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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 May 20
Monday, Day 141

Curated by:

Kettering Group on the Web:

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

Kettering Group Timeline

Many things were achieved by the Group over time. Some of them are already marked here but there are certainly others worthy of mention. As such, this page should be seen as 'work in progress'.

If you feel that anything is missing, your contibution will be welcomed as a possible entry to be added to the list.

Date Milestone
1927 August 4 Geoff Perry Born.
1954 September Geoff Perry arrives at Kettering Grammar School to take up a Physics teaching post.
1957 October Russell Gladden, senior science master at Kettering Grammar School, observes Sputnik or (more probably) its rocket visually.
1957 November Geoff Perry observes Sputnik 2 visually.
1958 January John Osborne, of Stowe School, plays recording of the signals from the first Sputnik at the Annual Meeting of the Science Masters' Association in Leeds. Geoff Perry is in attendance.
1958 September Derek Slater takes up the post of Head of Chemistry at Kettering Grammar School.
1959 September Whilst the main part of Kettering Grammar School continues to operate from the premises in Bowling Green Road, the Science Department moves to a new building co-located with the School's playing field on the Windmill Avenue site.
1960 May 16 Using Derek Slater's CR-100 radio receiver, Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect signals from the first Korabl Sputnik (known then in the West as Sputnik 4).
1960 May 19 Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect that Korabl Sputnik's signals are later than expected but do not realise that the reason is a faulty retrofire.
1961 October Geoff Perry and Derek Slater track Discoverer 32, an American photo-reconnaissance satellite of the Corona type.
1962 April 26 Launch of Cosmos 4, the first of Korolyov's Zenit photo-reconnaissance satellites to reach orbit. They are to become the 'staple diet' of the tracking team for many years.
1962 June Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect signals from Cosmos 5's ionospheric studies beacon at 20.008 MHz. It is tracked from the school through to decay during 1963.
1962 September Kettering Grammar School for Boys relocates the remainder of its departments.They join the Science Department at the Windmill Avenue site now that all of the new buildings are complete.
1962 September Pupils from Kettering High School for Girls are visiting the new grammar school science building for lessons using its more-advanced teaching equipment. To fill time between lessons, they take to monitoring the tracking equipment and become the first pupil members of the tracking team. Boys are also involved but the group does not yet have an identity.
1963 June 18 For the first time, the Group intercepts voice transmissions from orbit. They intercept calls from Valentina Tereshkova aboard Vostok 6.
1964 September With the opening of Kettering High School’s own new building, its pupils are no longer visiting the Grammar School for lessons. Geoff Perry invites pupils to join the tracking team. The Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Group comes into being.
1964 October 12 The Group intercepts more voice transmissions from orbit. The spacecraft is Voskhod with cosmonauts Komarov, Feoktistov and Yegorov aboard. In Florida, Richard Flagg picks up Komarov calling a tracking ship anchored near Cuba.
1965 April 25 Dieter Oslender detects the TK recovery beacon from Cosmos 65. The significance is not realised until 1978 when he compares notes with Sven Grahn.
1965 July 22 Flight International magazine publishes "Kettering's Cosmos Scholars", an article about the Satellite Tracking Group written by Kenneth Owen after a visit to the School.
1966 January Sven Grahn makes contact with the School after picking up signals from Cosmos 104 and becomes the first international associate of the Group.
1966 March The School is visited by a reporting team from the TV programme "ATV Today" to film interviews with member of the Tracking Group. Interviewees are Geoff Perry, Derek Slater, Richard Jahn, Mike Sinnet and David Hall. The interviewer is Lionel Hampden. ATV was the Independent Television frachise holder for the Midlands area at the time, and was based in Birmingham.
1966 March 17 Launch of Cosmos 112 - the first orbital mission from Plesetsk.
1966 April 14 TK recovery beacon detected by Sven Grahn from Cosmos 114. It is the first Zenit recovery beacon to be logged by the Kettering Group
1966 April 21 Flight International magazine publishes a letter from Geoff Perry announcing that the Soviet Union has started to use a new launch site, probably near the Arctic Circle.
1966 Work of the Group in tracking the recoverable Cosmos satellites is acknowledged by Dr Desmond King-Hele, head of the Space Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in the UK, in his book "Observing Earth Satellites".
1966 August 6 First interception of a recovery beacon by the Tracking Group at the School - "TK" from Cosmos 126.
1966 October 14 Launch of Cosmos 129 from Plesetsk at a new inclination. Analysis allows the location of the launch site to be pinpointed by looking at where the initial ground trace meets that of Cosmos 112 - it is to the south of Archangel.
