Readers: Your help needed to recover old satellite imagery

One image that has been recovered
One image that has been recovered
As WUWT readers know, I covered a fascinating project on 3/31 here showing how a team of dedicated technical archaeologists are trying the get old AMPEX 2″ reel to reel data recorders functional again so that they can recover thousnads of moon and earth images from the 1960’s that would otherwise be lost to history. There is a current scientific interest in the images, as some may help determine the extent of polar ice during those years.
I’ve offered WUWT as a vehicle to help find parts and manuals. You may have access to these things and not know it. Ask around, especially with the old-timers in your department, and check your dusty basements and storage areas. – Anthony

A message from Dennis Wingo:
The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP), is a NASA ESMD funded project to recover the original Lunar Orbiter analog data which was recorded on an Ampex FR-900 2″ video instrumentation recorder.  As far as we know, we have the last surviving drives of this type in the world.  We have retired Ampex engineers working with us on this project but the FR-900 was a limited use machine (exclusively the U.S. government at the FAA, USAF, NASA).
What we need is to find any possible source of documentation (we know about the Stanford Archive and have been there many times) for the FR-900 or the possibility of actual machines.

There are similar machines with the numbers FR-901, FR-902, FR-950 that are close enough that we can use any information on them.

Please email to Anthony (or drop a comment below) and he will forward to me or drop us a note at
Thanks very much!!!
Dennis Wingo
LOIRP Project Lead
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Fluffy Clouds (Tim L)
April 1, 2009 11:33 pm

well, I will look in my sams photo facts.
all my old capacitors will be junk though( even the ones never used.
all this stuff i have is pre 1980s
I may have small Tubes brand new ( never used) but most are prior (1972)
I have not repaired a video Tape deck for over 10 years.
It might help to list what you need at your web sight.
Luke may the force be with you!!!

April 1, 2009 11:48 pm

If you could publish photos, specs and diagrams of what is needed you might find people who could engineer those parts from scratch.

Lindsay H
April 2, 2009 12:46 am

Try some old time tv studio’s they used ampex 2″ tape recorders for video recording and playback, should be a few lying around. The tape drives looked to be the same, the electronics might be a bit different from the FR900 series . I remember (this ages me a bit) converting a TV studio from an RCA video recorder with 2000 radio type valves weighing about a ton to one using Ampex recorders it had “wonders of wonders” transistors and was only the size of a deep freezer. !!! Have things changed.
Interesting the rotating heads on the ampex spun at such high speed across the tape that relativistic effects were reported to be observed in the head wear.

April 2, 2009 12:48 am

It is possible that additional specimens of these recorders could have been used by other agencies besides NASA. Though I would imagine this has been researched already, one might see if they can obtain the manufacturing records for these devices and see how many were shipped. They could well have been used for recording data and imagery of other than the civilian sort during the cold war years.

Alan Chappell
April 2, 2009 1:23 am

As Aron says above publish what you need, I have contacts in China that have bought hundreds of tons of electronic military surplus and I can assure you that they throw nothing away, if these machines went through the usual channels they would have been stripped and cataloged in China, Let us know what you need. Part No.etc,.

Henrique Martins
April 2, 2009 2:09 am

Lindsay H:
“Try some old time tv studio’s they used ampex 2″ tape recorders for video recording and playback,”
I don’t know the FR-900 but it doesn’t look like an helical or transversal recorder. It looks like a stationary head recorder. It the heads are OK and if there is a circuit diagram it should not be difficult to repair.

Mike Brown
April 2, 2009 2:28 am

In 1981, NASA Goddard in Cleveland, Oh had these recorders. IF I remember right they were also used in the Air Force. There used to be a couple of huge ware houses at Goddard that were just full of stuff.

Robert Wood
April 2, 2009 2:41 am

Front-page headline in the Canadian National Post today:
“Climate Change Not All Man-Made, report says.”
The report:
Two points from the executive summary
• More than half of this warming is likely
the result of human-caused greenhouse gas
forcing of climate change.
• Changes in ocean temperatures likely explain
a substantial fraction of the humancaused
warming of North America.
The report is called a “re-analysis”, from the department of “reanalysis”. Is NOAA preparing its “Get Out Of Jail Free” card?

April 2, 2009 2:47 am

One place I can recommend to try would be surplus sales of Nebraska. They have a huge wearhouse of old stuff just lying around waiting for someone who is looking to mae something old new again. I remember spending hours wandering around their shop when it was still accessable to the public, now it is strictly call ahead and mai order.

