Project West Ford
Project West Ford (also known as Westford Needles and Project Needles) was a test carried out by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory on behalf of the United States military in 1961 and 1963 to create an artificial ionosphere above the Earth. This was done to solve a major weakness that had been identified in military communications.
At the height of the Cold War, all international communications were either sent through submarine communications cables or bounced off the natural ionosphere. The United States military were concerned that the Soviets might cut those cables, forcing the unpredictable ionosphere to be the only means of communication with overseas forces.
To mitigate the potential threat, a ring of 480,000,000 copper dipole antennas (needles which were 1.78 centimetres (0.70 in) long and 25.4 micrometres (1.00 thou)  or 17.8 micrometres (0.70 thou)  in diameter) were placed in orbit to facilitate global radio communication. The length was chosen because it was half the wavelength of the 8 GHz signal used in the study. The dipoles collectively provided passive support to Project Westford's parabolic dish (located in the town of Westford) to communicate with distant sites. Walter E. Morrow started Project Needles at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1958.
A first attempt was launched on 21 October 1961, during which the needles failed to disperse. The project was eventually successful with the 9 May 1963 launch, with radio transmissions carried by the man-made ring. However, the technology was ultimately shelved, partially due to the development of the modern communications satellite and partially due to protests from other scientists.
The needles were placed in medium Earth orbit at an altitude of between 3,500 and 3,800 kilometres (2,200–2,400 mi) at inclinations of 96 and 87 degrees. They have contributed to Earth's space debris.
British radio astronomers, together with optical astronomers and the Royal Astronomical Society, protested the action. The Soviet newspaper Pravda also joined the protests under the headline "U.S.A. Dirties Space".
Stevenson studied the published journal articles on Project West Ford. Using what he learned on the subject and citing the articles he had read, he successfully allayed the fears exhibited by the vast majority of UN ambassadors from other countries. He and the articles explained that sunlight pressure would cause the dipoles to only remain in orbit for a short period of approximately three years. The international protest ultimately resulted in a consultation provision included in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
Fifty years later, in 2013, some of the dipoles that had not deployed correctly still remained in clumps, contributing a small amount of the orbital debris tracked by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office. Their numbers have been diminishing over time as they occasionally re-enter. As of March 2020[update], 36 clumps of needles were still known to be in orbit.
|Satellite||Date||Launch site||Launch vehicle||Launched in conjunction with|
|Westford 1||1961-10-21||Va LC-1-2||Atlas-LV3 Agena-B||MiDAS 4|
|Westford-Drag||1962-04-09||Va LC-1-2||Atlas-LV3 Agena-B||MiDAS 5|
|Westford 2||1963-05-09||Va LC-1-2||Atlas-LV3 Agena-B||MiDAS 6, Dash 1, TRS 5, TRS 6|
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148 pieces, 94 have decayed
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