1966 November 3 In the course of a space lecture that he was giving in London at the Autumn Meeting of the British Interplanetary Society, Geoff Perry announces the location of the Soviet Union's new launch site.
1966 November 10 Flight International magazine publishes a letter from Geoff Perry giving the location of the new Soviet Launch site. Soon after this, the site acquires the identification tag "Plesetsk", perhaps leaked by the western intelligence community. It is not until 1983 that the name and location are formally acknowledged by the Soviet Union.
1966 December 21 The Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Group gets its first major headlines, the subject is Plesetsk. The one that best sums it up is the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph front page headline "Pentagon Signals A Hit".
1967 April 23 Dick Flagg, based in Florida, makes the only Kettering Group observation of telemetry from Soyuz 1.
1967 October Charles Sheldon visits the UK and calls at Kettering where he meets members of the Group.
1967 October 31 Geoff Perry and Bob Christy are presented with the Group's new RA-217 receiver by the Chairman of Racal, Ernie Harrison. KGS teacher John Marshall and Daily Express Deputy Editor John Young are looking on. The idea came from John Young and the receiver was jointly funded by RACAL and The Daily Express newspaper. The venue is Northampton College, Islington, London (now the City University), where Geoff is giving a talk on radio tracking to the Autum Meeting of the British Interplanetary Society. John Marshall is present to deliver a talk on photographing satellites, and Isabel Perry is accompanying her father.
1968 The team acquires a "Great Northern Telegraph Undulator". Originally designed to produce a paper record of telegraphic code on a 'ticker tape' sized paper strip, it is the ideal tool for viusalising and measuring the pulses in the likes of a Zenit or Soyuz PDM transmission.
1968 April Geoff Perry presents a Lunch Time Discourse to Kettering Rotary Club at the Kettering Industrial Co-operative Society's Central Hall, Montague Street. In return he is presented with an electrically-driven digital clock and commemorative plaque for the Group. Also in attendance are Bob Christy and Vic Rowe who discover that there really is such a thing as a free lunch!
1968 Derek Slater succeeds in recording and decoding transmissions of ESSA meteorological satellite images.
1968 June A group of pupils, together with Geoff Perry and Derek Slater, meets Kettering MP Sir Geoffrey de Freitas at the House of Commons for afternoon tea. The party is joined by Leicester North East MP Tom Bradley, a Kettering resident.
1968 December A selection of Kettering Grammar School pupils acts as the question panel for an edition of the BBC current affairs programme "Panorama" where the subject is the 'Space Race'. On the receiving end is Dr Thomas O Paine, the Administrator of NASA. The Kettering side of the programme is filmed in the school Lecture Theatre and another film crew is in Washington with Dr Paine as he answers the questions over a live radio link.
1969 The Winter 1968-69 issue of TRW Space Log is published, containing an article by Charles Sheldon "The Soviet Space Program - A Growing Enterprise". The article is a summary of the latest Congressional Report. In it, acknowledgement is made of the Plesetsk announcement and the Kettering efforts in tracking recoverable Cosmos satellites.
1970 April 24 Launch of China's first satellite. It is tracked by the Group at Kettering and some of the telemetry is decoded. Transmission includes the Revolutionary tune "The East Is Red".
1971 March 3 China launches its second satellite, Shi Jian 1, and the Group receives telemetry similar to that from China's first satellite. After a few days, the signals cease when the onboard battery runs down. In the event it seems the original transmissions may have come from the satellite's launch vehicle. Several days later, the realisation dawns that the annoying 'clicks' interfering with reception of the recoverable Cosmos satellites are actually from Shi Jian 1 transmitting at the same frequency - 19.995 MHz. The annoyance is long-lived, the Chinese satellite is solar powered and continues to transmit until air drag finally takes its toll, causing it to re-enter eight years later.
1971 April Bob Christy determines the telemetry format of the 'clicks' from Shi Jian 1, China's second satellite. They are a modified form of PDM where, to economise on transmitter power, only the start and end of a pulse are transmitted.
1971 June 5 During the half term break, Bob Christy (by now an ex-pupil) stops by the school to monitor the Salyut 1 frequency on an early-morning pass. After several weeks of silence, there is a transmission.
1971 June 6 Bob Christy monitors the Salyut 1 frequency for a second day running and detects a signal. It is soon obvious that it is a Soyuz spacecraft with a crew of three. The School announces the launch well in advance of TASS and another round of major headlines follows.
1971 June 29 Final signals received from Soyuz 11 by Peter Bentley in Bangor, Wales and recorded automatically at Kettering - all seems well. Shortly afterwards the cabin air is exhausted and the crew suffocates.