April 2, 2009 4:15 am

The Science Museum in London has a huge amount of technology from the last century, it might be an idea to email them.
The BBC also had a huge technical department and had lots of A/V equipment in storage. They recently asked watchers/listeners to send in old recording of programs to digitize. I suspect that they may be able to help.

Les Francis
April 2, 2009 4:58 am

Anybody out there in WUWT land know La Jolla’ s Ken Rockwell from ?
He has a Photography site with a huge readership. He is also holds an engineering degree and holds patents in digital imaging techniques. He has worked for Hollywood and TV land on imaging systems. This should be right up his or his readers alley.
Anybody know how to drop him a line?

Dennis Wingo
April 2, 2009 5:18 am

Thanks folks
The Nebraska place sounds interesting. The China thing with U.S. military surplus sounds interesting as well. At this time we are looking for some very specific parts that were custom made for the FR-900 and circuit boards from those machines. There are oven based ultrastable oscillators in the machine that are 100% one off’s (we have some Hallicrafter’s .1 ppm 1Mhz ultrastable oscillators for example in the machine).
We have made many of our own parts, including Capstan pinch rollers, belts for the motors, and other parts.
We are specifically looking, more than anything else, manuals for the machines. I cannot tell you how many times we have tracked things down to find that we are a year, six months, or even a couple of months late after things were thrown in the dumpster.
We need FR-900 specific stuff as the commercial Ampex VR-1200, VR-2000’s, and AVR series are just different enough that we cannot use the hardware (this was probably intentional as you can charge the government more for unique items that are not sold in the commercial market).
Just as an FYI, our exact machine is an FR-900A-1 machine, which means that it could be used as part of an FR-950 which was an 8 head machine with two electronics bays (an octoplex recorder).
Our heads are not the commercial Mark15 air bearing heads, but are Mark-10 ball bearing. One thing we can do is take the Mark-15 drum assembly and use it on a Mark-10 head so if there are any heads floating around out there of either type this would help.
Since these machines were almost exclusively government purchased (The FAA used them to record radar data, as did the USAF) and NASA used them for the early Nimbus missions (there may be raw data from Nimbus out there as well!), we have been through the federal records (I will dig up the National Stock Number for the machine later today as I am on travel) and am pretty sure that the government does not have any left at all.
So thanks and good hunting as this could help us keep the machines running (which is going to be an effort in and of itself as we have 1500 tapes to digitize!!!). We are committed to bringing this history to life for our own enjoyment as well as for posterity.

Ryan C
April 2, 2009 5:41 am

OT but thought you guys might like to see this from one of Canadas National Newspapers:

Robert Wood
April 2, 2009 6:42 am

It may be worth cointacting some of the large telcos for old equipment in their basements.

Tim Channon
April 2, 2009 6:53 am

Any folks watching Arctic sea ice.
There is a now a fair idea of how things are moving. I’ve tweaked to try and get very close to right, given that ends of plots are difficult.
Ice is now following 2004, less than 2003 and 2008.
The Arctic SSW during Jan/Feb is my guess on what put a flat on the ice extent leading up to the peak. This event is probably what broken the icy Jan weather in western Europe, it remained over North America.
(other plots off here
“Starting in January and extending into early February 2009, wind and temperature patterns in the stratosphere changed dramatically. In just a few weeks, temperatures climbed by about 50 degrees Celsius (90 degrees F) on average, with larger spikes in places, and winds flipped direction, changing by nearly 100 meters per second (200 miles per hour). ”
Spring blossom is starting to arrive here in England. Actually pleasant and weakly sunny.

Methow Ken
April 2, 2009 7:08 am

Hello Dennis Wingo:
WRT old FR-900 Ampex recorders you said:
”(The FAA used them to record radar data, as did the USAF) and NASA used them for the early Nimbus missions ….”
The Navy also used Ampex recorders extensively in the 1970s and probably into the early 1980s in some cases, for recording of non-destructive exercise test data from undersea weapons. The above photo of the Ampex recorder brings back vague 30+ year old memories of the data reduction area at the government facility where I worked before I retired. That base has a very nice technical museum where a lot of old technology has been saved. I would guess there is at least a fair chance they have one or more Ampex recorders in storage if not on display. Have no idea if they might be FR-900 models, but it should be pretty easy for me to check with the museum curators if you want (costs me nothing to ask, and for a good cause like this one if they have one my guess is good chance they might be willing to contribute).

jack mosevich
April 2, 2009 7:13 am

Some early NASA satelite photos. one shows antarctica in 1967. Quality not so good of course:

April 2, 2009 7:13 am

I work in a building that used to be a DISA facility, that used to be a NWS office, that used to be a NASA facility (the place’s first mission…I think).
There was a LOT of very old electrical equipment in the basement room in which I am now sitting, yet all of it was in pristine condition. After lunch, I am going to go poke around the warehouse space where all of that stuff went about 3 years ago.
I am in Slidell, LA. I know I saw some items that look somewhat like the pic above and that name Ampex rings a bell, too.

