Turning Fylingdales inside out: making practice visible at the UK's ballistic missile early warning and space monitoring station.l

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology

Abstract

RAF Fylingdales is the UK's ballistic missile early warning and space monitoring station. It is part of the UK/US nuclear deterrent, watching space for signs of missile activity, and it also monitors a swathe of northern hemispheric space. The latter function is vital for the maintenance of economic and social life around the world; RAF Fylingdales tracks the 1,700 operational military and civilian satellites in orbit, including those that enable technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to function. It is part of the infrastructure that supports the International Space Station. It also monitors the 43,000 pieces of space debris which orbit earth.

This research aims to turn RAF Fylingdales inside out, making its practices and functions visible and demystifying its operations. The Royal Air Force, which operates this highly secure site, is acutely aware of the need for greater public knowledge and understanding about the station and its functions, and are project partners in the research. In the absence of wider public understanding, fictions and fantasies about the station dominate - that it hosts nuclear weapons, for example, or that it has privileged insight into extra-terrestrial life-forms, or it is involved in monitoring our electronic communications (it doesn't do any of these). The research team are motivated by a commitment to greater academic and public understanding of space monitoring and nuclear deterrence, which remain little known and poorly understood beyond specialist circles.

The research has three objectives: conceptual innovation, empirical discovery and public engagement. The conceptual objective is to understand RAF Fylingdales in a new way. Most conventional academic analyses of nuclear deterrence and space monitoring focus on the abstract international and national political systems that govern defence and security. However, these approaches completely obscure the reality that nuclear deterrence and space monitoring only exist because people, working in a particular place, make them happen. In this research, we focus on nuclear deterrence and space monitoring as socially constituted and produced. We will examine the daily workplace practices undertaken by a range of people employed at the site, from radar monitoring to grounds maintenance. We will consider how geography influences Fylingdales' siting, capabilities and functionality. We will investigate its varied space monitoring and nuclear deterrence operations, both in the present and historically, drawing on the station's archive of documents, photographs and objects explaining the site and its history. Ultimately, we want to consider and reveal RAF Fylingdales as an assemblage of social, technical, nuclear, military and industrial components that together bring nuclear deterrence and space monitoring into being.

The research will use three core methods. Creative arts practice will be used with the archive's documents and material objects, using drawing, sculpture and audio-visual multi-media experimentation to investigate how RAF Fylingdales' functions are constituted. Interviews and ethnomethodological observation will help us understand, from the people who work there, how the station operates by looking in detail at what its workforce do, individually and as teams. Cultural geography fieldwork in and around the site will give us access to the military geographies, landscapes and experiences of this place.

We will communicate our research findings through a programme of public activities, academic publications and research briefings for key organisations. We will work with our steering group to develop strategies for future sustainable and realistic management of RAF Fylingdales' archive and its resources. Subject to security clearance, much of the data collected will be made available for public use at the end of the project through deposition in digital format in publicly accessible archives.

Planned Impact

The aim of this project is to open up RAF Fylingdales to greater public scrutiny. RAF Fylingdales is the UK's ballistic missile early warning and space monitoring station. Its core functions are to monitor a section of space over the northern hemisphere for missile activity, and to monitor the 1,700 operational military and civilian satellites and around 43,000 pieces of space debris that orbit Earth. RAF Fylingdales plays a key role in maintaining both communications on Earth (for example, maintaining the global positioning systems that we use daily) and in maintaining defence systems through its role in nuclear deterrence.

RAF Fylingdales are collaborating with the research team from Newcastle University as project partners. The project will turn Fylingdales inside out by making visible how the station actually works. We will do this by using a range of research methods to explore the RAF Fylingdales archive, and engage with people who work there to make space monitoring and nuclear deterrence possible. RAF Fylingdales is a highly secure site; its functions in nuclear deterrence and space monitoring mean that public access, though allowed by arrangement in certain circumstances, is not routinely possible. Our public engagement activities therefore have to focus on what is possible beyond the perimeter fence. We will do this through a high-quality professionally-produced project website to share the research, through exhibitions and associated public programming, through reports to the RAF and to various organisations with an interest in the station and its wider historic and natural environment, and through publications which will include a book written for a non-specialist readership.

Four distinct groups will benefit from this research:

Local, national and international archives will benefit. The project will involve a review of (and intervention as necessary with) the current RAF Fylingdales archive and its organisation, collecting and conservation practices. We will increase knowledge about this archive amongst key national archives (e.g. British Library, UK Data Archive, Imperial War Museum, English Heritage) and locally via the Whitby Museum archive. We will be able to contribute to loans, accessioning and acquisition discussions between RAF Fylingdales and other archives. Research data collected through interviews and other activities will be added to the RAF Fylingdales archive, enhancing its collection and also expanding its utility to other archives.

