Astronomers Build Mobile Laboratory

In back of the Harvard College Observatory stands a gray trailer truck which is to become the first mobile receiving laboratory for the University Space Radio Project. The Project, headed by A. Edward Lilley, associate professor of Astronomy, is building radio receivers for satellites and rockets to observe galactic, planetary, and terrestrial radio radiation.

The equipment being installed in the trailer has previously been used in the observatory building for receiving data from satellites in polar orbit. The Air Force has launched six such satellites for the Space Radio Project from Cape Kennedy, Fla., and Vandesburg Air Force Base, Calif.

When the mobile laboratory is in operation the Project will be able to launch its instruments late more nearly equatorial orbits. This was previously impossible, because the observatory is too far north to receive signals from equatorial intitudes. Now, however, the astronomers can simply drive their receiving equipment further south. It is expected that the movable laboratory will be completed by spring.

The Space Radio Project began at Yale in 1957 and came with Lilley to Harvard in 1959; it is supported by the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. The radio equipment which the Project sends aloft receives at wavelengths from 30 to 6000 meters. These long radio waves cannot penetrate the earth's ionosphere, and therefore, they are observable only from rockets and satellites.

Satellites in equatorial orbits, made possible by the mobile laboratory, will be able to gather now information on the earth's ionosphere. In particular, the astronomers hope to determine whether or not man-made waves leak out into space.

Besides the six Project satellites, the Observatory group has provided instruments for a number of short rocket flights. Last summer an Air Force "Blue Scout" carried a Project radio receiver to an altitude of 1,100 miles. The receiver made important observations of the radiation from our galaxy and of radio radiation from the earth itself. Just how terrestrial radio waves originate and are propagated is one of the questions the Project hopes to answer with the new equipment.