Launched by the U.S. Air Force in 1963, the West Ford satellite used a unique concept to test the new undertaking of communications from space. Once in space, the dispenser (this artifact) via a spring mechanism pushed a canister, packed with millions of tiny needles (dipoles), into orbit. The needles in the canister slowly separated and formed a ring around the Earth. Antennas on the ground bounced radio signals off the ring of needles to communicate.
The museum's satellite is a prototype.
Transferred from the National Museum of American History to the Museum in 2004.
Transferred from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History