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BIOS- 3: Bonnie ready to go - Image: NASA
BIOS- 3: Bonnie ready to go - Image: NASA

Goddard Range and Range Rate

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GRARR was CRO’s workhorse. For most of its life it provided 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week support, averaging around 12 satellite contacts per day, peaking at 450 for the month of December 1967; for passes lasting from a few minutes to several hours. It supported an extraordinarily diverse range of 36 scientific satellites.

The nature of GRARR support though void of astronaut heroes was not lacking in heroic effort by tracking staff. Here are some highlights of CRO GRARR support.

Interplanetary Monitoring Platform D (IMP-D)

This was the first ‘big’ mission for the GRARR team. It supported the trans-lunar insertion (TLI) of IMP-D on 1 July 1966 on its way for injection into orbit around the Moon – years before USB became prime for Apollo TLIs. Although IMP-D failed to go into lunar orbit, it achieved its objectives when commanded by Carnarvon into a very eccentric Earth orbit with apogees from 70 to 135 Earth diameters and perigees of 6 to 44 Earth diameters. [1]

Weapons Research Establishment Satellite (WRESAT)

On 29 November 1967, Australia became the fourth nation to place a satellite into orbit. WRESAT was a logical extension of the HAD program which CRO had supported in 1964. Q6 confirmed that a good orbit was achieved and GRARR, as part of STADAN, collected 43.5 minutes of data on the first orbit As an Australian station, it continued a major data collection role from WRESAT’s 73 orbits before the satellite batteries expired. The satellite decayed into the Earth’s atmosphere on 10 Jan 1968 after 642 orbits. [2]

Test and Training Satellite (TETR)

TETR-A (the first of a series of Test Training Satellites) was carried into orbit as a piggyback load by Pioneer-8 on 8 November ’67. It failed to reach a sufficiently high orbit for handover simulations; nevertheless, CRO GRARR tracked five sets of two or three orbits in the three 20-hour Apollo-5 network simulations. TETR-A had too low an orbit consequently lasting only two months. It was really launched too late; MSFN handovers had already been well rehearsed with the more realistic Lunar Orbiter missions. The GRARR crew, with ‘house-keeping’ control of the satellite, was rather cheeky to the MSFN crew threatening to switch it off as it passed overhead.

TETR-B was launched piggyback on Pioneer-9. It was thought to be faulty but an “extremely successful” combined operation of the CRO MSFN and GRARR systems, controlled in real-time by TETR Ops, rescued the satellite. [3] It reached the higher orbit required for MSFN handover simulations for future Apollo missions.

Geodetic Satellite B

Geos-B was launched on 11 January ’68 into a high retrograde orbit; maximizing multiple-station visibility periods for geodetic [4] measurement enabling the precise location of participating observation stations to be fixed to within 10m.

Biosatellite (Bios)

GRARR telemetry and command facilities were enhanced for the Bios missions. Bios-1 failed to return to Earth with its biological specimens and Bios-2 re-entry was brought forward due to communication difficulties. Bios-3 was more dramatic.

Bonnie's position in Bios-3 - Image: NASA
Bonnie's position in Bios-3 - Image: NASA

Bios-3 was the closest GRARR came to the glamour of manned space when it was launched on 29 June 1969 carrying Bonnie, a pigtail monkey (Macaca ‘Nemestrina’). The mission was planned to last 30 days to test the effect of weightlessness on brain states, behavioural performance, cardiovascular state and other biomedical aspects. But it appears the capsule was too cold and Bonnie became listless; refusing to eat and drink. After nearly 9 days, CRO’s off-duty GRARR crew was recalled to initiate an emergency landing of Bios-3.

Bonnie died just 8 hours after re-entry “presumed to be from a massive heart attack brought on by dehydration”. [5] The GRARR crew death had been intensely involved in Bonnie’s care in the previous week and had observed the rapid deterioration of his health over several days. For them his death was an emotional blow greater even than the loss of the three Apollo-1 astronauts.

Limited results from the first three missions led to the cancellation of the remaining Bios missions.


In February ’72 the GRARR VHF antenna was taken out of service for four months for the crew to deal with six years of corrosion in the salt-laden coastal atmosphere. Old anodising was scraped off, patches of corrosion were removed and the clean surfaces were re-anodised. [6] From this time onward the GRARR crew was permanently reduced to two shifts with the surplus personnel reassigned to other positions. While the VHF antenna was out of action, a Yagi antenna was jury-rigged on an AcqAid mount so that GRARR could continue to support Nimbus satellite research on the Earth’s atmosphere and water resources. [7]

One very successful outcome was a network request for support of a Nimbus pass with just eight minutes notice when both GRARR crews were off duty. The pass required support from GRARR, TLM, Computers, Recorders, Ops and Comms. The StaDir reported, “Pointing data was received by voice. The station was fully configured and data flow checked by H-1 by whoever happened to be available around the station. There were no incidents. A remarkable effort.” [8] This would not have been possible without the skills of those ex-GRARR personnel who were then engaged in other positions around the station.

Atmosphere Explorer C (AE-C)

AE-C was launched in December ‘73 into a highly elliptical orbit with a very low perigee dipping into the thermosphere for atmospheric measurements. It carried an on-board thruster to vary the spacecraft’s orbit attitude between 68°N and 60°S and to move the perigee slowly through the various time zones and latitudes. CRO GRARR received an ‘exceptional support’ TWX for its command activity. [9]

Synchronous Meteorological Satellite (SMS-A)

SMS-A launched in May ’74 was the last-but-one new mission supported by R&RR and USB. The now one-shift GRARR team (supplemented by ex-R&RR staff still at the station) provided 72-hours of continuous command support as the satellite was delicately manoeuvred into a geostationary orbit. A contrite but congratulatory TWX from Mission Control stated “more than we have a right to expect”. [10]


The last GRARR track had arrived. CRO had not tracked for nine weeks when Helios-A was launched on 10 November ’74. The vital support of the combined station was flawless during the long process of trans-solar injection of Helios into an extreme elliptical orbit to loop it closely around the Sun before returning to the vicinity of Earth. Data from this joint German-USA mission would be correlated with that from the IMP missions.


[1] Tsiaprakas, K., email to PD, 14 September 2005
[2] Dougherty & James, p70-73
[3] NAA: PP538/1, C358A, December 1968
[4] Geodetic: precise location of a geographical point.
[6] Garth, M., private communication to PD, February 2005
[7] NAA: PP538/1, C622, Contractor Performance Report (CPR), February 1972
[8] NAA: PP538/1, C622, CPR, July 1972
[9] NAA: PP538/1, C622, CPR, March 1974
[10] NAA: PP538/1, C622, CPR, May 1974

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