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, a dispenser 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; this artifact is the housing for the dispenser mechanism.
Transferred from the National Museum of American History to the Museum in 2004.
Transferred from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History