The development of the Soviet space tracking network began in the early days of rocketry to facilitate the tracking of intercontinental ballistic missiles in test flights from Baykonur. The system was then expanded and increased in scope to deal with orbital flights. The relatively brief Vostok and Voskhod missions were managed at Baykonur by Sergey Korolev, as the technical director for space missions, with the support of the so-called Operation Group of the Strategic Rocket Forces. The first Flight Control Centre (TsUP) was at Scientific Research Institute No. 4 (NII-4) in Bolshevo, near Moscow. For the Voskhod missions it was relocated to the control centre of the Ministry of Defence's General Staff, which had better communications. Colonel Amos Bolshoy headed the Operation Group of the TsUP in Moscow for all manned space missions until 1966, providing continuous contact with seven ground stations known as Ground-Test Polygons (NIP) which formed a chain that stretched across the Soviet Union. They were at Bear's Lake near Moscow, Kolpashevo, Yeniseysk and Ulan Ude in Siberia, Sarishagan in the south, Petropavlovsk in the Far East and Ussuriysk on the Kamchatka peninsula. At each site, military and civilian engineers analysed the parameters of the spacecraft's orbit derived from radar tracking, and the conditions of its systems from telemetry received during communications sessions lasting at most 12 minutes. The Operation Group relayed the data to the TsUP and provided continuous contact with Korolev at Baykonur. The NIP sites were part of the Command-Measurement Complex (KIK) operated by the Strategic Rocket Forces.
Due to the complexity of the Soyuz programme and the ambitious plans for lunar missions, the flight control system underwent a major revision in the mid-1960s. The TsUP was moved to NIP-16 near Yevpatoriya on the west coast of the Crimea, which had been responsible for controlling automated interplanetary probes. Known as TsUP-E ('E' for Evpatoriya in Russian), it was much more capable than the old TsUP, and it controlled all Soviet manned space missions between 1966 and 1975 -when a new facility was build in Kaliningrad.1 Some 500 people worked around the clock in three shifts. NIP-16 was the USSR's largest command-measurement site. It was in radio communication with the other sites, and could receive from or transmit
1 After 1975 TsUP-E controlled only manned military missions to the Almaz stations.
to spacecraft. It had many very distinctive antennas, some of which were very small, similar to domestic television antennas, while others were extremely large. Some of its antennas looked as if they had been constructed in a hurry, others had a beautiful design even although in some cases their construction had taken only a few months -for example the enormous antenna complex that was built to communicate with the first probes dispatched to the planet Venus.
The TsUP-E was established in a small two-storey building. On the first floor was the communications centre, which had apparatus to register the telemetry from the spacecraft in the form of graphs on long rolls of paper. On the second floor was the control room housing the flight controllers, experts on all flight procedures and the civilian experts on the systems of the spacecraft. They jointly compiled a flight plan to be radioed to the crew specifying what must be done on each orbit. Alongside the control room were representatives of the TsPK, with one of the active cosmonauts serving as the communication operator who spoke to the crew in space, and also the military specialists for the technical segment of NIP-16 and, by radio, its sister sites.
The core of the mission management team was the Chief Operative and Control Group (GOGU). The military part of GOGU was responsible for the operation of all ground stations, including the necessary technical support. In 1966 MajorGeneral Pavel Agadzhanov, a veteran of the tracking network, was appointed as head of the GOGU for Soyuz flights. His Deputy was Colonel Mikhail Pasternak. There was a separate GOGU for the L1 circumlunar missions, with Colonel Nikolay Fadeyev in charge of flight operations. The other members of the GOGU were technical people from the TsKBEM. From 1966 to 1968 the technical director for Soyuz missions was Boris Chertok. In this role he was responsible for all decisions relating to each space mission. Prior to this, he had been responsible for the control of interplanetary probes. In 1969 Yakov Tregub, who had commanded the cosmodrome at Kapustin Yar, took over this role. He was Deputy Chief Designer of Complex No. 7, which managed the testing of systems for spacecraft, the training of cosmonauts and flight control. Another member of the GOGU was Boris Raushenbakh, a department chief and expert in the control and guidance systems of
The antennas of the NIP-16 tracking and communication complex in Yevpatoriya. The insert shows personnel from the TsKBEM (Tregub, Bushuyev, Raushenbakh and Chertok), the TsPK (Kamanin, Nikolayev and Popovich) and the Strategic Rocket Forces (Agadzhanov).
spacecraft. His team planned the actions needed for rendezvous, docking and un-docking. For Soyuz 10, the key men were therefore Agadzhanov, Tregub, Raushenbakh and Chertok, with cosmonaut Pavel Popovich communicating with the crew.
