STS-1 receptions in Florida made by Richard S Flagg


Article edited by Sven Grahn



The first launch of the Space Shuttle took place on Sunday 12 April 1981at 1200:03 UT when John Young and Bob Crippen were launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard the Columbia Orbiter. The initial orbit was 259-271 km at 40.3 degrees inclination. The flight lasted 2.26 days (2 Days, 6 hours, 20 min, 53 seconds) during which the spacecraft completed 37 orbits. Flight Crew: The Orbiter carried two payloads: Development Flight Instrumentation and Aerodynamic Coefficient instrumentation. It landed on runway 23 on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base at 1820:56 UT on 14 April 1981.

My friend Dick Flagg, who then lived in Melbourne (and now lives in Hawaii), Florida and worked at Patrick AFB (the HQ of the Eastern Test Range), had ample opportunity to watch launches from the Cape, which is just "next door" to where he lived. This is what he wrote a week after the end of the flight:

"..Went out [to the Cape] for the launch Friday morning. Left the house at 1 a.m. and didn't get back until 2 p.m. [the launch was scrubbed] An exhausting experience, so on Sunday decided to stay home and not get into the terrible traffic. Watched on TV, saw it from the front porch and heard signals on 296.8 MHz. All in all - lots of fun!. Enclosed is a composite tape of signals received during the flight....." (hear Dick introduce the recordings)

The recordings reproduced here come from that tape cassette. All recordings were made in the AM mode on 296.8 MHz which the Shuttle used extensively on this first flight. Later in the program, the VHF AM voice was used only during teh first 30-35 minutes of flight. The prximity of Dick's location to the ground ssttion at the Cape makes it possible to notice uplink on the same frequency (simplex). The antenna on the orbiter used for this frequency was an annular slot on the bottom of the fuselage, hidden behind ceramic tiles.

The receiving system used by Dick was described on the back of the tape cassette that he sent me (see picture on the right). A steerable 100-1000 MHz log-periodic antenna with 7.5 dB was the core of the system, followed by a pre-amp, a downconverter and the tried-and-true Collins R390A war surplus shortwave receiver working in the AM mode.

It is fascinating to listen to the clipped voices of the crew during climbout from the Cape. I have edited out the silent parts. You can hear the crew call: "Ignition, Lift-off, Tower clearance, roll program complete, Max-Q,..."

The map below shows the passes during the first day when Dick picked up voice signals. Here is a linked list of his receptions the first day:




On the last day in orbit Dick also picked up the crew on 296.8 MHz. For example, on Revolution 33 with Acquisition-Of-Sigal at 1154 UT the crew descibed what they saw at the Cape (I have edited out the silent parts): the Shuttle landing runway and the VAB (The Vehicle Assembly Building). The map shows that they flew north of the Cape during this exchange.


Back to Space Tracking Notes