Orbital Focus - International Spaceflight Facts and Figures
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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 Jun 15
Saturday, Day 167

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Book published on closure of the School

Kettering results, history, exploits and accounts

Contemporary Article

Geoff Perry item

Soyuz & Salyut - article by Geoff Perry

BBC News Feature

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The Express Story - Jos Heyman writes...

It was during our tea and scones session at the Athenaeum Club in London that Geoff casually asked me what I knew about Express. Fortunately, earlier that year I had done a write up about that spacecraft that had been launched from Japan, was Russian built and was to have been recovered at Woomera in Australia, but, according to all reference sources, never got into orbit.

Geoff said something along the lines that he knew where it was and that, when he had confirmed it, would I like to publish it - world first. Since the News Bulletin of the Astronautical Society of Western Australia was a small affair, and since I was always on the search for bits and pieces to publish, and since Geoff had published in the News Bulletin before, I readily agreed - the 'world first' idea had not yet impacted on me.

Express was launched from Kagoshima on 15 January 1995. It was an experimental spacecraft to evaluate the use of ceramics during re entry. Based on the Russian FOBS spacecraft of the early seventies and further developed in Germany, the spacecraft was to be recovered over Woomera after five days. Malfunction of the second stage of the launch vehicle prevented the intended orbit of 270 x 380 km with an inclination of 31°, from being achieved.

The next instalment in the Express story came on 3 October 1995 when Geoff faxed a paper on Express, indicating that there was 'some urgency in getting it into print as the word is getting around due to the "confidential" references from Nick Johnson, with whom I shared my information early on in the hope that he could get Space Command to take some action.' Geoff requested immediate acknowledgement as that morning he had heard something that had provided the impetus to write the paper. I duly faxed a note acknowledging receipt along with the full reference of the News Bulletin issue it was to appear in - that issue was still to be put together, but, knowing Geoff's penchant with accurate references, I deemed it worthwhile to get the volume and page numbers available immediately.

The issue was printed within a week or so, and was sent to the subscribers around 25 October 1995. It was now a matter of sitting back and wait and see what would unfold. I do not know what Geoff did, but one can be sure that the reference went around the world.

It was not until mid-December 1995 that the story was picked up. One of the first to lock into it all was Phillip Clarke, compiler of the monthly World Satellite Launches and also a recipient of the News Bulletin, who made reference to the whole matter in the November 1995 issue of his compilation.

Next a notice appeared in Aviation Week and Space Technology of 18/25 December 1995, a short article that made reference to Geoff but not to the News Bulletin. AWST is reluctant to acknowledge that they were not the first to publish such matters, I was told afterwards. However, the AWST report also made reference to interest shown by the Germans - they had taken up the lead!

Also, some time in November I received a brief phone call from somebody from British Aerospace. Not logging phone calls in the Perry manner, I cannot recall the date and can only assume it was Ian Tuohy. He asked where I got the information from and suggested that it was all wrong.

As an eager editor, I smelled the need for a follow up and contacted Geoff by phone on 4 January 1996 to seek an update. In a faxed letter received the next day Geoff gave his view of the story path in his usual log manner:

Fax from Phillip Clark. Had received e-mail from Nicholas Johnson which let him know that I had got newspaper stories of recovery of a capsule in Ghana. Could I let him have copies? Phoned him immediately and told him that a paper was being published in the ASWA News Bulletin and that he would be able to read it there. Set about writing the paper immediately.

Posted it to you

Published in News Bulletin

Fax from Joe Zimberlin, Project Manager EXPRESS, Daimler Benz Aerospace, Bremen, expressing interest in article which they had received 'one month after publication'. He agreed that Kotorigu was 'a possible landing place, but on the other hand EXPRESS parachute is orange/white segmented, XPRESS is printed on the parachute (in Russian) and also a number. (We were in Brussels at the time this was sent and received).

Faxed reply suggesting that he phoned me. He called back eight minutes later and told me that British Aerospace, Adelaide, had passed your publication to their people and that DARA, the customer, had issued a press release, in German, on 4 December. The D-B people in Accra had located the capsule in storage in Accra and checked the numbers on the chute. He was 95% certain it was Express. I suggested that they should display it at the next Farnborough Air Show! He was considering going to Accra. He promised me pictures and a copy of a four page report in due course and said that I was welcome to go to Bremen to see it if they got it back.

