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1967: First all-British satellite 'Ariel 3' launched
The first ever all-British satellite has been successfully launched into orbit from the United States.

Ariel 3 was propelled into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California watched by a team of 40 British scientists and technicians and US Minister of State for the Department of Education Goronwy Roberts.

The satellite's orbit is expected to shift over the next three months to allow it to survey the ionospheric conditions about 60kms (37 miles) above the Earth's surface.

The small satellite has been designed to continue and expand on the previous UK satellite investigations - Ariels 1 and 2 which were built in America.

Ariel 3 was designed, built and tested over four years at the space department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. British Aircraft Corporation was the main contractor and GEC provided the bulk of the electronics.

It carries five experiments:

  • A study of very low frequency radiation from space for Sheffield University;
  • Measurement of electron density and temperature in the upper ionosphere for Birmingham University;
  • Information on medium-frequency waves from space for Jodrell Bank;
  • Measurement of the oxygen found at high altitude for the Meteorological Office;
  • Analysis of atmospheric noise over Earth for the Radio and Space Research Station.

The project was the result of close co-operation between the Science Research Council and Nasa which provided the launch facilities and four-stage Scout rocket.

Ariel 3 orbits the Earth every 95 minutes and is expected to relay information back to a computer at Slough's Radio and Space Research Station for at least a year.

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Ariel 3 in orbit
Ariel 3 is expected to relay information back to the UK for at least a year

In Context
Two days later Slough received its first stream of useful data. Ariel 3 exceeded expectations and continued to orbit for two years.

But by October 1967, just five months after launch the tape recorder in Slough began to malfunction. In February 1968 it broke down but scientists continued to gather data in real time until a satellite power failure in December 1968 restricted operation to daylight hours only.

By April 1969, Ariel 3's orbit had slowed down to 15 passes a week. The satellite was finally turned off in September 1969 and broke up in December 1970.

Since the 1960s hundreds of satellites have been launched for many purposes, such as communications, weather forecasting, navigation, and monitoring the Earth for the effects of global warming.

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