Salvaging Salyut 7

Sven Grahn

Events in 1984-1985

The Salyut-7 space station was launched on 19 April 1982. It had seven resident crews and four short-duration, visiting, crews. The third resident crew left the station on 2 October 1984. There had been repairs made to Salyut-7 in 1983 and 1984 when leaks were repaired by several space walks. But the really serious technical problem was still in the future. After the crew left in October 1984 I still kept a watch on radio signals from Salyut-7 whenever I had the chance through the winter of 1984-1985. I picked up Salyut-7 at 1311-1314 UT on 3 February 1985 on 192.0 MHz and 165.0 MHz, both PPM-AM signals. But on 1 March 1985 there was a TASS announcement that Salyut-7 had been "mothballed" and "had fulfilled its programme completely". Signals from Salyut-7 ceased. I was unable to pick up any signals on any of the frequencies used by Salyut-7.

In early March 1985 rumours started appearing in the West that Salyut-7 was out of control, tumbling, and that the repair of leaks made earlier in the mission had not succeeded and that the spacecraft would make an uncontrolled re-entry some time in the future. I was told about these rumours on 9 March and on 10 March I tried to pick up signals from Salyut-7 but heard nothing. On 14 March Mark Severance in Houston saw Salyut-7 and it was steady, contradicting the rumours of rapid tumbling. On 15 April Aviation Week published a very small item saying that Salyut-7 was not responding to commands (see below).

What had actually occurred was that on 11 February 1985, contact with Salyut 7 was lost as all systems on the station shut down. At that time the station was without crew. The latest crew (Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Solovyov and Oleg Atkov) had left the station on 2 October 1984 after a stay on the station lasting 237 days.

A rescue/salvaging mission is organized

Unknown to the outside world it was decided to again attempt to repair the station. When the launch of Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Viktor Savinykh on Soyuz T-13 occurred at 0640 UT on 6 June 1985 it came as a complete surprise to outsiders. It was also launched at an unusual phasing relationship to the station - more like a Progress launch, pointing to a two-day rendezvous. Dzhanibekov was heading into space for his third visit to Salyut-7! And the docking had to be done without the help of the radio docking system IGLA - the cosmonauts had to rely on an optical rangefinder and some set-of-their-pants flying. In the picture below Dzhanibekov is on the left. (Image: Spacefacts )

I was tracking Soyuz T-13 on 121.75 MHz (and also telemetry frequencies) on 8 and 9 June. So did my friend Geoff Perry who played the tape of the crucial reception (corresponding to my recording 3) to Alan Sanders at BBC Caversham who translated it over the phone and confirmed that the crew had docked to and entered the space station. So Geoff (read here about the history of Geoff's space tracking operation) could publish this fact via ITN's Oracle teletext service at 1448 UT. At 1900 UT Radio Moscow announced the successful docking and entry. Docking actually occured at 0850 UT on 8 June 1985. Thus began what was  to become in the words of author David S. F. Portree "one of the most impressive feats of in-space repairs in history". The image below was created by my Facebook friend Junior Miranda and depicts how he imagines the close approach of Soyuz T-13 to Salyut-7. Note that Juniour has left out the IGLA docking system antenna on  a "tower" that Salyut-7 has. Since IGLA was not operational there was no need to carry the IGLA system.

On 12 June Geoff Perry noted the Salyut-7 voice transmitter on 142.4 MHz was reactivated by the crew, showing that power had been restored to the station. I was too busy at work to have time to listen to the cosmonauts then. But I picked up signals from Salyut-7 on most of its frequencies (voice on 142.4 MHz, telemetry on 192.0 MHz and slow-speed telemetry on 20.008 MHz) on 18 June 1985. I will not go into all the details of the salvage and subsequent missions to Salyut-7 (except the medical problems experienced later in 1985). Instead I am going to re-visit the activities on-board on 8 and 9 June 1985.

Voice recordings "re-discovered" in 2018

But, in March 2018, after reading about the success of the heroic movie about Salyut-7, it occured to me that I had never really listened to the recordings from the dramatic docking and entry into the space station  or had them translated. So, I dug up the six recordings (I have more than a thousand recordings of voice from Soviet/Russian cosmonauts) from 8 and 9 June 1985 and posted them to my space history friends on Facebook.  My Facebook friend Alexander Dzhuly and my long-time space history friend Igor Lissov of Novosti Kosmonavtiki  transcribed the recordings to Russian (their Russian texts can be found here ) and their translations to English and various on-line translators did the rest of the job. Igor Lissov's efforts have been worked into the English translations as well.  Some key phrases have been marked in red . The ground track maps below show where the crew was during the receptions. The radio horizon corresponds to zero degrees elevation angle. The original recording can be found by clicking on the headline of each translated reception. The time in the left column indicates the time in minutes and seconds from the start of the sound file.

