Tribute paid to former Kettering teacher and satellite chaser

The front page of the Evening Telegraph on December 21, 1966, where the work of Derek Slater and the rest of the team was acknowledged
The front page of the Evening Telegraph on December 21, 1966, where the work of Derek Slater and the rest of the team was acknowledged

A former Kettering chemistry teacher who was part of an amateur group which tracked Russian satellites in space has died.

Derek Slater, 85, passed away at his home in Edinburgh on Sunday, March 29.

Mr Slater was born in Cumbria but moved to Kettering to take up a position at Kettering Grammar School in 1958.

He remained there until 1985 and when he left he was the head of the science department.

Although well known in Kettering for teaching chemistry to thousands of pupils, Mr Slater’s exploits with the Kettering Group – a team of radio enthusiasts who tracked satellites in orbit using radio equipment – also briefly brought him fame.

He and the team, which included teaching colleague Geoff Perry MBE, successfully traced the location of a number of Russian satellites in orbit around the Earth and once deduced, using very basic equipment, that the Russians were launching satellites 2,000 miles away from where they claimed.

Mr Slater’s son Will said: “They published their findings in a science journal which was read by a reporter at the Washington Post.

“It became quite a story because they were working out, with quite simple equipment, that the Soviets were not launching their satellites from the sites they claimed they were.

“That information was probably known by NASA, but it was not common knowledge.”

The story of the team was later told in a documentary called Sputnik, Bleeps and Mr Perry, where Mr Slater was played by actor James Hazeldine.

Mr Slater is survived by his wife Mary, whom he had been married to for almost 60 years, his children Will, Clare and Michael and six grandchildren.

His funeral was held in Edinburgh on Tuesday, although a memorial event is being planned in Northamptonshire this summer.