Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / June 1961

June 1961: First Topside Sounder Rocket Launched

At 11:17 PM on June 24, 1961, NASA launched a Javelin missile from Wallops Island, VA. The Javelin contained an ionospheric sounder created by the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory (CRPL). The sounder used radio waves to examine the atmosphere it was passing through. The sounder acted like a radar, measuring the width and density of the ionosphere, the plasma rich outer layer of the atmosphere. By measuring the ionosphere CRPL hoped to better understand it, and specifically its impact on radio transmission. At certain frequencies, radio waves bounce off the ionosphere and travel further than they would in a straight line. Short wave radio waves can travel around the world in this fashion. The Javelin launch was CRPL’s first foray into space flight. The project was successful, and it spawned many more. By 1964, CRPL had helped launch a sounding satellite known as TOPSI and assisted in the launch of the Canadian satellite Allouette. These satellites acted much like the Javelin rocket had, but they could sound the ionosphere from above. Today ITS continues the work of CRPL in investigating radio propagation. ITS also continues to work with NASA and other agencies to improve the outcomes of space flight.