27 October 1967
At 0930 UT, Kosmos-186, an unmanned 7K-OK Soyuz ship, was launched from Baikonur to work as the active ship in the attempt to achieve an automatic rendezvous and possibly docking with another, similar, ship to be launched two days later. TASS did announce the flight but news media in the West confused the reporting considerably because Kosmos-185 was launched the same day and Kosmos-187, a FOBS flight, was launched the following day.
The Kettering Grammar School was listening on 20.008 MHz on thisday and picked up what was later found out to be typical Soyuz telemetry at 1630-1645 UT (1). Here is science master Geoff Perry's account of what happened:
"......It rained on the morning of the Friday of the 1967 autumn half-term holiday. It started when I was on the fourth tee of Corby's municipal golf course and I got soaked to the skin. I went to the Labs in the afternoon and switched on the CR-100. It was not long before I heard a short burst of irregular pulses. I ran the tape recorder and recorded further 30-second bursts at two minute intervals. In 1966 Ken Edwards had sent a pen record of some strange signals for me to identify. They, too, consisted of 30-second bursts of irregular pulses at two minute intervals and proved to have been from Kosmos-140, a precursor of the ill-fated Soyuz-1. My signals were from the first test of a Soyuz since Komarov's tragic death (see "Analysis of the Soyuz-1 flight"). ......"
by Kosmos-140 and subsequent Soyuz-type flights were CW-PDM
It seems that an
to raise the orbit of Kosmos-186 was made on the "17 th revolution",
had to be postponed to the following day because of problems with an
sensor (2). This probably delayed the
of the passive ship until 30 October.
At 1320 UT I made a telephone call to Kettering . Geoff Perry gave me the orbital data that I needed and also the bad news that the craft was possibly down.
The raising of the orbit planned for the previous day was rescheduled for the "31 st revolution" (2), but again had to be put off because the proper commands had not been uploaded. Western tracking data show that the orbit had indeed been raised by rev. 34.
So, Kosmos-186 was still in orbit or another craft had been launched. I ordered a call to Kettering at 0914, but this being a working day, the operator told me it would take another hour to get through (this was in the days before direct dialing and international calls had to be ordered through the operator)! While waiting for the call to come through Kosmos-186 came around again and I heard strong signals at 0935.50-0958.40 UT. Still more signals, but weak at 1112.05-1118 UT. I talked to Kettering again at 1215 UT (after having waited for the call 80 minutes) and Geoff Perry seemed to think that there was another ship in orbit.
I felt that something unusual was going on, especially after having received a short burst of extremely strong CW-PDM signals on 20.008 MHz being commanded on at 1248.45 UT and switched off at 1251.45 UT. The signals were again commanded on at 1253.22 UT and faded out at 1331 UT. The last set of signals received by me on the Monday was picked up on 20.008 MHz from 1409.05 until 1422.27 UT when they were commanded off (listen here). (A map of my receptions on 20.008 MHz on 30 Oct 1967 is shown here)
What had indeed happened was that Kosmos-188 had been launched from Baikonur at 0812 UT to serve as the passive target of Kosmos-186. As the new spacecraft passed the Ussuriysk ground station in Russia's far east commands were uplinked to the two craft to attempt a docking during the first revolution of Kosmos-188. It seems that the decision to actually perform the docking and not just a close approach - as the flight plan stated - was taken just before the launch of Kosmos-188 (2).
According to Russian sources Kosmos-188 was 24 km from Kosmos-186 at orbital insertion and the IGLA system for automatic approach and docking was activated. I have tried to verify this Russian claim by using Western orbital data. The Kosmos-186 element set closest to the launch of Kosmos-188 is the one valid for at 05:04:25 UT on 30 October. The orbital data for Kosmos-188, the passive ship, at 09:30:33 UT represents the orbit 10 minutes after docking. By using these element sets the graph on the right can be generated. It shows the motion of Kosmos-188 relative to Kosmos-186 from orbital insertion of Kosmos-188 until the moment of docking. From this figure it seems that Kosmos-186 was placed approximately 100 km in front of Kosmos-188. However, the element sets of newly launched objects are often inaccurate, so the Russian claim can very well be absolutely correct.
The docking took place at 0920 UT beyond the reach of tracking stations on Soviet soil off the coast of South America. Mission control at Yevpatoria was able to ascertain that the docking had taken place by monitoring short-wave telemetry (2) - presumably the 20.008 MHz link - some 15 minutes before the craft appeared over the horizon of Yevpatoria (which occurred at 0940 UT). As can be determined above I received the short-wave telemetry at 0935.50, about 15 minutes after the docking.
When the two craft appeared over the horizon at Yevpatoria television images showed the craft to be docked (see picture on the right), but telemetry revealed that its was only a "soft dock" with a gap of 85 mm between the vehicles (2). Undocking occurred well within view of Yevpatoria at 1250 UT, in the middle of the transmission picked up by myself at 1248.45-1251.45 UT. Controllers at Yevpatoria could see the craft separate via a live TV transmission from the craft.
Back to Space Tracking Notes