The British radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire has set a new space record making contact with the American Pioneer V satellite at a distance of 407,000 miles.
The previous record, about 290,000 miles, was set by the Soviet satellite Lunik III, which photographed the back of the Moon last year.
Jodrell first made contact with Pioneer V after it went into orbit around the Sun, between the paths of Earth and Venus. The American satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida three days ago on 11 March.
Shortly after launch, the Jodrell Bank telescope was used for the first time to give commands to a rocket in space. By pressing a button at Jodrell Bank, the 43kg payload was separated from the third stage of the launching rocket.
The telescope then succeeded in switching off the satellite’s transmitter, which will help conserve its battery power for later in the mission. It is hoped eventually Jodrell Bank will be able to pick up signals from the satellite up to 50 million miles from Earth.
This will only be made possible by the very large solar-powered batteries on board which run the transmitter. The solar “paddles” projecting from the satellite will recharge the batteries using the sun’s radiation, but the current will still need to be conserved if it is to last until July, as planned.
The transmitter will be switched on for no more than 45 minutes a day at first. Later transmitting time will be reduced to five minutes a day.
Within a week, the satellite will be more than a million miles from Earth and its more powerful 150-watt transmitter will have to be switched on by command from Jodrell Bank.
Courtesy BBC News
In April 1960, the command centre in Hawaii began having problems contacting Pioneer V and Jodrell Bank began to play a bigger role in controlling the satellite.
When the telescope was built in 1957, it was the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, a title it held for more than 10 years. It is still in the top few radio telescopes in the world.
Originally called the Mark 1, it was upgraded to the Mark 1a in 1970. It was rededicated the Lovell Radio Telescope in 1987 to mark 30 years of operation.
The Lovell Radio telescope now has a new galvanized steel surface built at a cost of £2.5m. It is 30 times more sensitive than when it was built.