Space in Russia (3)

Space in Russia (3)


Tsentr Oupravlienia Poliotom (TsUP)


I get the feeling that a thousand eyes are looking at me from the wall but actually there are no more than a hundred or so – in couples, staring at me – the eyes of Soviet spacemen, once crew members of Soviet flights in the ’70s and ’80s. Their portraits in space suits along with their flight number and emblems, cover a large wall in the TsUP building.

A corridor then leads to the main operations room at Space Control Centre – an enormous room filled with hundreds of computer screens “manned” by scores of controllers and technicians. But most impressive of all is the central screen, shown in the above photo, showing the trajectory of orbiting vehicles and the zones covered by terrestrial tracking stations as well as marine tracking stations. Between screen and ceiling the seconds tick away for the MIR orbital complex. The screen to its right (which you won’t be able to make out in the photo) shows the cosmonauts in MIR and to the left is a picture of MIR itself. Every twenty- minutes, when MIR is above Russian territory there is radio contact and at least once a day – more if necessary – visual contact via TV pictures.

The operations room at Kaliningrad has also been depicted on a Soviet stamp and on postal stationery. issued at the time of the ASTP flight twenty years ago. Both the Soviet Union and the United States issued an identical set to mark the historic mission, but of course the TsUP images were a Soviet concern only. It is not quite clear when TsUP was built. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Space (First edition 1990) say TsUP was established in 1970 but the Russians themselves in their own small book Spaceflight Control Centre (in Russian and English, pub 1990) give “1973” as the year of completion.

The Centre’s function is to control every manned spacecraft and uncrewed space probes for example those to Venus and Mars. Being a scientific body too, TsUP does its own research, managing specific Spaceflight control tasks and looking for ways and means of solving problems.

Controlling a space flight today means facing a complex series of technological problems. Essentially it boils down to providing linking and working conditions for the crew and on-board equipment readiness and the solution of research and economic tasks within the programme, according to the Russian publication referred to above.

Telemetrical data are the basic type of information for all Spaceflight control operations. Up to half a billion bits of info flow from aboard MIR to TsUP within any one communication hour. The data are processed in real time scale, packed into visual table forms and stored in computer memory.

Two hundred table forms and sixty computerised evaluations of the crew and the onboard system conditions blink on the screens in front of the control personnel. Six hundred telephone lines and more than fifteen wide band TV channels meet the communication requirements of TsUP. Satellite; channels are used for communication with the remote land based and ship-born tracking posts.

For the information of the general public TsUP has direct lines to the Moscow TV Centre and to international telex and telephone networks. The Control Centre employs about 2500 engineers and technicians. Besides tracking stations on land the Russians have a fleet of specialised tracking ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and in the Mediterranean. Star skips in this fleet are the Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Kosmonaut Vladislav Volkov and the Academician Sergei Korolev.

Notably all three of these ships are pictured on stamps and postal stationery. Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the most famous one being 236 metres long, 32 metres wide with six decks, four big dish antennae rising to a height of 60 metres. It is said that this ship can reach any phone in the (former) Soviet Union using the Molnya satellite system.  Kosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is seen on several stamps, for example, Cuba April 12, 93; Mongolia June 20, 73. Soviet Union June 28, 78 (along with Soyuz-Salyut) April 12, 79 (Interkosmos.)

The set which features Kosmonaut Yuri Gargarin also pictures the other two star ships. The Volkov cover on page 7 is a special one with the on-board ships cancel in violet, the pictorial ship’s cachet in blue and the captain’s two-line hand-stamp in black “MV Kosmonaut Vladislav Volkov.” This tenth anniversary cover is postally used and sent via registered mail. It’s a beauty isn’t it? The extra 4 kopek stamp depicts the Ekran communications satellite issued October 15,1981.

Sergei Korolev, Russia’s most famous rocket pioneer and constructor, has been honoured in philately many times. There are dozens of stamps, tens of cancels and many postal stationery items, mainly of the former Soviet Union. The post card below depicts the Academician Sergei Korolev which bears an imprinted 3 kopek stamp on the reverse. This card is not known widely but in fact two cards were issued on December 25th 1979, the other being of the Kosmonaut Vladimir Komarov (the space pioneer who was killed in the Soyuz 1 descent tragedy in 1967.)

By Bert van Eijck