Dave in Canada
April 2, 2009 7:17 am

Not sure if this helps, but manual might in California archives @
Preliminary Guide to the Ampex Corporation Records
[ Carton 49 ]
[ Folder 6924 ]
FR-900 USASRDL Data Terminal tape handler (7-59). Accession No. 2001-146. Photographs : b&w Negatives : bandw

Richard P
April 2, 2009 7:23 am

If you are having issues finding the 1MHz 100ppB stability oscillators I may be able to help. At the time these units were built stabilities like that were only attainable with an ovenized unit. Today those type of stabilities are easily reachable with Temperature Compensated as well as Microcontroller Compensated oscillators. If I look around I may have a few lying around that you can have. I just need to know the frequency output, waveform, power and terminating impedance (if a sine output), or voltage if something else. It would also be helpful to know input voltage and operating conditions as well.

April 2, 2009 7:37 am

This could be very important information. I wonder if some of the photographs that do exist show an ice extent from past decades that could be used favorably to compare with todays ice volumes.
Could be another blow to the AGW theory, but if the photos show a much larger ice volume, it could go the other way also.

April 2, 2009 8:01 am

I work in a building that used to be a DISA facility, that used to be a NWS office, that used to be a NASA facility (the place’s first mission…I think).
There was a LOT of very old electrical equipment in the basement room in which I am now sitting, yet all of it was in pristine condition. After lunch, I am going to go poke around the warehouse space…

I just talked to the building supers. They said dozens of tape drives very much like that one went to the landfill one year ago. That sux.
Sorry if I got anyone’s hopes up. I was hopeful.

April 2, 2009 8:02 am

I didn’t find anything interesting on eBay at the moment. Actually, the wooden B-47 bomber is interesting, but not relevant. Looking through the options… I don’t see a way to add to a “Wanted” list, although the “Saved searches” tool may be useful.

April 2, 2009 8:10 am

Try CBC in Toronto; I heard a little gossip in the last day or so that they are about to ‘retire’ one of their old 1″ tape machines, and may possibly have other similar surplus equipment still on site. Worth a try.

April 2, 2009 8:27 am

Have sent this info to some contacts in Huntsville, AL. The Von Braun Astronomical Soc. have some of the old timers as members. Also back about 8-9 years ago, the Alabama Space and Rocket Center, cleared some of it’s space stuff by selling off to the public a mix/match of what ever NASA had unloaded on them. So it’s possible there are images in basement/attics of the Rocket City.

April 2, 2009 8:53 am

if you look here: this chap has Ampex 900 series manual.
Hope this helps

April 2, 2009 9:26 am

Re Geoff (7:37)
That’s science for ya. Got to be prepared for answers that don’t fit your agenda!

Tim Channon
April 2, 2009 9:38 am

It’s pretty much known, unlike the Arctic there have been bases etc. there for some time.
Example, gives info from 1955…

April 2, 2009 9:38 am

Sorry to continue the other OT responses:
Robert Wood (02:41:03)
Ryan C (05:41:08)
Using the reporting of NOAA’s study, I’ve estimated that the climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 is ~1.65C.
Here’s the relevant bits from the National Post story:
Some of the changes in North America’s warming trend of the past half-century have been due to shifting ocean currents, the NOAA team found. It estimates the “natural” change is substantial and could be close to half of all warming in North America (though it is still less than the amount caused by greenhouse gases.)
The study found:
– The 56-year trend of annual surface temperature showed a rise of 0.9C, plus or minus one-tenth of a degree.

