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Sea Based Support




Sea Based Support

Because of Soviet reluctance to become too dependent upon foreign land-based stations, or perhaps because not all nations approached were willing to be hosts, the Soviet Union has put considerable emphasis

upon developing a sea-based support system. These consist of several classes of ships. One group operates in the mid-Pacific, and has been pictured in Western magazines and books. These are fairly impressive looking, loaded down with radomes and many specialized antennas and theodolites. They serve both to record missile tests, in the area where the dummy warhead is to splash; or in sight of the orbital path of spacecraft over flying the Pacific, usually for their initial revolution.

Other less well-equipped ships in comparison with the missile trackers have for some years operated in the tropical Atlantic and the Mediterranean along the path of orbital flights. Such ships would put into various ports in these parts of the world for supplies and crew rest,

and when they left port it was usually an indication that new space launches were pending.

By noting what tracking ships are registered by the Russians as civilian type vessels, and which are treated as naval ships, it appears that the Pacific missile tracking ships whose pictures have been published after being photographed at sea by U.S. aircraft, are under the operational control of Soviet military authorities.

By contrast, the ships seen in the Atlantic and Mediterranean have now been identified as operating for the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Where once these ships were merchant vessels with only a minimum of modifications in appearance to serve the space program, now there has been a marked upgrading and even the development of highly sophisticated big ships with considerable communications equipment on board. In December 1967, the science ships were identified as the Dolinsk, Bezhitsa Kistna, Aksay, Morshovets, Kegostrov, Nevel, Borovichi, and Kosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. (39) Since that time virtually all of these ships have been named by the Russians as being in particular regions to support certain space flights, especially in the Atlantic , but also in the Indian Ocean . Subsequent to the 1967 listing, two progressively larger and better science tracking ships have been added: the Akademik Sergey Korolev, and the Kosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin. Details on the principal ships follow:

1. Kosmonaut Vladimir Komarov

This was the first of the greatly improved Soviet tracking ships. It appears to be a converted merchant ship hull of about 11,000 gross tons with an enlarged superstructure and several large radomes. It was first spotted by the West on a voyage through the English Channel while outbound from Leningrad to Havana , Cuba , which harbor it often frequented.

TASS in June 1970 said the ship has 1,000 or more berths, that it was built in 1967 at Leningrad , and has special computers and laboratories on board." Pravda Ukrainy of June 23, 1970 , said that it operated during the Soyuz 9 flight with a total complement of 240 men. including 125 scientists."

The Russians have also said that communications between some spacecraft and Moscow can be maintained on a real-time basis even when not in direct view of the Soviet Union by having the Kosmonaut

Vladimir Komarov serve as a relay point on Earth, with a further relay from the ship via one of the Molniya 1 satellites which shares mutual visibility between the ship and the Soviet Union . This type of relay was first mentioned in connection with the Soyuz 6-7-8 flights of October 1969. (42)

2. Akademik Sergey Korolev

On December 26, 1970 , the Soviet Union announced the addition to the fleet of the Soviet Academy of Sciences the space satellite control ship Akademik Sergey Korolev. It was described as the largest scientific research ship in the world, 182 meters long and displacing 21,250 metric tons. It was not further described, but was to set out on its maiden voyage early in 1971. (43) Details finally were forthcoming in September 1971. It was described as a Diesel-engined ship with single propeller, a speed of 17.5 knots, and carrying a crew of 300. It had a radome just aft of the bridge, and two fairly large parabolic dish antennas, one amidships, and the other near the stern. The ship was described as having 28 suites of office, bedroom and bath for senior command staff, 34 single and 124 double cabins for crew and scientists. There was a gymnasium, two swimming pools (one enclosed), a library, reading room, and other cultural amenities. The ship had over 80 laboratories and dual air conditioning systems. The ship was active in the flights of Soyuz 10 and 11 serving as a link with Moscow via a Molniya satellite. It was built at Nikolayev on the Black Sea . With a range of 22,500 nautical miles, it was capable of 120 days of independent navigation without replenishment. (44)

3. Kosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin

This vessel was the latest and also the largest, most ambitious of the Soviet tracking ships. The ship made its first voyage in 1971. It looks as if it had been converted from the hull of a super tanker. The first account spoke of its having over 120 laboratories. Its scientific instrumentation came direct from scientific institutes rather than from industrial enterprises, and units were designed for easy installation and replacement so that the ship could keep up to date as technology advanced. It was designed to operate away from home base for as long as six months at a time. It had a 19,000 horsepower turbine power plant. The library had 10,000 books. Its theater seated 300 people. There were nine elevators, three swimming pools, and a sports hall big enough for a football match. There was also an automatic telephone exchange. (45)

The ship was described as having over 100 antennas, and via Molniya satellites could reach almost any telephone in the Soviet Union around the clock. It was capable of receiving high data rates from satellites and amplifying weak signals at planetary distances. There were over 1,250 compartments in the ship. The Kosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin has a displacement of 45,000 tons, a speed of 18 knots, has a length of 231 meters, and a width of 31 meters. (46)

Late in December 1971, a photograph appeared showing this ship anchored in Odessa , getting ready for its first operations. The first big dish antenna just behind the bridge was like a regular Orbital antenna for communication with Molniya. One of similar size was apparently intended to make trajectory and orbital data measurements. The two largest dishes, further back were intended for deep space work. In the same photograph were the 17,500 ton Kosmonaut Vladimir Komarov and the almost 21,500 ton Akcademik Sergey Korolev. An accompanying article noted the new ship had 11 decks, and spoke of its many marvels, including a precision navigation system which permitted the antenna to correct for movements of the ship, movements of star fields, and also correct for angles of list and yaw in relation to the ship's course, and even for distortions in the ship's hull caused by heavy seas. This ship is also air conditioned throughout. Slightly different statistics credited it with eight elevators and 260 seats in its theater. (47)

Still another account counted 130 antennas in addition to the four main dishes. The ship's horsepower was listed as 19,500. It also has roll dampers and two maneuvering rudders in the bow and a third in the stern. (48)

The major antennas were listed as ranging from 12 meters to 25 meters in diameter. (49)

The new tracking ships were a great advance over such vessels as the Ilichevsk and Krasnodar , used for space support in 1957 and long since disappeared.

Table 1-12, which follows, summarizes what is known from public sources about all the Soviet tracking ships.

Table 1-12

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