The Italian space research program was launched in 1959 with the creation of the CRA (Centro
Ricerche Aerospaziali) in the Rome university. Three years later, this university signed with
NASA an MoU in order to collaborate on a space research program baptized San Marco.
The San Marco project aimed at the launching of scientific satellites by Scout rockets, from a floating mobile station located close to the equator. This station, composed of two oil platforms and two logistical support boats, was to be installed off Kenya coasts, close to the town of Malindi. The program schedule included three phases:
- suborbital launches from Wallops Island and the equatorial platform,
- orbital launch of an experimental satellite from Wallops Island,
- orbital launches from the equatorial platform.
The first phase began with two Shotput rockets launches from Wallops Island in April and August
1963, in order to test the deployment of the Italian satellite. The first platform, Santa Rita,
were towed from Italy to Kenya during the winter 1963-1964. In the shape of a 40 m side triangle,
it was anchored at 25 km of the coast, its feet lying 20 m deep. Preliminary tests took
place in March and April 1964 with three Nike Apache sounding rockets launches. The San Marco 1
satellite was then launched from Wallops Island on 15 December 1964.
The San Marco platform, with the installations necessary to the Scout rockets assembly and launching, arrived in 1966. This 30 x 100 m rectangular unit was used for the first time for the San Marco 2 satellite launch, in April 1967.
The program did not stop with the launch of this first satellite. Three years later, Explorer 42, alias Uhuru, became the first American satellite launched by a foreign team. A whole of nine satellites (4 Italian, 4 American and 1 British) were launched from the San Marco station, the last in 1988. But the site was also used to launch a number of sounding rockets for Italian or American experiments, as during the February 1980 eclipse when seven rockets were fired.
The San Marco station is not used since 1988, although the platforms were certified until 2014. The Scout rocket is not in service any more but the ASI plans to use the Russian launcher Start-1 on and after 2002.
University of Roma - San Marco Project
Launches from San Marco station
|1964||3||3 Nike Apache|
|1971||3||2 Scout, 1 Nike Tomahawk|
|1972||7||1 Scout, 6 Nike Apache|
|1971||1||1 Nike Tomahawk|
|1980||7||2 Astrobee, 2 Black Brant VIII, 3 Super Arcas|