Recording 1: 8 June 1985, 1008-1013 UT


Comment from Igor Lissov: This recording has two topics: some attitude control operations and pressure checks. Dzhanibekov and Savinykh set on (command S5) and off (after the end of record) the pressure equalization valve KVD between SU (Literal translation: Docking Station) and OB for 15 seconds. SU is the internal volume of the docking unit between the two hatches BO/SU and SU/OB. Here OB is the object other than Soyuz -- don't know if these letters mean just object or orbital block. The purpose is to find if Salyut-7 still contains atmosphere and, probably, if it is breathable. Cosmonauts didn't close the hatch between BO (Living compartment of Soyuz)  andSA (Soyuz re-entry vehicle)  because the BO/SU hatch was in closed position and helped isolate them from the experimental volume.

So, in summary, during this recording 1 an attempt was made to pressurize the SU from the Salyut 7 side. In fact it failed as the station was powerless and couldn't open the SU-OB KVD on the S5 command issued.


Time Space/ground voice
00:13 Vitya, Chaika [computer] power is on.
00:17  Select DPO-M1       
00:37 G4 G3
00:50 BTsVK [computer] readiness OK.
02:23 Accessible.

TsUP: Accessible-- Let's do this.

02:36 Hear you.



TsUP: For 15 seconds youll set on twounder KVD and SU-OB. For 15 seconds.
And we’ll see if the indicator lights on or not. Even if it doesn’t light up, after 15 seconds
[you’d input] the off command.

For 15 seconds. Aha.

02:56 TsUP: Can you input this?
02:57 Yes.
03:00 TsUP: You are to input S5 command to set on the SU-OB KVD.
03:05 Well.
03:06 TsUP: And we'll see.
03:08 Should we close the hatch? To SA?
03:10 TsUP: The hatch? In general, it doesn’t matter, I believe you should not.
03:17 Well. We wanted to ask [you] not to do this.
03:25 Well, OK
03:27 TsUP: As soon as you are ready [tell] us something
03:31 Ready.
03:33 TsUP: Go on, set it on for 15 seconds
03:36 OK, now. Were punching. The pressure…
03:41 TsUP: Where do we handle?..
03:45 Yes, this way. S5 [command].

Has opened.


Recording 2: 8 June 1985 1140-1147 UT


Comment from Igor Lissov: The crew again pressurizes the SU but from another
vehicle -- from Soyuz. Dzhanibekov and Savinykh set on (command S3) and then off (command S4) the pressure equalization valve KVD between BO and SU for 15 seconds. I was not able to understand the dynamics of pressure (620 then 360 then 400 mm Hg).between BO and SA because the BO/SU hatch was in closed position and helped isolate them from the experimental volume.


Time Air-to-ground voice
00:05  Well, did you leave the hat there?
01:39 TsUP: KVD?
01:44 In the closed [state]!
01:46 TsUP: Open it.
----- Long instruction about some actions


TsUP: valve of KVD. For 15 seconds, and after 15 seconds close it. Then monitoring
for one minute according to
02:11 Accepted.
02:15 S3, 15 seconds.
02:21 12 seconds
02:21 SthreeCommand issued. Oh how it comes! The pressure in the SU..
02:33 15 seconds?
02:38 Pressure in the SU now shows 620.      
02:44 TsUP: In a jump?
02:45 In a jump, yes. 15 seconds, set off.
02:48 S4 command was issued.
02:54 So. Transparency ... Pressure .... 200 ... 300..60 [360]
03:53 Good
04:08 OK.
04:13 TsUP: Now that we have some time
04:20 Done!
04:22 TsUP: 16:01-16:50 (?)

Recording 3: 8 June 1985 1315-1321 UT

Comment from Igor Lissov: This recording covers the minutes immediately before entry into Salyut. Dzhanibekov reported no change in pressure, then opened a KVD (which one?) and the BO/SU hatch. (For the second time, by the way.) Then he manipulated  a plug? related to the SU/Salyut hatch to speed up the pressure equalization process. Many phrases in this recording can be also found in the Savinykh memoirs (Letters from the Dead Station) but the transcript in the book begins earlier and ends later then you record does. Nevertheless, in the common part your record is more detailed -- obviously the transcript was edited for brevity. Comparing your record and the transcript, I could see that the last SU/Salyut hatch was opened just after the end of your record.

Before Recording 3 started cosmonauts had entered the SU volume from Soyuz and manually rotated to a certain degree the KVD plug to start the air flow from Salyut, then retreated to Soyuz and closed the hatch again. They opened it for the second time during your pass and manipulated the plug again to speed up the pressure  equalization. Just a minute or two after the pass they finally opened the SU/Salyut hatch.


Time Air-to-ground voice
00:56 TsUP: Pamir!
00:57 In touch! The pressure is unchanged. Yes
00:58 TsUP: What? (did not catch)
00:59 Pressure … without changes.
01:03 TsUP: Without change?
01:04 Yes


TsUP: Open KVD and KKD. [KVD=Pressure Equalization Valve, KKD=Pressure
Control Valve]
01:08 I'm opening
01:11 Opened
01:12 Earth: Both? Yes?
01:15 Both, yes. [Pressure] is equalizing.
01:16 Yes. It is leveled [pressure].
01:18 TsUP: (weak)
01:33 As long as it goes..


