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Sea Based Support

A number of ships were operated by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in support of manned spaceflight activities and are considered to be civilian research/tracking vessels. The Soviet Academy of Sciences also operated a much larger fleet of oceanographic and weather research ships. The Soviet Navy operated a separate fleet of missile range ships in support of ballistic missile tests. These ships are based in the Pacific. The largest and newest (1984) of these ships is the AGI Marshall M.I.Nedelin, based at the Pacific Ocean Fleet headquarters in Vladivostok.

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 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. 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.

The ships belonged to the Soviet Academy of Sciences (now Russian). The maritime part was under the responsibility of the authorities of ships Black / Baltic Sea. Ships whose port of origin were in Ukraine ( Kosmonavt Yurii Gagarin and Akademik Sergei Korolyov ) now belonged to that country so their role in space travel ended abruptly. These wonderful vessels did some sightseeing trips, but without success. Both were used to evacuate Russian military people and their families from Cuba to St. Petersburg, after which they returned to Ukrainian ports. The Russians were not interested, still had four ships in the Western Hemisphere and one more under construction.

A series of undefined positions in the Pacific were manned by Soviet military tracking ships which supported ICBM tests in that area as well as space missions. These positions are not crucial to the space programme. Besides the Komarov, the Korolyov and the Gagarin, several of the older support ships are still used. Under the direction of the Academy of Sciences, these ships conduct research in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, support space activities and engage in electronics eavesdropping when situations permit. Such ships as the Dolinsk, Bezhitsa, Ristna, Aksay, Morzhovets, Kegostrov, Nevel and Borovichi have been active since 1967 in the support of manned flights in particular. The Vasily Golovnin was the flagship of the Soviet ocean-recovery forces and has been stationed at LI and L2. The second descent recovery ships were at L2, further to the south-east of LI. The latter is at about 55E, 15S; L2 is near 70E, 40S.

Flights over the Pacific are covered by two ships of the Russian navy, the Nedelin Marshall and Marshall Krylov. The Kosmonavt Vladimir Komarov was previously based in Odessa had been transferred to Leningrad and modified for other uses, ecological expeditions in the North Atlantic and the Baltic. but those attempts were unsuccessful commercial use.

Soviet Academy of Sciences operated research ships contacted their home ports via radioteletype on maritime shortwave frequencies. Scientific data and telemetry are transmitted back to various control centers, such as Flight Control at Kaliningrad, via satellite. The message traffic consisted mainly of crew telegrams to their families. These are similar to US military's MARSGRAMS. In addition, message traffic between various scientific organizations and other Academy of Sciences vessels could be seen.

Soviet ships transmitted RTTY at 50 Baud, 170 HZ shifts. In some cases, 75 and 100 baud, normal and reverse polarity have been seen. Frequencies around 4178, 6268, 8297.5-8299.5, 8344-8357, 12492-12526, 16696-16705 KHZ are the most active RTTY frequencies for Soviet ships. Soviet coastal stations can be found throughout the shortwave maritime bands. Soviet tracking ships monitor scheduled broadcasts of "traffic lists" from either their home port or UAT Moscow Radio. "Traffic lists" from coastal radio stations are broadcast in high speed CW and RTTY. When the vessel's radio operator spots his call sign, contact is made with the coastal station in CW. The coastal station will acknowledge and assign the vessel a frequency to TRANSMIT its' messages. The vessel RECEIVES RTTY traffic from the coastal station on a different frequency. The tracking ships usually contact URD Leningrad, UFB Odessa, and UAT Moscow almost exclusively. UAT is monitored for message traffic originating from other ships at sea.

"NIS" is the Cyrillic/Baudot keyboard abbreviation for the Russian words "Scientific Research Vessel." Cyrillic spellings of ship names differ in some cases from the "Latin" transliterations appearing in Jane's Fighting Ships. For example, MORVOWEC, in Cyrillic, appears as Morzhovets in "Latin" versions of ship names. Without the "NIS" designator, the Gagarin and Komarov can be confused with fish carrier vessels with similar names. Tracking ships usually remained at sea for 120 days before being relieved.

However, due to the availability of these ships, they may be ordered into a foreign port to transfer crew and then return to their previous position. Crews in the North Atlantic are usually exchanged at Rotterdam and Cueta, a Spanish port opposite Gibralter. During their deployment, these vessels may visit nearby ports for crew "rest and relaxation." For tracking ships in the South Atlantic, port calls were usually made at Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. Vessels in the Carribean visited Willemstad, Curacao; Vera Cruz, Mexico; and Havana.

The Soviets usually positioned a large tracking ship such as the Gagarin, Komarov, or the Korolev, in the North Atlantic off Canada's Sable Island. During manned spaceflights, such as the MIR missions, Soviet tracking ships monitor voice, telemetry, and TV signals from the spacecraft. This data is then relayed back to Flight Control in Kaliningrad (a suburb of Moscow) via polar orbiting nongeosynchronus communications satellites. Soviet Molniya communications satellites rise and set over Hudson's Bay in the Canadian Arctic. Because of winter ice and spring/summer ice berg seasons, the most favorable position for a tracking ship is off Nova Scotia. The Molniya's have an operational period of 6 hours over the Arctic. For an hour, at appogee, they "hang" almost motionless over Hudson's Bay. As one satellite sets, another one is rising. Thus, the tracking ships can maintain continous contact with the Soviet Union. During the MIR's hour and a half orbit, it was "in sight" of at least one of these tracking ships for approximately 7-10 minutes. This was when telemetry was monitored.

Other tracking ships were positioned off the West coast of Africa near Togo and Montevideo, Uruguay. These tracking ships monitored the MIR when it is out of "sight" of the North Atlantic tracking ships. Tracking ships frequently changed position, depending on orbital parameters, in order to keep the spacecraft "in sight" during subsequent orbits. Tracking ships in the North Atlantic, particularly those off the coast of Nova Scotia, had strong signals for SWL's on the East Coast. As with most Soviet commercial vessels, tracking ships are in daily contact with their home ports. Tracking ships were usually the most active of the Soviet Academy of Sciences research vessels.

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Page last modified: 08-08-2016 19:52:24 ZULU