Sugar Grove History and its Two CDAAs

by Alvin H. Grobmeier, CDR, USN (Ret.)

Anyone having questions or comments on this topic is invited to contact CDR. Grobmeier.

The Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. announced in June 1959 that it expected to complete by 1962 a radio telescope "so powerful it may be able to spot the edges of the universe." A 600-foot dish-shaped antenna was being built in a mountain valley near Sugar Grove, West Virginia, then a hamlet of 21 persons. However, in December 1959 it was further announced that "The special listening post in West Virginia probably will go into operation early in 1960. At first an 85-foot dish will be used. The Navy’s West Virginia radio telescope is costing $79,000,000. The reflector disc and antenna weigh 20,000 tons. They are mounted on a wheel that will rotate almost 180 degrees so that the reflector can be turned in any direction between the horizons." This was the beginning of the Navy’s presence at Sugar Grove which continues on today.

On May 10, 1969 Naval Radio Station (R) Sugar Grove was activated. The facility was originally developed in the early 1960s for a radio telescope that would probe outer space. This project was halted in 1962 because advances and refinements in related fields of science and technology made it outdated before it was even completed. In March 1965 work was begun to convert the site to a radio receiving station. The station is located in an officially designated National Radio Quiet Zone, an area of 13,000 square miles, which is relatively free from outside electromagnetic interference. Two Wullenweber Circulary Disposed Antenna Arrays (CDAAs), side-by-side, were completed on Nov. 8, 1969. The two CDAAs provided increased capacity for simultaneous reception of ship-shore and overseas circuits. Two domed antennas, with diameters of 40 feet and 60 feet, were also built on the station. A two-story 60,000 square foot operations building, completely underground, was fitted with some 70 radio receivers and numerous other communications devices. One hundred enlisted men and 30 officers were assigned to the new station. On 30 December 1969 NAVCOMMSTA Cheltenham, Maryland began taking the Rio Trunk, via Sugar Grove keying lines, making the first operational use of NAVRADSTA (R) Sugar Grove.

NAVRADSTA (R) Sugar Grove (NSS) became the primary east coast HF receiving site for ship-shore and overseas traffic when it replaced the old receiver site at Cheltenham, Maryland. It closed in the 1990s when the Navy no longer used HF radio as the primary method of delivering traffic, and the CDAAs were then removed.

On December 1, 1969 Naval Security Group Detachment Sugar Grove was established. It became a Naval Security Group Activity when the Naval Radio Station was closed and continues as such today.

It is interesting to note that less than 60 miles from Sugar Grove COMSAT operates a station at Etam, West Virginia where more than half of the commercial international satellite communications entering and leaving the U.S. pass through each day. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory operates the Robert C. Byrd Telescope at Green Bank, West Virginia, the world’s largest fully steerable single aperture antenna, 100 x 110 meters in size. It is approximately 30 miles west-southwest of Sugar Grove.

The National Radio Quiet Zone was established by the Federal Communications Commission on November 19, 1958 and by the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee on March 26, 1958 to minimize possible harmful interference to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV and the radio receiving facilities for the United States Navy in Sugar Grove, WV. The Zone is bounded by meridians of longitude at 78-29-59.0W and 80-29-59.2W and latitudes of 37-30-0.4N and 39-15-0.4N, and encloses a land area of approximately 13,000 square miles which comprises large areas of both Virginia and West Virginia.

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Created on June 5, 2005 at 21:43 by Albert LaFrance