Cultural institutions (e.g. English Heritage, the Imperial War Museum), local museums (e.g. Hatton Gallery Newcastle), and international collections such as the Smithsonian Institution group in the USA, will benefit potentially through exhibitions emerging from RAF Fylingdales' collection. These in turn will enhance public understanding of the nature of the RAF Fylingdales and its functions, and will thus contribute to cultural institutions' respective core missions for public education.

People living and working in the locality, as individuals and as representatives of groups involved in social, cultural and environmental activities (e.g. National Park Authority, local historical societies, local amenity groups), will benefit through the availability of fuller information about Fylingdales developed through the research, and will be able to access this information and share their own experiences, through exhibitions and situated community engagement activities, and through interactive facilities on the project website. They will also be able to access interview recordings because our deposition practices for data sharing will facilitate this.

Defence specialists, working nationally and internationally on both nuclear deterrence and space monitoring will be interested in the site, and will be able to draw on the project research findings, on research data deposited in the archive, and on archive resources, to further their understanding

Publications

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Title One Key Magic 
Description Creative sound work by Michael Mulvihill and Chris Tate. Situated on the edge of the North York Moors in North East England are three giant, geodesic domes containing the space radars of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Built in 1962, the purpose of the 'radomes' at RAF Flyingdales was to track everything in Low Earth Orbit and distinguish the signal of an incoming nuclear weapon from the 'noise' of satellites and space debris. Along with designing and building these radar systems (as well as those on the Apollo program's Lunar Module), RCA developed revolutionary innovations in recorded music such as the velocity microphone, the 45rpm single and the music synthesizer. Indeed, during the early years of operations at Flyingdales, the supply chain of radar component parts (many of which were the same switches and dials as those used on early RCA synthesizers) was managed from the same office that dealt with the distribution of records by ABBA, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Dr. Michael Mulvihill, artist and research associate in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, is the first artist in residence at RAF Fylingdales. Together with musician and producer Chris Tate, the pair formed One Key Magic to interpret and materialise the scintillations and aurora of these electro-magnetic engagements, while folding together the geographic, cultural and historic trajectories of music production, space exploration and nuclear deterrence. The starting point was to make audible the electromagnetic pulses from the space radars, and from the Apollo Lunar Module, as drone tones. By transposing the frequencies of the radar pulses, they were brought into the range of human hearing and a different composition for each radar location was created. Compositions were improvised over the tones, with the musical key and relevant melodic scales being determined by the fundamental and harmonic frequencies present in the radar pulse drones. Using synthesizers and guitar played with electronic bow (a device which uses electromagnetism to vibrate the strings without touching them), morphing textures were allowed to form and flow. Seeking an immersive sound through processes of human and the more-than-human creative forces interacting within the world, the project shares sonic concerns with artists and musicians such as Laurie Spiegel, Catherine Christer Hennix and Alvin Lucier. One Key Magic seeks to make audible the way that electromagnetic practices of nuclear deterrence have invisibly shaped our experiences for the past half a century. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact Engagement with the idea of sound work using the frequencies of machines in the ballistic missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales, by others interested in these issues. 
URL http://soundcloud.com/onekeymagic
 
Description Work is on-going on this project, which started in February 2020.
Key findings to date include:
* organisation of the archive at RAF Fylingdales, the UK's ballistic missile early warning and space monitoring station.
*commissioning of bespoke on-line archive and website
*digitization of images, documents and objects for upload to the website
*development of text for images on website
*engagement with partners - RAF and English Heritage - on development of the Fylingdales Archive
*development of creative practice outputs and writing on core themes of the research
Exploitation Route Too early to say at present.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL https://fylingdalesarchive.org.uk/
 
Description Findings continue to inform English Heritage (project partner) developments on the curation of Cold War sites in the UK. This includes exhibitions in EH properties, drawing on creative practice outputs from the research.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Partnership with RAF Fylingdales, and English Heritage. 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution English Heritage are part of the steering group for the project. We are engaged with them around discussions on the preservation and interpretation of the Cold War heritage assemblage in North Yorkshire. RAF Fylingdales are custodians of the Fylingdales Archive. Key station personnel are supporting the research and development of the archive.
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage and RAF Fylingdales are providing information and advice as we work on the Fylingdales Archive, and are informing discussions about future public engagement.
Impact Outputs and outcomes are in process.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Partnership with RAF Fylingdales, and English Heritage. 
Organisation Royal Air Force (RAF)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution English Heritage are part of the steering group for the project. We are engaged with them around discussions on the preservation and interpretation of the Cold War heritage assemblage in North Yorkshire. RAF Fylingdales are custodians of the Fylingdales Archive. Key station personnel are supporting the research and development of the archive.
Collaborator Contribution English Heritage and RAF Fylingdales are providing information and advice as we work on the Fylingdales Archive, and are informing discussions about future public engagement.
Impact Outputs and outcomes are in process.
Start Year 2020