– Seven of the warmest 10 years since 1951 occurred in the decade from 1997 to 2006. The data in the study cover only to the end of 2007.
So a bit more than half of the 0.9C increase is due to GW. I’ll use 0.9C * 55% = ~0.5
I’ll also use the Mauna Loa CO2 measurements for the study start and end dates:
1951: 311 ppm
2007: 383 ppm
If I understand it correctly, the change in temp can be calculated as:
tempchange = forcefactor * ln(CO2[end]/CO2[start])
forcefactor = tempchange / ln(CO2[end]/CO2[start])
Plugging in the above values we get:
forcefactor = 0.5 / ln(383/311)
forcefactor = 2.4
And sensitivity to doubling of CO2 as:
sensitivity = forcefactor * ln(2)
sensitivity = 1.65C
This is significantly less than the 3.0C estimated by the model ensemble used by the IPCC.
Also interesting, this is also consistent with Bill Illis’s analysis from a while back:

April 2, 2009 9:56 am

Anthony, I just sent you email to the “info” address that has some information concerning other uses of the FR-900 and a name of someone else who was extremely well-versed in those units (apparently an Ampex factory rep for the 900 series recorders). Sadly he has recently tossed his manuals but does give some ideas on where additional units were used.

April 2, 2009 10:15 am

“Some of the changes in North America’s warming trend of the past half-century have been due to shifting ocean currents, the NOAA team found. It estimates the “natural” change is substantial and could be close to half of all warming in North America”
I wonder what we would get if we added up all the things that have been reported over the years to account for “close to half” of warming. I seem to see that bandied around a bit. I think the same thing was said of “adjustments” to raw temperature data, too.

April 2, 2009 11:13 am

Thanks for the analysis. But as Crosspatch mentions, does the CO2 sensistivity of 1.65 C that you calculated only includes the role of CO2, or does it include other factors (mentioned in the next sentence) when the shift in ocean currents was excluded from the temperature trend? If the latter, then the “man-made” temperature rise includes not only the role of CO2, but land-use changes, lower emissions of aerosols, more emissions of brown haze, UHI effect, etc. One wonders how much warming is left that can be solely placed on CO2.

April 2, 2009 11:45 am

While I’m sure readers here will be a huge resource in finding mothballed parts for the tape transports, the other side of the equation not yet mentioned concerns the datatapes themselves.
It turns out that stored datatapes age and deteriorate as a function of time, manufacturing process and storage technique. Fortunately, there is a wealth of restoration knowledge in the Music and Movie industries, as they have been down this road before. Problems encountered include magnetic print though which corrupts the data, embrittled mylar substrates, and physical loss of oxide. There are mitigations to these problems, but the processes are complex and time consuming.
Believe me, there is nothing worse than clogging up your antique tape heads by shredding 30 year old crumbling oxide into them. Take the time to learn how to bake a tape.

April 2, 2009 11:55 am

Chris… this OT discussion needs to be taken somewhere else. Maybe Anthony will post as a separate topic? Wouldn’t want Dennis to have to filter through this.
But… I know what you’re saying and I agree. This is just a simple, back of the envelope analysis. All the usual caveats apply as well as the debate about what temperature record (land/satellite) is best.

David L. Hagen
April 2, 2009 12:27 pm

Dennis Wingo

There are oven based ultrastable oscillators in the machine that are 100% one off’s (we have some Hallicrafter’s .1 ppm 1Mhz ultrastable oscillators for example in the machine).

If you need some ultra high resolution flexibility with better stability see:
Jackson Labs FireFox Synthesizers with GPS Frequency Reference
For $2.5k, they provide:

Any frequency from 0.00001Hz to 1640MHz can be set quickly with 10mHz resolution (15-Digits Resolution) over the entire 1.64GHz bandwidth using the built-in LCD and keypad, or via RS232 control.

Their “accuracy” is a tad bit better than 100 ppb.
i.e. Allan Deviations of 1E-011.
That would allow you to adjust to whatever frequency the original tape was actually recorded, or digitally compensate for thermal drift.

Larry Sheldon
April 2, 2009 1:26 pm

There used to be a place in Sunnyvale, and Mountainview, California (name varied over the years–HalTeds, HalTec, maybe others. The last time I was there the store was on Eveyln in Sunnyvale.
He bought box-car lots of government surplus junk to get the hydraulics parts for his main business.
Is Ampex still in Redwood City–they might have contacts or stuff.

David L. Hagen
April 2, 2009 2:29 pm

CollectSpace reports:

NASA agreed and AMPEX FR-900 2-inch analog tape recorders were positioned at the Goldstone, California, Madrid, Spain and Castle Island (Woomera), Australia tracking stations to record all the images from the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.