1971 September 18 A team from the School presents the Group's work through a stand at the RAF Finningley Open Day, part of the UK's annual commemoration of the Battle of Britain. Attendees - Geoff Perry, Derel Slater, John Marshall, S Jones (teachers), Isabel Perry, Alan Mason, David Muggleton, David Dean, Tim Bland
1972 US Ambassador to the UK, Walter Annenburg, presents Geoff Perry with an advanced programmable calculator to help with the Group's analysis work.
1972 February 25 Sven Grahn tracks the Soviet Luna 20 as it returns from the Moon with a soil sample.
1972 December From Florida, Dick Flagg picks up Apollo 17 on its way to the Moon.
1973 January 1 Geoff Perry is appointed an Ordinary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's New Year Honours List. The citation is for "....founding and leading the Satellite Tracking Group, Kettering Grammar School".
1973 Chris Wood's analysis of the Tsikada and Parus groupings and signal content sees the light of day. Independent work on the orbits by Ian Wildman at the School produces the same orbit groupings.
1974 The book "Artificial Satellite Observing" edited by Howard Miles is published. Chapter 7, entitled "Radio Tracking of Satellites" is written by Geoff Perry.
1974 Bob Christy invited by the Editor of the British Interplanetary Society 'Spaceflight' magazine, Ken Gatland, to take over compilation of its Satellite Digest feature listing all satellite launches. The founder compiler Geoffrey Falworth had decided to 'retire'.
1974 April 29 Kettering Grammar School members of the Group invited to meet and hear astronaut Don Lind at the Church Of Jesus Christ Of The Latter Day Saints, Northampton. Lind was in the backup crew for Skylab 3 and Skylab 4.
1974 June Geoff Perry is awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Jackson-Gwilt Medal and Gift of 50 GBP. First presented in 1897, Geoff is the 25th recipient. A previous winner was Clyde Tombaugh in 1931 for discovering Pluto.
1974 October 10 Geoff Perry, David Dean and Paul Rosser invited to Glasgow, as guests of General Time Ltd, to meet Patrick Moore and Professor Neil Armstrong, commander of Gemini 8 and Apollo 11.
1975 Visits to the tracking station at the school were made at different times by Alain Dupas and Dr A R Payne (Director of SATRA), plus groups from Worksop College, ITN and KUFORG (Kettering UFO Research Group).
1975 Sven Grahn joins the Swedish Space Corporation.
1975 July 15 Kettering Grammar School support six days of broadcasting by ITN to cover the Apollo-Soyuz Test Programme. Geoff Perry is in the studio and Derek Slater heads up a team at the School with a live link to the studio.
1975 Geoff Perry appointed Consultant to Independent Television News at the instigation of Frank Miles, Science Editor.
1975 August 27 Members of the Group who operated the Kettering station during the Apollo-Soyuz mission are guests of Independent Television News at its London studios.
1976 September 1 Kettering Grammar School becomes the comprehensive education Kettering Boys' School.
1976 The name is changed to "The Kettering Group" to recognise its international aspects and that "Kettering Grammar School...." is no longer appropriate
1978 Work of the Kettering Group in classifying elements of Soviet Space Programme is featured heavily in the book "Outer Space - Battlefield of the Future" published by the Stockholm international Research Institute
1980 Pupil at the School, Andrew Sims, takes-on responsibility for monitoring the status of the Molniya communication satellite constellation.
1980 September 27 Geoff Perry, Dave Hawkins, Andy Driver, Max White and Pierre Neirinck participate in a two-day meeting of visual observers sponsored by the British National Committee for Space Research. Venue - St Peter's College, Saltley, Birmingham.
1980 December 31 The Satellite Orbits Group at the Appleton Laboratory in Slough - formerly the Radio and Space Research Station ceases to hold responsibility for keeping observers informed of orbital events. Pierre Neirinck's weekly Satellite Observers' Notes (SON) have almost become a fixture. For many years, Slough has provided the Group with predictions and orbital information, as well as passing on information about the Group's activities. Many late-night telephone calls were made to and by Pierre with the latest data and news.
1981 September 11 Charles Sheldon dies.
1982 July 2 Start of a twenty four hour tracking marathon at the School. Held in conjunction with the annual Open Day for parents, the session nets 134 passes from 21 satellites.
1982 July US Congressional Research Service publishes the first volume of a report "Soviet Space Programs: 1976-1980" for presentation to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Group's work is a substantial contributor through Geoff Perry's co-operation - intitally with Dr Charles Sheldon and then with Marcia Smith after Sheldon's death in 1981. Volumes 2 and 3 follow later.
