Bermuda,Carnarvon and RCA: Q6 partners

FPQ-6 Radar

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The FPQ-6 radar operated under an RCA ‘Depot Level Maintenance’ (DLM) contract; a sort of super warranty providing an advisory service, spare parts and a biennial upgrade. Nothing was spared to retain the precision and accuracy of the FPQ-6. On one DLM upgrade the range crystal was changed to keep the FPQ-6 on track with the most recent value of the velocity of light. [1]

The special relationship between the CRO FPQ-6 team and the twin FPQ-6 Bermuda team, with RCA and Benny Santos, the NASA radar manager, was the envy of the rest of the technical staff at CRO; who would not want fast direct contact with the designer/manufacturer of one’s equipment and easy and quick spares replacement. The CRO/BDA FPQ-6 relationship was particularly close too; whereas other systems at CRO could seek help from a dozen or so other tracking stations the two FPQ-6 teams had only each other with whom to consult.

“With an item like the Q-6 which had such a diverse range of technologies from hydraulics to parametric amplifiers and everything in between, there was constant interaction with RCA. [DLMs] … involved stripping a lot of the electro-hydraulic gear off and the work …[done]… required skill sets above and beyond those required for day to day operation of the radar. I must say that we, at CRO, and our colleagues at BDA seemed to enjoy a special relationship with both NASA and RCA due to the fact that we had a "can do" attitude and proved ourselves capable of performing most of the intricate work required at these DLM sessions.” [2]

On the second biennial DLM the manually-tuned parametric amplifiers (paramps) were replaced by electrically-tuned ones. Trevor Housley recalls a valuable professional lesson and the dramatic (and wasted?) retuning of the paramps shortly before that, during a particularly busy mission period. There had been a myth that the paramps didn’t work, never had worked and never would work “… so just leave them alone and pretend they don’t exist.” Lindsay Sage, CRO Chief Engineer, came along and turned the myth on its head. Trevor describes him as an old-school engineer carrying an encyclopaedic knowledge of electronics around in his head. Lindsay instructed the FPQ-6 team to dismantle and thoroughly clean the paramps, and put them back together again. Then followed a notoriously difficult task; several days of turning little screws with the smallest adjustment having a huge effect on the electronic performance. Even then, the myth said they wouldn’t stay in tune so no one dared to try them on an actual track until one day, in the middle of a pass, Sage ordered them to press the paramp-on button. Several of the team shuddered in the background at the thought of losing their track, but the paramps worked just as intended. The myth was wrong and the ‘sage’ was right. [3]

Activities such as these developed the skills of CRO FPQ-6 technicians so that they were able to change precision angle encoders without RCA assistance. These were mechanical monstrosities containing several 40-cm diameter glass discs etched with ‘digital’ patterns, the relative movement indicating the angle of rotation. The tiring task of installing replacement discs to be both parallel and concentric within 0.05mm, was one mastered by several of the FPQ-6 team. [4]

References [1] Hocking, R., email to PD, 7 August 2005
[2] Housley, T., email to PD, 2 March 2007
[3] Housley, T., email to PD, 2 December 2004
[4] Housley, T., email to PD, 22 August 2005

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