Any chance one of these Ampex recorders might still exist in Spain or Australia?

Dennis Wingo
April 2, 2009 2:30 pm

We visit HalTed often!
David Hagen
That is VERY interesting. Our machine actually has two USO’s. The 1 Mhz seems to be working find but we have another, lower frequency one that we really need to replace. Thanks much.
Thanks, we have retired Ampex engineers that are expert in this. We are EXTREMELY fortunate that NASA did a really good job in storing these tapes and packaging them. We have had far fewer problems with them than I would have thought.
I cannot tell you how many times we have heard similar stories of recently tossed manuals over the last six months.
Yea we saw that several months ago and contacted the fellow but for some reason he did not want to sell us a manual.
I helped to get an entire collection of film and glass images moved from Tuscaloosa to the Space and Rocket Center. I also work with the archives at the University of Alabama in Huntsville so am pretty familiar with what is around in Huntspatch. Thanks
Yep, yet again this plays out in a way that we have heard a lot lately. This is why I really thank anthony for the forum to see what else may be out there that may not have met the same fate.
Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions. We will follow up with some as soon as I get back to California on Monday.

G Fleming
April 2, 2009 2:41 pm

Mr. Wingo
Try Kansas Cosmosphere at They specialize in space artifact restoration and replication. They may have manuals or parts.
Mr. Watts
Thank you for the great service and site!

D.R. Williams
April 2, 2009 2:57 pm

It sounds like the hardware problems are well-understood, albeit a lot of work.
What’s being done about the tape itself? You can’t just pull it out of the tins and thread it up.

Mike H.
April 2, 2009 3:30 pm

Find the NSN and equipment designation for all of the branches of the military in the search for a manual. I don’t know the equipment manufacturers or models, but the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity on Camp Pendelton used a large number of tape drives for data acquisition in the MarTacDataSys program. The manuals might be in archive.

John Cooper
April 2, 2009 4:02 pm

Call “JRPS” – the Record/Playback Station in the LCC at the Kennedy Space Center. Explain your quest and ask for the home phone number of Mr. Welch (now retired for ten years). JRPS: (321) 861-0830 (could be 867-0830). My phone list is ten years old.
They use 1″ tape now, but Welch would remember.

April 2, 2009 4:23 pm

FYI, this site has schematics for FR-900; also has manuals but I didn’t see the specific one:
Good hunting,

Bob Wood
April 2, 2009 4:25 pm

I watch the NASA channel on TV quite a bit and they often show old movies of moon landings. Have you check them out to see just what they have?

April 2, 2009 6:08 pm

“There used to be a place in Sunnyvale, and Mountainview, California (name varied over the years–HalTeds, HalTec, maybe others. The last time I was there the store was on Eveyln in Sunnyvale.”
That would be Halted (HSC). There is also a HUGE place that never advertises and I don’t remember their name but they were on De la Cruz near San Jose airport. They had absolutely racks and racks of stuff going back decades … tubes, crystal ovens, variable capacitors, chokes. I believe their retail operation is now closed. It might have been RA Enterprises.
There is also Weird Stuff back behind Lockheed on Caribbean (I believe Mathilda in Sunnyvale eventually curves around and becomes Carobbean). I haven’t been to Weird Stuff in years though. They often get bulk electronic surplus and have auctions.
Vandenberg AFB USAF Space and Missile Test Center had some and they were used (according to an email I got this morning) for a project called Splash Detection Radar System which was built by Westinghouse Defense in Baltimore. They apparently had them in at least two locations and possibly more in the Pacific.
I would snoop around Lockheed (right next to Ames) if you know anyone there. They have done a lot of business with Ampex over the years.

April 2, 2009 7:56 pm

Maybe GSA can help out. All government personal property (which this is) ends up at GSA when it’s no longer needed. Good luck.

April 2, 2009 8:11 pm

Dennis Wingo (05:18:57) :

There are oven based ultrastable oscillators in the machine that are 100% one off’s (we have some Hallicrafter’s .1 ppm 1Mhz ultrastable oscillators for example in the machine).

If you are looking for ovenized oscillators. GTE [before merger to become Verizon] had a #5EAX telephone switch which used an ovenized master clock on a card running [if memory serves me] at 1mhz. Devilishly tricky and time consuming to adjust but very stable. I believe that some of the #5EAX switches are still in service as smaller offices and may be a source of oscillators for you.
For such a good cause, perhaps a call to Verizon public relations in the Southern Calif. area would be fruitful.

