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Canada celebrates 50 years in space


Andrew Yee, astronomer
September 22, 2012 — It's been 50 years since the space age arrived in Canada, with the launch of Alouette 1.


On September 29, 1962, Canada became the third country to launch a satellite into space (courtesy: NASA)
On September 29, 1962, Canada became the third country to launch a satellite into space (courtesy: NASA)

On September 29, 1962, Canada became the third country to launch a satellite into space.

The satellite - dubbed Alouette 1 - was the result of a joint project between Canada and the U.S.

The mission's objective was to study a layer of the atmosphere called the ionosphere.

What is the ionosphere?

When solar radiation and energetic-charged particles hit the upper atmosphere, they collide with electrically neutral atoms and molecules in the tenuous atmosphere.

During collisions, atoms and molecules lose an electron in an ionization process. This creates electrically-charged layers that are collectively known of as the ionosphere.

Canadian scientists have long known that radio transmissions at a certain range of frequencies could use the ionosphere to reflect radio waves toward a distant receiver.

This mode of radio communication is still in use today -- however the changing activity of the sun can affect the structure of the ionosphere, degrading the quality of communication.

Alouette 1 gives new insight into properties of the ionosphere

At the time of the Alouette 1 launch, satellite communication was in its early years.

As Alouette 1 orbited the planet over both poles, it gave scientists the first detailed study of the upper ionosphere and the radiation environment in space. The satellite exceeded its design life and remained in working order for a decade.

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