In contrast to the American mission control facility in Houston, Texas, which had rows of controllers at consoles and large computers to process data in real time, the main control room at TsUP-E was remarkably unimpressive. On the front wall there was a large map of the world displaying the position the spacecraft in its orbit, and a large black-and-white screen on which television transmissions were shown. The members of the operative group sat around a long table and analysed data traced on rolls of paper. To the side were several controllers. After commanding the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968 Frank Borman made a goodwill tour of the world, and in the summer of 1969 he became the first American astronaut to visit the Soviet Union. On a visit to Yevpatoriya he was so surprised by the modest facilities of the TsUP-E that he presumed the real control centre was somewhere else, highly secret, and perhaps hidden underground!
For the early manned space flights, contact was possible only while the spacecraft was over Soviet territory. During 'silent orbits', when a spacecraft was crossing the oceans or over other continents, the crew would either rest or perform experiments that did not require communication with the TsUP. However, in order to achieve a landing in the prime recovery zone on Soviet territory it was necessary to perform a succession of critical operations leading up to re-entry while over the Atlantic Ocean. To provide communications with the spacecraft during these operations, and during the planned manned lunar missions, a number of Scientific Exploration Vessels (NIS) of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were included in the space tracking and control system. Although some ships had been equipped in the early days to receive transmissions from the unmanned Vostoks, four 'modern' tracking ships were laid down in 1967, starting in June with Kegostrov, which had a displacement of 6,100 tonnes. It was stationed off the coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. Morzhovets and Nevely, which were smaller, operated in the South Atlantic. Borovochi operated elsewhere. In addition, three smaller ships were capable of receiving radio signals from spacecraft: Bezhitsa, Dolinsk and Ristna.
Later in 1967 the first of the second-generation ships was added. At 17,500 tonnes, Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was much larger, with a variety of antennas capable of providing all functions of a NIP ground station, including relaying transmissions between a spacecraft and Yevpatoriya - making it a 'universal' communications ship. For manned flights it was stationed in the North Atlantic, near Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. In January 1969 it was the first to congratulate the Soyuz 4/5 crews on accomplishing their external transfer. In October that year it participated in relaying a transmission from a manned spacecraft (Soyuz 8) through a Molniya satellite to enable, for the first time, the TsUP-E to communicate with a crew while not over Soviet territory.2
2 The Molniya (Lightning) satellite was in a highly elliptical orbit with a 12-hour period and the highest point of its orbit over the Soviet Union.
In December 1970 the network was augmented by Academician Sergey Korolev, which was even larger, having a displacement of 21,460 tonnes and a length of 182 metres. It had over 50 antennas, the largest of which was 12 metres in diameter. In March 1971 it relieved Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov in the North Atlantic, which then concluded its seventh voyage by sailing to Odessa for refurbishment.3
Each ship had a TsPK cosmonaut-engineer to communicate with a spacecraft. For example, Yuriy Artyukhin was on board Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov and Anatoliy Kuklin was on Academician Sergey Korolev. In addition, for the Soyuz 10 mission, there were experts from the TsKBEM familiar with the design of the DOS docking system to provide advice as necessary. A favourable pass lasted 10-12 minutes. As soon as the spacecraft rose above the ship's horizon, the controllers began to decode its transmissions. The decoded data was transmitted through a
3 In December 1971 Cosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin joined the network. At 45,000 tonnes, it was made the flagship of the fleet. All ten tracking ships had their home ports either at Odessa in the Black Sea or at Leningrad in the Baltic.
Molniya satellite to the TsUP, where it was analysed by the GOGU, which then drew up the necessary commands for transmission to the spacecraft when it came within range of the next station.
For the 18-day Soyuz 9 mission in June 1970, medical experts from the Institute for Biomedical Problems were admitted to the main control room of the TsUP-E for the first time. They analysed data from the medical sensors attached to the bodies of Nikolayev and Sevastyanov, and contributed to the organisation of the crew's time, which was a serious issue on a long-duration flight. The most active periods were while the spacecraft was over Soviet territory, in range of the NIP ground stations. The transmission of data was at its highest rate during such passes. In addition, the crew could submit reports on their observations, comment on specific events and ask questions. Once beyond Soviet territory, they resumed working independently of Earth. By breaking the familiar sleep pattern of the cosmonauts, this organisation upset their circadian rhythm. A major challenge was to ensure that the crew of the first space station were able to work effectively throughout their month-long flight.
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