RAF Fylingdales – We Are Watching
Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR) at RAF Fylingdales, North Yorkshire CREDIT: Cherubino

RAF Fylingdales – We Are Watching

17/09/2020Written by Malika Andress

The RAF is synonymous with aircraft and flight, but did you know that a rural RAF tracking station on the North Yorkshire Moors once helped manage the safe launches of the Space Shuttle?

Book online now and upgrade to a free annual pass

Book
mascot Telescope Right
PAVE PAWS and BMEWS coverage

Anybody who has ever driven to Whitby will have seen the iconic structure of the RAF Fylingdales  “pyramid” or the SSPAR (Solid State Phased Array), but did you know that over 350 military and civilian personal watch space over Northern Europe from this location?

As the motto “Vigilamus” (translates to “We are watching”) may suggest, it is a role they take very seriously and one with a huge impact on not just the UK.

As a key part of the Allied Space Surveillance Network, the Unit monitors objects in space.

RAF Fylingdales can track objects in space up to 3,000 nautical miles away, the RADAR operators are able to see the International Space Station and objects as small as a can of coke.

The station was built in 1962 and originally consisted of three 130-foot (40 m) diameter ‘golfballs’ or geodesic domes (radomes) containing mechanically steered radar.

The Space Operations Room inside the RADAR.

The radar at RAF Fylingdales keeps track of more than 13,000 objects in space as well as over 4,000 satellites. In 1965, two years after the radar started operating, there were just 555 pieces of debris in space.

During the Space Shuttle era the teams at RAF Fylingdales worked with their US colleagues to track and support the launch of the spacecraft.

More recently the North Yorkshire RAF station was involved in detecting the launch of the SpaceX Dragon, when the human-rated space capsule came within their field of view.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center CREDIT SpaceX MOD

RAF Fylingdales personnel collected information to be shared with the Space Operations Centre at Headquarters Air Command and other sister sites across the United States.

The North Yorkshire RAF station was involved in detecting the launch, when the human-rated space capsule came within their field of view.

RAF Fylingdales personnel collected information to be shared with the Space Operations Centre at Headquarters Air Command and other sister sites across the United States.