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Ariel 1

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Ariel 1
Scale model of Ariel 1 satellite, London Science Museum
NamesUK-1, S-55
Mission typeIonospheric
OperatorSERC / NASA[1]
Harvard designation1962 Omicron 1[2]
COSPAR ID1962-015A Edit this at Wikidata
SATCAT no.285[1]
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerGoddard Space Flight Center
Launch mass62 kilograms (137 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date26 April 1962, 18:00:00 (1962-04-26UTC18Z) UTC
RocketThor DM-19 Delta
Launch siteCape Canaveral LC-17A
End of mission
Decay date24 May 1976
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth
Perigee altitude397 kilometres (247 mi)
Apogee altitude1,202 kilometres (747 mi)
Inclination53.8 degrees
Period100.86 minutes
Epoch14 June 1962[3]
Ariel 2 →

Ariel 1 (also known as UK-1 and S-55), was the first British-American satellite, and the first satellite in the Ariel programme. Its launch in 1962 made the United Kingdom the third country to operate a satellite, after the Soviet Union and the United States. It was constructed in the UK and the United States by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and SERC, under an agreement reached as the result of political discussions in 1959 and 1960. The US Starfish Prime exoatmospheric nuclear test affected Ariel 1's operational capability.


In late 1959, the British National Committee for Space Research proposed the development of Ariel 1 to NASA.[4] By early the following year the two countries had decided upon terms for the Ariel programme's scope and which organisations would be responsible for which parts of the programme.[5]

The UK Minister of Science named the satellite after the sprite in Shakespeare's The Tempest.[6]

Three units were constructed: one for prototyping, a flight unit, and a backup.[7]



The satellite weighed 62 kilograms (136 lb), had a diameter of 58 centimetres (23 in), and a height of 56 centimetres (22 in). Solar panels generated power which was stored in nickel-cadmium batteries. A 100-minute tape recorder was used for data collection.[8]


SERC provided the experiments, conducted operations, and later analysed and interpreted the results. Six experiments were carried aboard the satellite. Five of these examined the relationship between two types of solar radiation and changes in the Earth's ionosphere. They were selected to leverage techniques developed in the Skylark programme.[9]



Launch of Ariel 1 on a Thor-Delta rocket

Ariel 1 was planned to launch on the Scout rocket, but the rocket fell behind in development. The decision was made to launch the satellite on the more expensive Thor-Delta rocket, although the Americans footed the bill.[10]

Ariel 1, the first satellite from a nation besides the United States or the Soviet Union,[10] was launched aboard an American Thor-Delta rocket from Launch Complex 17A at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, at 18:00:00 GMT on 26 April 1962.[11] The successful orbit made Ariel 1 the first international satellite.[12]


Ariel 1 was among several satellites inadvertently damaged or destroyed by the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test on July 9, 1962, and subsequent radiation belt. Its solar panels sustained damage from the irradiation, affecting Ariel 1's operations.[13] The satellite operated even after the nuclear test. The radiation disabled the timer that would have deactivated the satellite after one year, effectively extending the satellite's life.[10] It decayed from orbit on 24 May 1976.[14]


The experiments provided X-ray energy data from over 20 solar flares.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Ariel 1". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  2. ^ Wells, Whiteley & Karegeannes 1976, p. 171.
  3. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Satellite Catalog". Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  4. ^ NASA SP-43 1963, p. 1.
  5. ^ Rosenthal 1968, pp. 106–107.
  6. ^ Wells, Whiteley & Karegeannes 1976, pp. 35–36.
  7. ^ NASA SP-119 1996, p. 3.
  8. ^ Rosenthal 1968, p. 105.
  9. ^ NASA SP-119 1996, p. 9.
  10. ^ a b c Harvey 2003, p. 97.
  11. ^ "Ariel 1 Launch/Orbital Information". NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  12. ^ Walker, Doreen M. C. "Analysis of the Orbit of Ariel 1, 1962 – ISA, Near 15th – Order Resonance" (PDF). Royal Aircraft Establishment. p. 107. A-002 347. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 March 2020.
  13. ^ Galvan et al. 2014, p. 19.
  14. ^ Table of Artificial Satellites Launched Between 1957 and 1976. International Telecommunication Union. 1977. p. 15. OCLC 4907282. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  15. ^ "40 years ago: 1st international satellite" (PDF). Spaceport News. Vol. 41, no. 8. Kennedy Space Center. 19 April 2002.


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