April 2, 2009 9:05 pm

We used to work with similar machines but Im told that our old ones would not have the same format as yours and are therefore usless to you.. sorry.. still tryin:)

Dennis Wingo
April 2, 2009 11:07 pm

What’s being done about the tape itself? You can’t just pull it out of the tins and thread it up.
You know, amazingly enough that is exactly what we do. I am continually amazed that this works as I used to run a TV studio in LA where we could not do that even 20 years ago, but we have had an amazingly small number of tapes that even produce head clogs. We have run some tapes as many as 20-30 times in doing testing. Absolutely amazing to us.
I heard a story, that seems plausable but not sure about it really. It turns out that in 1975 all of the vendors changed the formula for the adhesive that holds the iron particles to the tape back. The new formulation had problems with moisture and over time degraded significantly.
However, the tape before 1975 that did not have this problem was made with a different mixture that included WHALE OIL, I kid you not. I don’t know if this is true but the person that said this (Or I read it one) was an expert on tape.
Again, thanks to everyone who is finding stuff. For the most part we have found it before but you never know what might help us out that we may have missed. The USO information has been very helpful and we are chasing that one down as soon as I get back to the lab.
Ain’t the internet grand!

Dennis Wingo
April 3, 2009 8:28 am

Thanks but for some reason Ampex had a series 900 as well as the FR-900 and those schematics are for the series 900 product.
Good catch though.
Also, an addendum, across the nation, the old electronics surplus stores are closing, ending an era of access to all kinds of cool and weird stuff. The young kids just don’t build stuff like we did when we were young.
Too bad for us all.

Paul Martin
April 3, 2009 8:54 am

They used to use similar Ampex tape drives for recording data from Boeing Flight Test, 777 back to 707 probably. I rode a vanpool for 10 years with Lee, an engineer who designed the data acquisiton systems. I’ll give him a call and see if he has sources for the old manuals or equipment your looking for. I work at AT&T now but the test department is probably still at building 3-800, 7755 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, WA 98108

Bill P
April 3, 2009 9:32 am

Dennis, I enjoyed reading this and the L.A. Times article about your work.
Perhaps we’ll be seeing more of these images (at WUWT?) as you lift them off these old tapes.
I’m hoping you’ll keep the non-engineers among Anthony’s readers in mind as you decode tapes and report your findings.
The LA Times article says about the the five unmanned probes:

Altogether, nearly 2,000 frames were photographed by the five missions, each of which ended with a silent crash onto the lunar surface.

I was surprised that only 2,000 pictures were taken, but perhaps this makes sense, if the process of development, transmission, data-capture, etc, are as laborious as I can only imagine they were. The article says that only 35 mm snapshots of the high-resolution images have been seen by the public.
Have all the h-r images been seen in the NASA labs? In what format?
Thanks for all your time and effort. As other readers here have expressed, maybe there’s a breakthrough about polar ice in the 60’s just around the corner!

D.R. Williams
April 3, 2009 9:35 am

Please send me your email address. I’m working on getting you some contacts on the magnetic tape side of things.

Dennis Wingo
April 3, 2009 1:57 pm

Send your request through Anthony or Charles the moderator guy. Send me your address and I will get it.
Have all the h-r images been seen in the NASA labs? In what format?
No, they have not, ever. In the Apollo era, no computer could display the images at full resolution. They digitized 6 bit 800 x 800 “chits” that were used to do the final Apollo site selection. As far as I know, NONE of these captures ever made it into the public domain.
We will be doing more soon, next week as a matter of fact.

Michael Ronayne
April 3, 2009 2:35 pm

While I have nothing to contribute to the quest, I was struck by the similarity between the dialog in these posts and a subplot in the novel Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle & Michael Flynn. In the story, teams are sent of scavenger hunts to locate old space technology which has been outlawed by the environmentalists as well as any technology could be of use on an orbital colony, while being hunted by state security forces. Good luck in your quest to recover old technology.

Bill Jamison
April 3, 2009 2:51 pm

I posted the information on other forums that I’m active on in the hopes that someone might have information. It’s amazing how quickly the word can get out on the right forums – like this one!

April 3, 2009 7:12 pm

One other thought, I imagine you likely have checked this but just in case. I have used patent records to get theory of operations, block diagrams and even some schematics. Just type in Patent and any numbers you might have into any search engine and you can get a wealth of info.

