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Marine Space Fleet

Selena-2 /  Selena-M - Project 1929 Kosmonaut Pavel Belyayev Class

Phoenix Project 1909 Kosmonaut Yuriy Gagarin

Project 1908 Academician Sergei Korolev

Kosmonaut Vladimir Komarov

Selena Project 1918

Selena Project 1918


"Cosmonaut Victor Patsaev" communicated with space. More precisely, with the International Space Station and satellites in orbit. This ship is the only representative of the Marine Space Fleet that remained afloat, a unique, strictly classified formation, without which the Soviet cosmonautics could not do. Fleet veterans are sounding the alarm: Russia may soon lose this "last of the Mohicans".

SKI OMER - Space Research Service of the Marine Expeditionary Work Department of the USSR Academy of Sciences , subdivision subordinate to the USSR Academy of Sciences (formally) and the USSR Ministry of Defense (actually), which was in charge of scientific research vessels designed to support the USSR space programs.

By the end of the 1950s on the territory of the USSR, 13 ground-based measurement points were built, which monitored the test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the flights of the first artificial satellites. They could fully control the first stage of the launch - the launch from the site, but they turned out to be “blind” during the latter elements, the so-called “Second launch”, when the booster unit was turned on and the spacecraft was put on a predetermined trajectory. In addition, it was possible to “see” a spacecraft in orbit only at the moment when it was over the territory of the USSR. The country had neither its own islands, nor leased territories in the other hemisphere, and for monitoring the second launch of interplanetary space stations the North Atlantic zone was considered the only convenient place.

The space fleet was born in the early 1960s. At first, the ships went to sea under the guise of dry cargo vessels delivering containers to fishermen. later our fleet was assigned to the Academy of Sciences. There was a space race, Yuri Gagarin was already trying on a spacesuit. And then it turned out that ground-based means are not able to ensure his safe return.

Ground-based tracking stations were located only on Soviet territory and could follow Vostok-1 only in a limited section of the orbit. All the southern and most of the northern hemisphere were in the dead zone. And telemetric information from the station had to be received continuously. For example, a braking propulsion system was activated over the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic. If it had turned on a moment later, Gagarin would have landed not under Engels, but somewhere beyond the Urals. Ships were needed to receive signals from the “East” anywhere in the world.

On April 12, 1961, three former bulk carriers were waiting in the Vostok-1 Gulf of Guinea, in the holds of which the Tral ground-based mobile radio-telemetric stations with their wheels removed were hidden. These stations could receive up to 50 operational parameters of the systems of the first spacecraft in one radio beam. Four more Pacific Fleet ships, which previously provided ballistic missile tests, were on duty in the Pacific Ocean.

After Gagarin’s flight, the USSR’s space program gained unprecedented momentum. Ahead, it seemed, were flights to the Moon and Mars, for which special ground-based, more precisely, marine support was needed. By 1963, three more were added to the first three ships. And in 1967, five more. By 1979, the space fleet already had 17 ships equipped with the latest science equipment. So the Marine Space Fleet was developing simultaneously.

Unlike in the USA, there was a special unit of recovery ships – 8th division of search and rescue ships of Black Sea Fleet, created in 1968 to fulfil the requirements of Soviet Lunar Program. Before this unit was formed all the recovery duties were laid on Selena class vessels. Such ships with other support and military vessels were placed along the deorbiting trajectory of the spacecraft on the last dozen of revolutions before reentry in case of emergency, but fortunately there was never a chance to explore such situation apart from some unmanned operations that involved preprogrammed splashdowns.

The flagship, the R/V “Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin”, launched in 1971, was a real miracle of technical thought: 232 m in length, displacement almost like that of the “Titanic”. The radio beams of his huge antennas with a diameter of 25.5 m reached the moon itself. No less miraculous, another giant, the Academician Sergei Korolev, appeared with two antenna platforms and four decks. The remaining vessels were smaller, but each of them was able to receive and transmit all the data necessary for the MCC.

The Space Fleet remained in the shadow until 1970 when the Space Service section of Maritime Research Department was formed in the Soviet Academy of Science. With the entrance of the “Big” scientific fleet more and more people became involved in the operations. Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Oceans - ships on duty at sea did not stop for a day. Any spacecraft flying around the Earth makes 16 turns per day, and only ten of them can be controlled from the territory of the Soviet Union. The rest could only be seen by the fleet. Communication between astronauts and the Control Center, parameters of the systems, putting satellites and spacecraft into orbit, landing, docking and undocking - all data was transmitted to the Mission Control Center via marine communications.

The space fleet did not survive the collapse of the USSR. Each new country alone could not contain this compound. Ships one by one went to scrap. This fate befell the flagship - the R / V “Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin”. Until the mid-90s, the ship quietly rusted at one of the far berths of Odessa, and then Ukraine sold it. The flagship set off under the name “Agar” on its voyage: someone was ashamed to destroy the ship with the name of the first cosmonaut known around the world, only a few letters were left.

Of the 17 ships of the fleet, only the Cosmonaut Viktor Patsaev has survived to this day. It turned into a museum only partially: at the pier in Kaliningrad, “Patsaev” continues to perform direct functions: it received and retransmited telemetry and radio signals from orbit. Thsi ship carried out this work only until August 2017, when the Baltic Command and Measurement Point would be commissioned. Then the services of the last ship of the lost fleet were not neede.

In 2015, Roscosmos commissioned a system of three Luch-5 satellite transponders in geostationary orbit. They are able to maintain communication between the ISS Russian segment and the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft with the MCC. Unlike the Americans, Russia does not have NPCs abroad. To place them, good relations with countries and good money are needed. China apparently has both.





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Page last modified: 04-12-2019 18:11:19 ZULU