Moree is a country town in New South Wales and is just over 120 kilometres from the Queensland border. It has a rich history dating back to 1862 and was home to the country’s second Earth Station, a relay point linking satellites and telecommunications equipment across the Pacific Ocean. The Earth station also played a crucial role in the Moon landing in 1969.
The Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC) was created just after World War II and was in charge of international telecommunications services in and out of the country. In 1956, television was introduced into Australia and the OTC was quick to utilise new technologies for coverage of the Olympic Games in Melbourne that year. For the first time ever, Australians could watch events live in the comfort of their own homes.
With the advent of commercial satellites, the OTC had established an Earth station in Carnarvon, Western Australia, by the mid-1960s. Moree’s was in development and was quickly put to work when it began operating on 1 April, 1968. It televised an address from US leader Lyndon B. Johnson announcing he wouldn’t be pursuing a second term as president.
The Moree Earth station was first linked to the Intelsat II F-4 satellite, which was in service from 1967 to 1972. The satellite had a synchronised orbit of 37,000 kilometres, meaning it was permanently positioned over the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
In 1969, the Moree Earth station aided NASA during the Apollo 11 flight. The facility was used throughout the eight-day long mission but was integral when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the Moon.
Because Armstrong decided to walk on the lunar surface ahead of the scheduled time, the first eight minutes of signal was picked up by the Honeysuckle tracking station, near Canberra, before the Parkes Radio Telescope took over. The telescope was put in extreme danger during the transmission as it experienced 100 km/h winds. It suffered no permanent problems but was only designed for winds no greater than 35 km/h.
From Parkes, the signal went to a NASA switching facility in Canberra before moving onto the shared OTC and NASA headquarters in Paddington, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It was then relayed to the Moree Earth station, beamed to a satellite and then transferred to the Johnson Space Center (named Manned Spacecraft Center at the time) in Houston, Texas.
Once arriving in the US, the footage was inspected for quality and then sent out to American TV stations.
The broadcast came back to Australia through the Moree Earth station to the OTC/NASA headquarters, where it was distributed to televisions all over the country.
In the end, the Apollo 11 Moon landing was watched by 650 million people worldwide.
The OTC catered for 90% of all the Southern Hemisphere’s telecommunications by the start of the 1970s. The organisation commissioned other Earth stations in Healesville, Victoria, and Ceduna, South Australia.
When the Moree Earth station began operating, it had one 36-metre wide parabolic dish and a second was installed in 1982 to keep up with the workload.
Satellite technology had advanced considerably by the 1980s and the Moree site was decommissioned in 1988. Its dishes were dismantled and transferred to new locations. The other Earth stations around Australia experienced similar fates.
By 1992, the OTC was exploring new areas of communications—such as fibre optics—before being integrated into Telecom, which later became Telstra.
Today, a family-owned irrigation business called Irritek operates at the former site of the Moree Earth station. The Earth station’s original building still stands.
Photo Credit: Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station
Dish, The (Booklet). CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
Moree and the Moon Landing (Article by Jenny Pritchard)