20 July 2009

The Shoe Cove Connection

On July 20, 1969, humans first walked on the moon and Newfoundland and Labrador has played a role in the American space program since the beginning.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) operated a  station at Shoe Cove, north of St. John’s to provide telemetry for launches from Cape Canaveral and to assist in track spacecraft in orbit as part of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN). The Shoe Cove was one of dozens operated around the globe in support of the NASA program.

The site is identified in NASA historical records as being at St. John’s, but the facility was located north of the city, near Cape St. Francis.

The Shoe Cove facility operated from 1960 until it was phased out in 1970.  As such, Newfoundland played a role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. A portable Minitrack and Optical Tracking System (MOTS) was moved to Newfoundland from a site in the Bahamas to support launches for Skylab.

The dates for the site are given incorrectly in some local accounts.  Several  documents available online give dates for the site from the late 1950s until the early 1970s.  One, dated 1962,  includes the frequencies on which the local system operated. An application for the site was approved by the federal cabinet in 1959.

With the end of the Apollo and Skylab projects in the 1970s, the connection between the American space program Newfoundland didn’t end.

Newfoundland remains a site in the Cape Canaveral range monitoring system.  With the closure of the U.S. naval facility at Argentia,  the 45th Space Wing, headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, took control of one of the buildings still covered by the 1941 lease on the site. It is the last remaining American military location in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

An X-band radar installed on top of the building provides telemetry for launches from Canaveral along the northern portion of the range. The site is operated remotely but may be manned as needed.  The building and its systems are not part of NASA  - they belong to the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Range Operations Squadron, 45th Space Wing - but support NASA operations.