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Space Operations


Early Soviet pictures of space operations centers looked very simple by U.S. standards, but gradually over time, the pictures have shown advances in the kind of equipment the Russians have available. The program was about ten years old before detailed descriptions of control centers began to appear, and it was only with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project that visits by Americans were permitted to one center.

Colonel General Tolubko described for TASS in November 1967 the role of the military in the launch of Venera 4 which can probably be assumed to be typical of so-called scientific flights. Members of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force conducted the launch, and ten minutes after lift-off, control passed from the military to the command measuring complex of stations all over the U.S.S.R. and on ships in several oceans. (52) That same month, Lieutenant General Leontyev stated that the Strategic Rocket Forces had been responsible for all launches of Sputniks, Lunas, Veneras, Molniyas, and the manned flights. (53) . .

In May 1968, Red Star described the computing-coordinating center (KVTS) operated by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. This center collects data from stations all over the world where it is then processed, analyzed, evaluated, and compared. Red Star described the center as having a huge operations hall, with a large map of the world at one end on which the computed trajectories of the current spacecraft were displayed. Illuminated panels either side of the main map carry the principal steps of the launch count down, and a status board of all other active Soviet payloads. Other walls are covered with more detailed diagrams, tables, graphs, and maps needed for the operation. The account went on to describe the receipt and use of many channels of telemetry. (54)

Pravda carried a further description in April 1969. This was in connection with the Venera flights. A side room was used for this purpose rather than the main hall. There were special telephones and apparatus for communicating with all computer coordinating centers and telemetry collection points throughout the U.S.S.R. Data on the flight position of the two Venera spacecraft then in flight were being plotted on a cylindrical recorder by tracing pens. In the telemetry section near by, the reporter saw more tracing pens plotting data from the spacecraft on paper bands. At the opposite end of the establishment were the big computers with the output unit passing out endless columns of numbers. In the main hall, primary data on the flight were being displayed on several large screens. The pictures were being drawn in full color diagrams by connection with a computer which was generating these displays directly from the telemetry. (55) This general description is highly reminiscent of the most advanced U.S. display systems.

More descriptions were released in June 1970. The reporter from Izvestiya reported that on the approach drive to the center he saw three large steer able antenna dishes which were receiving data. On this occasion it was Soyuz 9, and as soon as the ship came over the horizon, the large display screens showed live television from the cabin of the manned craft. He reported the tape was almost half a meter wide, as it poured out of a computer with many blinking lights. (56)

A similar article in Krasnaya Zvezda discussed the problems of command and control during flights, recommending a combination of commands sent to the spacecraft by radio from Earth, and others program-timed on board the spacecraft itself. The report mentioned that the deep space flights launched from Earth orbit are observed by radio and sent command signals from ships placed in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, which is consistent with our knowledge that the probe or escape rocket is generally fired somewhere over or near Africa. Other flights are supported by aircraft, particularly during the recovery phase, supplementing the ships used for search, rescue, and evacuation of spacecraft which have landed in ocean areas. Information from all these sources feeds into the ground complex. The total combination of all support aids involves systems for orbital path measurements, reception and registry of telemetry, controlling onboard instrumentation, communications, and a standard time service. Communications may be relayed through Molniya satellites, and reliance is placed on the Meteor satellites for supporting weather data. (57)

Communications in near-Earth space require a greater number of antennas, but those for flights to lunar and planetary distances need special, large antenna systems, special molecular and parametric amplifiers, and special narrow band filters to sort out weak signals

amidst space "noise". At least two but not more than four deep space stations if sufficiently spread out, are all that are needed for planetary flights. (58)

Still another account in Pravda described the antennas as 25 meters in diameter at the main space flight control center. The main receiving antenna is close to the buildings of the center. The transmitting antenna to the spacecraft is about ten kilometers away. Because several different frequencies are used, and these pass through the receiving antenna, special devices sort them out to deliver the separate components of television, telemetry, and telephonic information. These are all recorded on magnetic tape while the information on orbital information especially is fed immediately to the computers. When commands are sent to the spacecraft, these are in coded form which has been put into the computers, so that only pressing a button on a panel is required. When these signals are played back to Earth correctly from the spacecraft, only then does the "execute" command go out to the spaceship. (59)

It was interesting that through all these years of partial disclosure, there was never a clue as to the location of the space control centers. Certainly the launch itself is controlled by military men at the individual launch sites. It was this immediate block house with its periscopes that was declared off limits when American astronauts, technicians, and other higher officials visited Tyuratam in connection with the Apollo Soyuz mission.

When the Apollo Soyuz mission was approaching, the Russians opened up some more information by making known they were building an entirely new space control center for this mission in the general vicinity of Moscow. It was revealed that the Soyuz 12 flight was the first one controlled from this new center northeast of Moscow . (60) At first the site was believed to be at Kalinin , 150 kilometers northwest of Moscow . But the site was finally located accurately when the U.S. press representatives were allowed to visit it in mid-May 1975. It was in Kaliningrad , 10 kilometers northeast of Moscow and 10 kilometers northwest of the Yuriy Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Zvezdny Gorodok. (61) It had been building since 1970. The main operations room has five banks of consoles. 24 in total with a large screen map of the world in front center, with the orbital path and all tracking stations shown on the map, with additional data listed on side panels. It was evident from these disclosures that there must be a different and possibly more versatile center already in use elsewhere. The Russians were evasive on this point, but during the Apollo Soyuz mission mentioned almost casually that the Salyut mission was being controlled from a center at Yevpatoriya, the same site in the Crimea where the deep space tracking station is located. Whether there are still other major control centers is not known. It is reminiscent of the fact the United States has control facilities at each of its major launch sites in Florida and California, and also has additional facilities in Houston, Texas; Greenbelt, Maryland; and Sunny vale, California at the very least. So for some purposes, the Russians may also have additional locations in use.


52. TASS, 0738 GMT, November 16, 1967 .

53. Trnd. Moscow, November 19. 1967. p. 1A.

54. Red Star. Moscow , May 16, 1968 , p. 4.

55. Pravda, Moscow , April 12, 1969 , p. 6.

56. Izvestiya, Moscow , June 4, 1970 , pp. 1, 4.

57. Dmitrlyev, G., Eyes and ears on the Earth. Krasnaya Zvezda, Moscow . June 12, 1970 , p. 2.

58. Idem.

59. Smirnov, V. Information from orbit, Pravda, Moscow , June 9, 1970 .

60. Aviation Week, New York . November 5, 1978 , p. 20.

61. Soviet Aerospace, Washington , May 19, 1975 , p. 18.

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