TsUP: That’s it, Volodya [Dzhanibekov]. We are to fly and fly more, so we’ve
nowhere to hurry.
02:07 TsUP: It is possible, still probably... (noise)
02:25 So, docking [Unit?] ....
02:41 20
02:42 20 millimeters. Well, nothing - now open up.
02:43 Well, not a problem – now we’re going to open the hatch.
02:57 Opened ... the hatch
02:59 TsUP: Manipulate the plug.
03:00 Now, now, now
03:06 The hatch is open...

TsUP: Is the plug hissing?

03:12 I do not understand!
03:13 TsUP: slightly move the plug...

What for?

03:16 TSUP: Maybe it will somewhat pass [the air]. Youd equalize the pressure this way..
03:20 Earth: And pressure can be leveled therby.
03:22 A little bit faster, huh?
03:24 TsUP: Of course
03:25 Is then this issue then... it is resolved quickly.
03:39 TsUP: (Inaudible).

No. Everything is normal. It is the familiar native smell of a successful  docking.

03:52 So, I'm opening the vent a little bit more
04:01 ---sound of air escaping through an opening---
04:03 Wow! ["Vo", exclamation of delight]
04:05 Now it's more fun.
04:08 Yes.
04:25 Normally. Only it is cold.


And the humidity was high. Let's dry it. Clean up.

04:33 Pressure 714 [mm Hg] now... on my manometer

All is normal



Recording 4: 9 June 1985 0858-0905 UT

Time Air-to-ground voice
00:30 AR
00:33 T2
00:43 Now
00:44 Good

I will now release



Then it's very difficult to work on the night side. Therefore during this
time we did not have time to do anything.
We are now engaged in the  
living compartment - dismantled the frame. There too..
01:29 Not yet.
01:43 Aha, I get it.
----- Long instruction about some actions -----

Now the connection will end and I'll start looking for

02:22 Good
02:25 He's somewhere under the sideboard. Those. Under this sofa?
02:49 Clear
02:56 Disconnected
03:00 Do I detach the RM hose from BP2? Yes?

In general, the hose...the hose is twisted here into a bulge. so.

---- dismantling of some equipment - cables, connectors ----

Recording 5: 9 June 1985 1032-1041 UT


Air-to-ground voice


Yes, we have. Plus we have where?




-No. I'm not for you.


 Something we will not find * the question ..


Say again where he is?


----- an instruction about a device position -----




Okay, well ... I'm not breathing






And what can this be?


So ...


Absolutely nothing


And I warmed up one.


I'll run away and check it out. Now. There are no questions.




There one connector warmed up and docked.


I'll warm it up now.


One and a half liters.


We can go to the settings


Take measure


Well, what? He even tried it. Shows normally.


1.5 Volts.


Measured voltage for LTR


Battery backup and there is 12 Volts.




I already and so and so.


Is not such a tricky task here


For 2.5 volts delivered.


For 2.5 shows something - it means ....


So 2.5 volts.The scale itself is 25 volts and we have three units worth.3 volts


In general, here we have a scale of 25.


Very convenient.


Give me a screwdriver.


In this connector the pins are a plug


Now. Just a second! Flashlight. Now I'll take a look.

07:34 Between the first and the 17th - a short circuit.

Recording 6 on 9 June 1985 1207-1216 UT 


Air-to-ground voice



Yes, yes

01:11TsUP: Sixth orbit
01:12TsUP: The last I give digits.


TsUP: 08 you put.


TsUP: Instead of 03 – 08




TsUP: The seventh – instead of 52 you put 51.


TsUP: The fifth – 43


TsUP: And the tenth – instead of 11 you put 12.


So …

01:55The sixth - 17, 29, 07?


TsUP: 08


08! Yes.

02:0619 (noise)


20, 40, 15?

02:16TsUP: So!


22, 15, 43?

02:19TsUP: So!


23, 50, 12


TsUP: So, give me still the fifth and sixth.



TsUP: So.


17, 29, 08

02:33TsUP: So.


19, 04, 50, 8


TsUP: Fifty 7




TsUP: Seven, Seven .

02:44Understood: Seven.



TsUP: So, Vitya, I want to thank you for the fact that you after the termination of communications session switch off the transmitter at once. And personally to thank you that you remove the headset during the communications session.
03:05I understood you.


TsUP: So.


So, Zarya .

03:15Zarya, number.
03:18Means, here 745/10 the fourth.
03:24Between the first and thirteenth there is a contact. And all others without contact.
03:35TsUP: [On this block we put seven]
03:44TsUP: Volodya?
03:45TsUP: One more has to be an entrance.
04:08TsUP: [You] [open power connectors for ring-up].
04:12So, now one second, one second – I understand where it still is – I do not see.
04:19TsUP: Input of cells behind the fifty first panel. Two wires.
04:22Hello, Kirill.
04:24TsUP: Yes?
04:26For the sixty-first?
04:27TsUP: The fifty first.
04:33So. Higher, huh?


Back to Space Tracking Notes