April 3, 2009 11:38 pm

I believe that the Library of Congress has a dedicated group that does data / image / media recovery. They would be a good source for pointers, if they don’t actually have the equipment (they have a lot of odd equipment… and the L.O.C. tended to pack-rat all sorts of information – maybe even manuals?
I would also contact some of the TLA agencies … (Three Letter Acronym… you know, NSA, CIA, FBI, …) and ask if they could recover the data… they have ‘capabilities’ in a lot of media…
One of the “odd stories” our Cray support guy told us was of entering a TLA agency site where you stripped and put on their clothes and used there tools. Nothing other than bare body in, or out. Old disk drives were simply pushed to a corner. More trouble to assure no data could be recovered than to just warehouse them… If one of these went in, the odds would be good that it never came out. Getting access might be problematic, but they might read the tape for you…
(Our sales guy had stores of leaving a flat bed truck with a Cray on it at a designated location and picking up a different flatbed with money on it the next day… don’t know if he was just pulling our leg or not, but he seemed serious. And a TLA agency would not want folks to know what ‘capabilities’ they had or what they were buying, so it makes sense.)
Finally, on Shoreline / Amphitheater (drive?) in Mountain View is the Tech Museum with things like one of the original Apple I machines. They might have one (or have a network of contacts.)

David L. Hagen
April 4, 2009 7:34 am

Dennis Wingo
We look forward to the results of your project.
Following is some thinking “outside the box” that might help your data recovery.
In recovering the images, each step in the process adds noise and/or changes the signal by some function. While very good for their day, the Ampex F900’s read and amplification electronics add noise and some distortion to the signals recorded on the video tape.
Tim Channon above notes above:

The image is 37,134×16,200 at 16 bit greyscale, a tad larger than most home monitors.

I’ll presume you are working with or would like 16 bit gray scale per RGB channel. Modern digitizers readily handle 16 bit per channel at video speeds. (At slower speeds A/D’s are available with 24 bit.)
Video A/Ds May I recommend digitizing the video signal directly at the tape read heads with as little intermediate amplification as needed to feed the A/D. This would help by eliminating most headaches of trying to maintain the playback read electronics. Following are some quick sketches of some potentials for using modern digital electronics to replace the Ampex read electronics.
PCI Express Bus

PCI Express supports 1x [2.5Gbps], 2x, 4x, 8x, 12x, 16x, and 32x bus widths [transmit / receive pairs]; 2.5Gigabits/second per Lane per Direction. The 8B/10B changes the data transfer numbers to 250MBps per lane, raw data [B= Bytes, b=Bits]. The reduction in throughput is accounted for under the protocol section.”

“. . .version II of the PCIe bus which increases the bus speed to 10GBps.”
Some examples of 16 bit video data acquisition. E.g. for a PCIe bus Pentek’s Quad 200 MHz, 16-bit A/D Data Converter

· Four 200 MHz, 16-bit A/Ds · . . .Multi-module synchronization capability · Variety of IP cores to match specific requirements · Built-in data capture modes”

PCI Express SDR boards feature direct FPGA connectivity
Alternatively see ADLink’s 16 bit video A/D on a PXI bus: PXI-9816/9826/9846

4-CH 16-Bit 10/20/40 MS/s Digitizer with 512MB SDRAM
. . .

Such higher frequency sampling would allow immediate signal processing to remove some noise and improve recovery of the signal on the tape. E.g. sample at 200 MHz and four fold average down to 50 MHz (4 fold sum and shift two bits.)
At slower tape speeds, you could use 24 bit A/Ds with more averaging. E.g., Innovative Integration X3-SDF

PCI Express XMC Module, (4) 24-bit, Fast Sigma-Delta A/D >110 dB, 1M FPGA, 4 MB Memory

Analog Devices AD7760: 2.5 MSPS, 24-Bit, 100 dB Sigma-Delta ADC with On-Chip Buffer