A contact at Kayser-Threde GmbH, Munich, phoned. He later faxed me the 4 December press release. He also said that Zimberlin had gone/is going to Ghana. This activity prompted me to notify Covault [of Aviation Week & Space Technology] (at home because of strikes in Paris!). Faxed a copy of the article to his office. He said he would try to squeeze it into this week's issue.

As we have already seen, Craig Covault got it published that week, but without the reference to ASWA. So they got all the credit. James Oberg, in a message received by Phillip Clark, congratulated AWST and Geoff Perry, following which Phillip Clarke set the record right and got James Oberg to write on 26 December 1995:

P. Clark, on the short list of best informed Russian space watchers in the Universe, notes: Why credit Aviation Week with this story?. Geoff Perry originally made the announcement in the News Bulletin of the Astronautical Society of Western Australia, November 1995 issue. I then it carried in my December 7th issue of 'Worldwide Satellite Launches' (OK that's a plug) crediting the Australian publication, so Av Week is only the third place to carry the story.

Swish, slice ('ow')... Sound of Oberg falling on his sword in chagrin. I am well rebuked, and again express congratulations to Geoff and his network!

With this information, I proceeded to contact Zimberlin on 8 January 1996, requesting confirmation as well as a copy of the 4 December 1995 press release. Because I did not have the correct fax number, a reply did not arrive until 16 January 1996, attaching the 4 December 1995 press release as well as a press release of 9 January 1996. Both press releases were in German only, but with my high school knowledge I could understand the gist. All by all, sufficient information for a follow-up article. The February 1996 issue of the News Bulletin was to be published within days so, a few clever adjustments allowed the inclusion of an article stating the events.

From my part it seemed that the topic had been milked sufficiently and all I could do was to see where it would be quoted and what references would be made. It is significant that the two DARA press releases did not make reference to Geoff Perry, the Kettering Group or the ASWA News Bulletin, so essentially from this point onwards, the press statements were considered to proclaim the gospel as far as Express was concerned.

So very slowly the pieces were beginning to fit together, but there was still the question of how the Germans got hold of the information. The November phone call from Ian Tuohy was a strong indication that he did sent a copy of the report to the German people who, obviously, had some more trust in the issue that Ian Tuohy had shown. But how did Ian get hold of it - he was not a recipient of the News Bulletin, neither was British Aerospace in Adelaide.

The answer to the 'missing link' finally came on 7 February 1996 from Bruce Middleton, of Asia Pacific Aerospace Consultants, formerly Director of the Australian Space Office, and a member of the Astronautical Society of WA. It was Bruce who conveyed the article to Ian Tuohy who had the responsibility for deploying and managing the Australian side of the Express effort. According to Bruce, Ian was quite skeptical based on information he had previously received from the Japanese. But when it hit the pages of AW&ST he had to accept reality. What happened since then has been described above.

So what happened to the Express story after that?

The bulk of early references were based on the DARA press releases which conveniently omitted the Geoff Perry and Aastronautical Society of WA references, such as what appeared in Space News of 15/21 January 1996 (p.4), AWST of 15 January 1996 (p.19). Others did the right thing and made clear references to the Astronautical Society WA: Satellite Digest in Spaceflight Vol. 38, February 1996, page 72 (written by Phillip Clarke), Spacewarn Bulletin 25 February 1996, p. 9 (as advised by Geoff Perry), Sky&Space, October 1996, p.11 ('fed' by ASWA member), an article by Andy Salmon in Spaceflight Vol.39, January 1997, p.7 (based on information supplied by Geoff Perry).

Other did their own guess work resulting in some near comic scenarios. For instance, some time in 1998, a Claus Lippert had an interesting article on the internet that identified Geoff Perry as a British journalist and specialist for military survey of space objects and suggested that NORAD was aware of the orbit decay of Express and about the most likely impact point and that 'with some journalistic effort, Mr. Perry was able to scan the Ghanaian newspapers of the period of time in question and to find the relevant article'.

In 1998, at the 49th IAF Congress in Melbourne I got talking to some person whose name I never picked up and somehow the conversation got to Express and this person wondered why somebody like Geoff Perry would want to publish in such an obscure thing like the News Bulletin of the Astronautical Society of Western Australia.

Well, that was our Geoff.
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