1983 June 5 A group of pupils from the School, including Daryl Gunn, is hosted at Stansted Airport in the UK by a British TV programme "CBTV" which is aimed at a teenage audience. The event is organised to coincide with a stopover by NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying 'Enterprise' on a tour of Europe. Several group members are interviewed by Anneka Rice for transmission by the programme.
1983 June 20 An article in the newspaper "Pravda" is the Soviet Union's first public acknowledgement that Plesetsk exists and that it was tagged with the correct name in 1966.
1983 October The British version of Reader's Digest magazine carries an article "The Schoolroom Space-Watchers of Kettering". Over the next eight months, the same article finds its way into at least six other countries' versions of the magazine though the actual title and printed language vary from edition to edition.
1984 January Netherlands version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published (see 1983 October)
1984 March The School is visited by Dr Rhodes Boyson, an educationalist and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Education and Science, together with Kettering MP Roger Freeman. They meet with Geoff Perry, Derek Slater and James Bambridge from the Group.
1984 March German version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published (see 1983 October)
1984 April Chinese language version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published in Hong Kong (see 1983 October)
1984 May English language version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published in India (see 1983 October)
1984 June Swedish version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published (see 1983 October)
1984 June Australian version of the Reader's Digest Kettering article published (see 1983 October)
1984 August Geoff Perry retires from teaching and moves to Bude in Cornwall, his long-time summer holiday resting spot. Satellite tracking activities at the School cease after 24 years.
1984 December Gathering of Kettering Group members at the Science Museum, London to collect the Royal Aero Club's Prince of Wales Cup, awarded for the Group's work during 1983
1985 May 12 BBC Radio 4 airs "The Kettering Connection", a conversation between Geoff Perry and Patrick Moore on the history and work of the group. Also heard are Bob Christy, Sven Grahn, Mark Severance, Marcia Smith and Dick Flagg.
1986 Geoff Perry takes on the rôle of consultant to the Royal Aircraft Establishment for its ongoing publication "Table of Artificial Earth Satellites".
1986 August Derek Slater retires from teaching.
1987 March 23 First broadcast of "Sputnik, Bleeps and Mr Perry" (also known as "Behind the Bleep") on UK Channel 4 television - the dramatisation depicts several of the school staff in the 1960s. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with explanatory comments by Geoff Perry, Derek Slater, Mike Sinnett and Marcia Smith from the Group. Scenes are filmed at the school with Geoff Perry being played by Ian McNeice and Derek Slater by James Hazeldine.
1988 February US Congressional Research Service publishes the first volume of "Soviet Space Programs 1981-87" for presentation to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The report is co-ordinated by Marcia Smith, with sections based on the Group's work written by Geoff Perry and Max White. Volume 2 follows later.
1989 December 12 US public broadcaster NOVA television releases "The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret" based on events up to 1966. It is a documentary-style programme created with extensive use of material from filming of the earlier "Sputnik, Bleeps and Mr Perry".
1990 April A TV programme made by Yorkshire TV in the UK is aired. Entitled "The Crash of the Cosmos 1900", it follows Geoff’s efforts in tracking re-entry of Cosmos 1900, a Soviet satellite carrying a high-powered radar using a radioactive fuel core as its power source. There is an accompanying article in the UK magazine “The Listener”.
1991 April 23 A special hand franking is commissioned by, possibly, a stamp dealer from Stoke on Trent. It is used to postmark First Day Covers for the UK Post Office "Europe in Space" issue, possibly from all the special 'first day' postboxes in Northamptonshire. The dealer also produced 500 covers for sale printed with a simple design and the words "Kettering Boys' School 'Satellite Trackers' ". They were offered for sale with the stamps and the franking already applied but there is no indication of how many ended up in circulation.
1993 The "Wonder Stuff" releases a set of CD/cassette/vinyl recordings under the title "Construction for the Modern Idiot". A 1966 newspaper photograph of some of the Group, taken in the 'Physics A' laboratory for "The Times", is on the cover of "Full of Life (Happy Now)" and a negative colour reversal of the same photograph adorns the companion remix version.
1993 August 31 Formal closure date of Kettering Boys School. The buildings are taken over by the Tresham Institute, formerly Kettering Technical College.
1995 The book "Cytringanian Farewell" is published in Kettering to mark the closure of the School in 1993. It contains material on the satellite tracking activities.
1995 October With guidance from Stuart Eves, Geoff Perry relates space debris newspaper stories coming out of Ghana to the Express satellite. It was assumed lost through a launch mishap at Kagoshima, Japan 1995 January. The resulting analysis convinces people that it may indeed be the missing satellite, with the result that its re-entry module and parachute are subsequently retrieved.
