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Friday, 21 January, 2000, 14:56 GMT
Space tracking pioneer dies

Bench Geoff started a growing band of space trackers


By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Geoff Perry MBE, founder of the influential Kettering satellite tracking group, and co-discoverer of the top secret Soviet Plesetsk launch site in 1966 has died of a heart attack. He was 72.

He shot to worldwide prominence when, using radio equipment from a school physics laboratory, he pinpointed the position of the hitherto top-secret Soviet launch site in Siberia. A few months later, he caught the first glimpse of the unmanned test of the soviet Soyuz space capsule that is still used today.

His interest in space was aroused when in 1944 a German V2 fell a few miles from his home in England. He later said that looking at this rocket propelled bomb convinced him that the space age would soon be upon us. A few years later, he read Arthur C Clarke's book The Exploration of Space and like many others who read it decided to become a passionate advocate for the exploration of the cosmos.

After the Soviets launched the first Sputnik satellites, he started to observe them visually as well as recording their radio signals. He was fascinated by their change in pitch because of the Doppler effect as they orbited the Earth.

Perry He retired from physics teaching in 1984
In May 1960, he noticed that the radio signal from Sputnik 4 changed abruptly. He did not realise that this was due to a rocket on the satellite misfiring sending it into a higher orbit instead of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.

It was the launch of Cosmos 112, in May 1966, that alerted him to something strange about the Soviet space effort. It did not seem to have been launched from their usual launch site, Baikonur in Khazakstan. The launch of Cosmos 129 in October of that year from the same unknown site allowed him to pinpoint it.

The new launch complex was south of Archangelsk and the USSR did not admit to its existence for a further 17 years.

He said his life changed at this point as the world's media descended upon him, disturbing his quiet life as a physics teacher at Kettering Grammar School in England.

From that time, his name was in the newspapers often as he teased out one secret about the Soviet space programme after another. He started a growing band of space trackers called the Kettering group. Now a worldwide band of influential enthusiasts, they still track satellites to this day.

In the 1970's, he became space consultant to Independent Television News, commenting on the Apollo moonshots and the Apollo-Soyuz link-up in 1975.

Although he retired from physics teaching in 1984, he still maintained his satellite tracking work. Friends and colleagues have said that they will greatly miss his scientific rigour, his no-nonsense attitude to life and his warm personality.

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