screen shot from Vanguard 60th Anniversary: A Look Back

In the US Naval Research Laboratory video Vanguard 60th Anniversary: A Look Back Roger L. Easton says:

Now, how did Vanguard Start?

I think it’s fair to say that Milt Rosen started the Vanguard project, and in addition started what became Minitrack. We had been working on an X-band device for tracking the Viking rocket; I remember meeting Milt in the hall, and him saying to me “Couldn’t we reduce the frequency of that device and use it for tracking the satellite?”

I said I’d look into it, and it just happened that Dr. Jacob Freeman had analyzed the X-band system, so it was a small task to change it to a lower frequency. And this I succeeded in doing, and the result was Minitrack, which was named by John Mengel.

Presumably Minitrack's individual footprints, global distribution of sites, wavelengths, dipole antenna sizes and interferometric baselines were all larger than its X-band progenitor, so I'm curious what was so "Mini" about Minitrack?

video cued at 02:53:

  • $\begingroup$ That looks quite small for something called "Mini". Compare with a Minicomputer or a Mini for example :D $\endgroup$
    – Aaron F
    May 18 '20 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ @AaronF the satellite is called Vanguard 1(also here). The Minitrak sites were quite large (shown in the screen shot). See Figure 2-2 in OM's 2nd link. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 18 '20 at 8:51

The name actually comes from the name of the proposed satellite

The name of the system first appeared early in April 1955 on an NRL document entitled "Proposal for Minimum Trackable Satellite (Minitrack)."

NRL = Naval Research Laboratory

Final Report for the Minitrack Tracking Function Description

In early April 1955, Milton Rosen, John Mengel, and Roger Easton assembled informally at NRL and generated a document entitled, "Proposal for Minimum Trackable Satellite (Minitrack)." No date and no authors are listed on this key report; but, according to Rosen, it preceded only by a few days a more formal report with the title, "A Scientific Satellite Program,'' dated April 13, 1955, and written by the NRL Rocket Development Branch. Appendix B of this document was labeled, "The Minitrack System'' and was nearly identical to its predecessor of a few days.


  • $\begingroup$ This is interesting; "Minimum Trackable" rather than "Minimally Trackable" or "Minimal, Trackable". I wonder if there's any chance that they wanted to track some minimum of some kind, rather than find the minimal system that provided a trackable satellite? Probably though it was simply completed in haste and there's just a slight grammatical error in the title. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 18 '20 at 1:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think they wanted to build the smallest satellite that they could track by radio. Check page 14 in the 2nd reference for a discussion of radio vs optical tracking. $\endgroup$ May 18 '20 at 1:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ya I guess so, I just found another "minimum" Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite Earth (MOUSE) and here's a PDF: Studies of a minimum orbital unmanned satellite of the Earth ... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 18 '20 at 1:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These make for a great read, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 18 '20 at 2:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Proposal for [the] Minimum [size of transmitter needed onboard a satellite to be a] Trackable Satellite. - it's a title, I don't see a grammatical error. And I don't see anything here that I didn't just read on Wikipedia. Can we get page 14? $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    May 18 '20 at 13:11

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