1996 September Mark Severance, a group member from the US who has experience of listening to voice from Mir and is also a NASA employee, gets to work on a problem that is preventing Mir from working through American ground stations at Wallops and Dryden. The issue turns out to be two-fold. The American system is clipping the voice because the bandwidth of the receiver is too narrow (the Russians provided the wrong figure), and the system is not correcting for the varying Doppler shift as Mir crosses the sky. After weeks of frustration, on 1997 Feb 14, he eventually gets NASA management to listen and make the necessary changes. The incident is recorded in the book "Dragonfly - NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir" by Bryan Burrough (see pages 151-153).
1997 Mark Severance is part of the American team at TsUP in Moscow supporting the Shuttle-Mir missions. The job involves working at a console and speaking to the crew aboard Mir.
2000 January 18 Geoff Perry dies at Bude, aged 72. The Kettering Group ceases to exist.
2001 August "Newton", a popular science magazine magazine published in Japan in several different language versions, uses explanatory diagrams produced by Bob Christy to illustrate a feature on the Mir re-entry. The originals were published on Bob's 'www.zarya.info' web site a few weeks prior to the re-entry to help people understand what was planned to happen.
2002 June 8 Former Kettering Group members and guests meet at the Kettering Park Hotel including Jean Perry and Isabel Carmichael (daughter of Geoff and Jean Perry).
2003 Derek Slater and Bob Christy spend several hours at Derek's house helping record footage of the receiving equipment and video questions/answers for inclusion in a programme "Cold War Kids" as part of the BBC-4 "Time Shift" modern history production. In the event, less than three minutes is used. Disappointingly, the transmitted programme consists mainly of the same BBC-contracted 'talking heads' that have taken part in the several other Time Shift programmes produced at around the same time.
2007 The School buildings are demolished as the Tresham Institute constructs a brand new education complex. The main site has served 45 years and the Science Block 48 years as teaching buildings. The remaining aerials on the Science Block go into storage at the Institute.
2008 May Bob Christy and Sven Grahn make a private visit to Moscow taking in TsUP, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, the Keldysh Institute and the Zvenigorod Observatory that was used for optical satellite tracking from 1957 onwards They also stop by at Ostankhino and the All Russian Exhibition Centre (formerly VDNKh) to view Cosmonaut Alley and the Cosmos Pavilion that has been transformed into a gardening centre
2009 July Kettering Borough Council honours the Group with a granite slab in the newly redeveloped Market Place as part of its "Kettering Timeline". On the advice of a panel of "local historians", the wording reads: "October 1966 - Kettering Grammar School Beats NASA" (sic).
2010 May 16 50th Anniversary of Geoff Perry and Derek Slater tracking Korabl Sputnik, the Group's first satellite observation
2011 Derek Slater passes the CR-100 receiver, plus the BC-221 frequency meter and several other items of equipment, into the keeping of the National Space Centre, a museum and visitor attraction at Leicester in the UK, for use in a future display.
2014 The National Space Centre is unsuccessful in a bid for funding to make up a permanent exhibition devoted to the Kettering Group so the equipment passed on by Derek Slater goes into store until resources can be found.
2015 March 29 Derek Slater, co-founder of the Group alongside Geoff Perry dies at home in Edinburgh, UK aged 89.
2015 December The National Space Centre at Leicester in the UK unveils a display of Kettering equipment, together with recordings, telling of the Plesetsk story. It carries a plaque that reads "This display is dedicated to the memory of Derek Slater and Geoff Perry. Derek told us their remarkable story and donated his radio equipment to the National Space Centre shortly before his death in March 2015."
2016 March 12 Mike Sinnett represents the group as a studio guest for BBC Radio 4's "Saturday Live" programme.
2016 March 16 Nearly forty Kettering Group members and guests (including 12 former pupils) get together, for the first time since 2002, at the National Space Centre in Leicester, England to open officially the Centre's Kettering exhibit and to mark the 50th anniversary of disclosing the existence of Plesetsk.
2016 March 17 50th Anniversary of the Cosmos 112 launch that precipitated the Kettering Grammar School and the Kettering Group into their place in the annals of history.
2018 Geoff Perry's archive of papers, recordings, logs, photographs, equipment, etc passed to the Science Museum in London for cataloguing. Eventually, hopefully, some will go on display.
2023 August 16 Chris Wood who was the Group's 'eyes and ears' in Fiji during the 1960s and who decoded the radio tranmissions from the Soviet a navsats dies.
2024 March 3 John Gau who created the TV drama-documentary "Sputnik, Bleeps And Mr Perry" dies aged 93.
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