmitter is inhibited where n is determined by the background noise level measured by the receiver.

Power Requirement:

The average power requirement for the experiment should be below 0.5 watt. The battery capacity required for the experiment will be about 300-400 watt-hours (15 lb.).

Weight Requirement:
Circuits and antenna

- 10 lb.
- 15 lb.
25 lb.

Cost for Development:

Test equipment

Field station for testing and
later use as monitor station

Components and sub-contracts (four units)
$ 30,000




State of Progress:

No development work has been done on this experiment, however, in view of its relative simplicity it is considered possible that feasibility testing could be completed within six months of commencing the project and the first model could be ready for environmental testing after a further six months.

Submitted by B.W. Currie
for Upper Atmospheric Institute,
University of Saskatchewan,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Comments from Colin Hines

Soon after Jim Scott appointed me Superintendent of RPL, I set as a unifying theme for the lab studies of the disturbed ionosphere. Walter Heikkila's group, studying the troposphere via radio-wave scattering, did not fit in with this theme, and the theme itself was missing direct rocket-borne means of studying the ionosphere. I therefore invited Heikkila to give up the troposphere and turn to rocket-borne studies, promising increased support if he made the change but no increase if he didn't. After about a month of demurring, he decided that the opportunity was too great to miss: both he and his team wanted to make the transition. And so it was decided.

A few weeks or so after that, Scott called me in and asked if I wanted RPL to do satellite-borne studies. I replied that in due course I did, but Heikkila was just getting into rocketry and I thought he should get that in hand, with a couple of successes, before venturing on to satellites. He told me there was a proposal for DRTE to build a baseball-sized chunk of equipment for topside sounding, to be carried aboard someone else's satellite, thereby minimizing the problems; was I still not interested. I didn't believe that marrying DRTE equipment to other people's equipment would in any way minimize the problems -- possibly just the opposite -- but I didn't press the point; I simply replied that, perhaps, it would be a good thing for us to do in another year or so. He said, OK, he accepted my position, and so he'd turn the project over to the Electronics Lab for construction, right now.

I'm not sure when I learned that Eldon Warren was behind the idea -- with John Chapman at the start or later -- but I heard no more of it until Scott told me he wanted me to accompany himself and Warren on a trip to Washington to present the case for a DRTE topside sounder. (It was my memory that we were going to NASA, but someone -- Peter? -- thought it was elsewhere at that time.) Warren was to be there to answer questions about the planned sounder, I was there "to add scientific respectability", though I hadn't even thought about topside sounding, and I'd have looked pretty disreputable if I'd been asked anything. Scott, as was his custom, showed up for the flight only five minutes before departure, having put Warren and me into a sweat as to what we should do if he didn't arrive.

I don't recall when the baseball expanded into a basket ball, as it did in mid preparations, or then to the ultimate size of Alouette itself, requiring all the time more and more resources. Frank Davies replaced Scott as Chief Superintendent, DRTE, part way through, and from time to time bitched about this albatross Scott had hung around DRTE's neck. The program ultimately took over EL, all of the finances and manpower that could be pulled together inside DRTE, and ultimately required massive subsidy from DRB itself. While Davies had to give lip service to the expansion, I believe it was Chapman who carried the can at DRB/HQ in getting the extra funding; and, of course, he ultimately got his reward, both in a satellite that worked well -- beyond all expectations -- and in international recognition for pulling it off. No doubt Davies basked in reflected glory: I don't know, since I left Ottawa a few weeks before the launch.

As a footnote: Shortly before launch, the team (or a team) at EL passed word that, if there were to be any awards for Alouette, they believed that Colin Franklin should be the recipient. No doubt this represents a provincial view of the situation, but there it is.