Remembering Sputnik 60 years on

The world’s first satellite Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957, by the then Soviet Union that heralded it as a national triumph, and started the space race.

Not only was this an important achievement, but an historical milestone that opened space exploration.

The Russian language Radio magazine for radio amateurs published articles on the proposed telemetry system and the intended downlink frequencies. An English language version later appeared in the QST magazine of the ARRL.

The United States also revealed its intent to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year 1957 – but the USSR was first.

When launched it had four external antennas to transmit on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz at about 1 watt heard throughout the world by radio amateurs including those in Australia.

Sputnik, a 58 centimetre diameter polished metal sphere, was seen from Earth as it travelled 29,000 km/h taking 96.2 minutes for each orbit. It had no stabilisation system.

There were two aluminium casings that bolted together using a seal to create an air tight housing for two transmitters plus a simple temperature and pressure sensing system.

Scientists studying it garnered information, like the density of the upper atmosphere deduced from its drag on the orbit, and the propagation of its signals that helped better understand the ionosphere.

At a time the WWV time and frequency standard station near Fort Collins, Colorado USA stopped its night transmission on 20 MHz to avoid interference with the telemetry.

The signals continued for 21 days until the life of three silver-zinc batteries, two for the transmitters and the other for ventilation, ended 26 October. Sputnik burnt up and re-entered earth’s atmosphere on 4 January 1958.


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