WITH THE ACTIVATION of the new 6594th Instrumentation Squadron at Manchester Grenier Air Base in October 1959, a new era began.
That year, Grenier AFB housed US Air Force Reserve and New Hampshire National Guard operations. The last regular Air Force unit stationed at the base was the 1610th Air Transport Group, which had been inactivated in 1955.
A component of the US Air Force, the 6594th was a highly specialized technical unit under the operational control of the 6594th Test Wing (Satellite) based in Palo Alto, Calif., Which was part of the Air Force’s ballistic missile division. from Air Research and Development. Order.
The squadron’s mission was to operate a satellite tracking station on the New Boston Bombing Range, the obsolete training ground at Grenier AFB. It would be the first Air Force station built specifically to track satellite orbits, receive telemetry information from them (via radio waves), process that data through complex computers, and send commands and data to the spacecraft.
There was great urgency in this matter, as the Soviet Union had beaten the United States in space with the successful launch of its tiny Sputnik 1 radio-transmitting satellite on October 4, 1957. This development led to the space race, part of the current Cold War crisis between the Soviets and the Americans.
The first successful American satellite was Explorer 1, which was launched on January 31, 1958. It was equipped with a cosmic ray detector to measure radiation in orbit.
On April 1, 1960, the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station began operating with mobile, van-mounted equipment. The construction of the ten buildings on the site is largely completed and radars and other electronic equipment will be installed during the summer.
Military personnel at the satellite base were housed in barracks at Grenier AFB, with the exception of married men with families who rented civilian accommodation in the area. Of the staff of around 300, about 75% were military, while the remainder were civilian employees primarily of the Lockheed Corporation and the Philco Company.
The station was part of a network of monitoring facilities working on the Discoverer satellite program. These satellites were launched into space at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The New Boston station served as the USAF’s satellite test center, facilitating communications between all Discoverer satellite operations nationwide.
As Lieutenant Nicholas Polio, Station Operations Officer, explained in August 1960: “Being able to contact a satellite as it circles the earth at about 18,000 miles per hour is an important feature of the new Boston station… We can talk to the satellite as it passes overhead and tell it what to do and the satellite can respond to us and tell us how it’s doing.
On December 21, 1960, the Tampa (Florida) Times newspaper reported that the latest in the Discoverer satellite series, Discoverer XIX (19), had just been launched the day before at Vandenberg Air Force Base and was now in orbit. It has been reported that, unlike some other satellites in the series, this one does not carry a salvageable capsule.
Looking back on it today, we know it was not one of the top secret “Project Corona” satellites containing photosurveillance equipment to spy on the Soviet Union or China. The CIA used the Discoverer program to cover up this top secret operation. Instead, Discovery XIX’s goal was to study infrared light in the upper atmosphere to help future Midas satellites detect hostile missile fire by reporting heat flashes above normal level.
The planned Midas satellites, which could “see” infrared light through special sensors, would be part of the country’s missile defense system.
At the end of December 1960, the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station briefly made national news.
An article by United Press International, published in numerous newspapers, announced the expected fate of the spacecraft: “The satellite is silent – New Boston, NH – The Air Force said today that the Discovered XIX satellite has lost its transmitting power… the New Boston Radar satellite tracking station said its last contact with the satellite was at 11:34 pm on Christmas Day…[during] the 75th satellite world tour.
Next week: Boston’s new satellite tracking station through time.