# 112 dB SNR at 78 kHz output data rate, # 100 dB SNR at 2.5 MHz output data rate

Capstain Rotary EncoderThe corresponding improvement on tape speed would be to add an encoder to the capstan and synch the A/D to the actual capstan speed. That would reduce motor speed frequency control issues. It would only require achieving a “fairly” stable tape drive. The rest would be handled by the encoder and signal processing.
The rotary encoder can be dynamically calibrated in time. See:
Self-Calibration of On-Axis Rotary Encoders, X.-D. Lu and D.L. Trumper, and
Processing: The rest would be “just” a matter of some signal processing.
E.g., See SuperDSP for 100 GFlop DSP cards with 50 GB/s bandwidth. In 2008, a single XP-100 card (100 Gflop) listed for $20,000 and a single XP-30 (30 GFlop) listed for $12,000. They note that the PCIe bus can handle (x8, 1.5 GB/s).
There are probably a few instrumentation experts and software types around who could help with such data acquisition and signal processing.
Such a combination of high resolution video data conversion, capstain rotary encoders, precision frequency generator, and signal processing would eliminate most electronics issues in the Ampex recorder, while improving the accuracy of reading the lunar images.
Happy hunting.
PS If you haven’t already seen it: Preliminary Guide to the Ampex Corporation Records

David L. Hagen
April 4, 2009 8:18 am

URL Corrections: Video Bus Standards

“. . .version II of the PCIe bus which increases the bus speed to 10GBps.”

PCI Express SDR boards feature direct FPGA connectivity

April 6, 2009 8:49 am

Anthony, you realy have to post on this by Icecap. Its eye-opening as regards the lack of credibility and ad hominem attacck by those who have no leg to stand on.
Mike Worst

Dennis Wingo
April 6, 2009 12:49 pm

Thanks for that. As I replied before, we are kinda funding limited here so we have to use what we have in the best way that we can. One thing that we have done is to fix up the variable timing of many of the circuits in the system that have discrete transistor flip flops. We have been substituting 1970’s CMOS chips in many of the timing circuits with good results. There is also a subtle feedback loop between the RF system and the servo system so we have to have both of them functioning well in order to get the head swath to tape timing correct.
We are using PCIe digitizers on a Mac Pro workstation to capture our data so we are able to get high data rate captures up to 180 megasamples per second.
We can do a lot with that but we would have to do a LOT of digital post processing including doing the demodulation in the digital domain, which is NOT going to be easy. Much easier to do in hardware, especially since we have spent the money doing so.
I will be answering some of you guys this week as I am back in the lab now.
Thanks again

Dennis Wingo
April 6, 2009 1:28 pm

E.M. Smith
Yep, we are familiar with a lot of that info. I was a test engineer on those older Cray super computer disk drives and have storied to tell about getting the old heads back from TLA’s.
We are in contact with some of them as we have relationships there. Right now we probably have some of the best capability for recovering the type of data that we have in the world.

Dennis Wingo
April 6, 2009 1:31 pm

Michael Ronayne
Michael, funny you should mention Pournelle. I know Jerry fairly well and was with his son Rich this past weekend in Arizona. I also know many of the players in the book “fallen angel” as well, including Gary Hudson.

Larry Sheldon
April 8, 2009 5:18 am

I passed a pointer to this item to a family friend that worked for Ampex–here is his reply:
Larry – Ampex, in Redwood City, has shrunk considerably. I don’t
know where all of the “old” equipment and documents are. My only
contact with the company is through Debbie Fuentes of Human
Resources. Her phone number is: 650-367-3013. You might try
calling her about locating some of the engineers that worked on the
different tape recorder system that you are interested in. A couple of
names come to mind: Hal Wright (mechanical engineer) and Ernie
Sorenson (electrical engineer). Debbie might know how they may be
contacted. Availability of NASA technical publications can be obtained
from: National Aeronautics and space Administration, Code ATU,
Washington, D.C. 20546. (1966 info)
Clay Hedman

Richard Heg
April 10, 2009 1:37 am

Came across this article about getting the data from the viking landers. Seems like they had the same problem:
“Simply accessing the data turned out to be a challenge – it was stored in a long-forgotten format on magnetic tapes. But eventually Miller tracked down printouts from the original experiments.”
So they did not solve the problem but maybe they found something out in the trying.

John Hayes
April 13, 2009 5:18 am

I believe that the Department of Biometry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland (Ohio) purchased one of these recorders from surplus back in the late 1970’s. I had a work-study job there and was supposed to align the modules so that my boss could record medical telemetry. Not sure that I ever got the darn thing working, but there is a remote possibility that the department still has the documentation for the unit. The man in charge of this project was Dr. Robin Lake.

Jerry Armstrong
April 15, 2009 10:49 pm

This could be a real shot in the dark. The old missle subs used 2″ (digital I think) tape drives for the missle system as I understand it. I have never seen one – there might be similar parts in them to what you need. Not sure who made them, maybe some one out there will know. This at least looks like a new search direction, so it might be useful – good luck!

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