Hand-keyed Morse code from Salyut-1?

While going over my old records I ran across a baffling series of observations from June 1971. On June 7, 1971, both myself and Geoff Perry in Kettering independently picked up hand-keyed Morse code on the shortwave telemetry on 20.008 MHz. This is the sequence of events:

Radio observations on June 7, 1971
Time (UT) Observation
0550-0557.30 Telemetry on 20.008 MHz (Soyuz 11) in Stockholm
0548-0605.30 Telemetry on 15.008 MHz (Salyut 1) in Stockholm
[0745 Soyuz 11 docks with Salyut 1.]
1018.30-1020 Telemetry on 20.008 MHz (Soyuz 11) in Stockholm
1034 Hand-keyed Morse-code on 20.008 MHz in Kettering
1340-1346  Hand-keyed Morse-code on 20.008 MHz in Stockholm
1341-1346 Telemetry on 15.008 MHz (Salyut 1) in Kettering

Here is a transcript of part of the transmission:


The question that I asked me was:  Has this anything to do with the Russian language or the space station? I posted this question on the FPSPACE and Hearsat-L list servers and got a lot of helpful replies.

Interpretation by Igor Lissov

The first one came from Igor Lissov, who wrote: I think this really has to do with Russian language. At least, in our version of Morse code, AA = .-.- = Ya. Then, PONYAL is definitely a Russian word ('understood') used instead of 'Roger', and PRINYAL means 'got it'. You can try clear the transcript with Russian Morse table, as follows:
Morse English Russian
E Ye/Yo
- T T
.. I I
.- A A
-. N N
-- M M
... S S
..- U U
.-. R R
.-- W V (different letter)
-.. D D
-.- K K
--. G G
--- O O
.... H H
...- V Zh (different letter)
..-. F F
..-- Nothing Yu
.-.. L L
.-.- Nothing Ya
.--. P P
.--- J I short
-... B B
-..- X soft/hard sign
-.-. C Ts (different letter)
-.-- Y Y
--.. Z Z
--.- Q Shch (different letter)
---. Nothing Ch
---- Nothing Sh
..-.. Nothing E reverse

Magnus Baeckstroem's interpretation

"....Definitely! The transmission translates to: "how do you read me?"  The VVV is a commonly used test signal.  There are some mistakes, probably the result of poor keying.  It should probably be

For those of you without MIME decoding, the "Ä" is the russian "ye", which is ".-.-" in morse -- easily taken for ".- .-" (two "a"s).  Also, "k" (-.-) easily becomes "d" (..-), "p" (.--.) may be "j" (.---)... I imagine hand-keying in weightlessness could be challenging.

"Kak ponäl" means "how do you hear".  It's not common to hear this in morse code.  Usually the expression is used only in voice traffic, in particular shortwave SSB.  Experienced morse operators usually don't ask at all, and complain instead using Q codes (QSB, QRM, QRN etc.) when they can't copy a transmission.

Interpretation by Chris van den Berg

One of my skills is the ability to write down messages transmitted in Russian morse code.    In my opinion there are some mistakes in the signals: woonaal must also be 'ponyal'    The Russian morse code for the Ya is .-.- The 'D' in DAK must be wrong and might be a 'K' -.-, so the word must be 'kak' = How. VVV  is often used to enable the other station to adjust the tuning. Again then 'ponyal'  or Ponyal  ; understood.    Was is You , so I understood you. Joonal is garbled, must also be ponyal.   Prinaal is Prinyal (again .-.-) and means I received  your message,  I picked up your message.


So, perhaps the message is simply: How do you read?.....how do you read?...I read you OK... So, it could definitely have come from Salyut 1/Soyuz 11. In those days I listened a lot to 20.008 MHz and never heard anything like this before or after!

Use of shortwaves, Morse-code, and lack of encryption

Many of the people who replied to my query were baffled by the use of shortwaves, Morse-code and lack of encryption. Here is what I wrote about the use of shortwaves, Morse code, and encryption:

".......All Russian manned space vehicles up to and including all Soyuz-T flights and Salyut 7 had a shortwave communications system. It could be used for telemetry (keyed carrier in Pulse-duration modulation mode), AM voice or Morse-code. The shortwave system was used primarily when out of reach of ground stations where VHF voice and VHF/UHF telemetry could be used.

In early flights Morse-code was used: Komarov sent hand keyed morse code from Voskhod 1 and mission control asked Belyayev (Voskhod 2) to confirm reception of the instructions for manual landing by Morse code....

Salyut 3 and 5 used encrypted voice on the 143.625 MHz link when they wanted to hide what they were talking about. In between those occasions they were easily overheard on the same frequency when the were transmitting in the clear using FM. ......"

Chris van den Berg amplified this by writing

About Morse code.    Yes.   In the beginning the communication facilities in Russian space flight  were mainly based on the systems already in use in WW-2.   Soviet wireless operators were very good and the enormous distances of that huge country made the use of short wave and wireless telegraphy necessary.    Don't forget that there were no communication satellites in the very beginning which could do what our comm. sats can do now.  All cosmonauts for the Vostok,  Voskhod en Soyuz flight got a training in keying Morse signals.  They did not use this method during all comm. sessions, but were able to do so if needed, for instance in case of emergency. Landing in a far away unpopulated area or at sea might help the search parties to locate them when they used W/T. In fact once Belyayev did. On the shortwave frequencies around 20 mc also some ground tracking stations used a morse signal for identification, for instance Vesna used in Morse WSN (mp3-file) during calls [recording by Chris van den Berg].    And the old tracking beacon during the descend of capsule was in morse AN AN, then still in short wave, nowadays even keying that signal, but now on VHF.   And those who were in Baikonur:   did not they see the huge antenna park with HF antennae?

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