Notes on the space tracking activities and sensational claims made by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers

Sven Grahn

The claims made by the Italian brothers Achille and Gian Battista Judica-Cordiglia of having tracked Soviet spacecraft with cosmonauts onboard that perished are well known and lately described in some details at the "Lost Cosmonauts" web site (discovered to be defunct in October 2013) set up by Giovanni and Mario Abrate. The stories of the Judica-Cordiglias sensational intercepts are part of the mythology of the Space Age. Serious students of space history such as James Oberg have thoroughly debunked (4) these claims. Here I just would add some notes in support of such debunking and also to provide some details about the operation of the Judica-Cordiglias located outside Turin in northern Italy.  Some material comes from the "Lost Cosmonauts" site while other material comes from my own files.

Analysis of the information provided at the "Lost Cosmonauts" web site


Let me state initially that I do not think there is any truth in the wild claims of the Judica-Cordiglia brothers. However, the brothers at their tracking station in Turin ran a tracking post that seems reasonably well equipped. At the "Lost Cosmonauts" web site there are several pictures of the brothers and their equipment. Below you will find them or parts of them and my comments to what we can see in them. The photographs are published here through the kind concession of the "Lost Cosmonauts" website.

In this picture we see the main tracking antenna at Torre Bert. The "dish" actually seems to be a rather flat reflector, in effect a "ground plane". there are six Yagi antennas mounted over this ground plane and if they are fed in phase they provide a 7.8 dB gain increase over the single Yagi. In other pictures there is a single helix at the center of the ground plane.

If one looks carefully it is possible to see that each concentric octagonal frame forming the reflector is mounted a little further our from the supporting booms as one approaches the edge. This may have been a rough approximation of a parabolic dish, but with the Yagis in the picture above, this would have had no, or very little effect on gain.

In the configuration above only the number of Yagis and the way they are fed is important. The "dish" in this case works as a (oversized) ground plane!

The azimuth steering of this antenna seems to have been done manually and I guess that the wheel seen just above the man's head in the picture on the right is the "steering wheel" for the antenna!

This radio seems to have a loudspeaker on the left side and a tuning knob and dial very similar to that of my Nems-Clarke 2501 A 55-260 MHz telemetry receiver (see below)

The interview with Gian Battista Judica-Cordiglia

This interview is a remarkable piece of text - really strange in many respects. Mr. Gian Battista Judica-Cordiglia (abbreviated GJC below) both makes strong and definite claims, gives technical details about equipment and intercepts, but his story is hollow indeed, I think.
The picture caption is in Swedish, but reads "This picture of the lunar surface is said to have been received by two Italian scientists at a space radio center in Turin when they connected a TV set to a radio telescope. The two Italians, the brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia, say that pictures from the Moon have appeared on the TV screen on two occasions during the past 24 hours."
We know from other intercepts of Luna spacecraft that images were transmitted by very low speed facsimile similar to the type used by the APT transmitter on weather satellites. Such pictures have been reproduced on telephoto machines in the past and nowadays by software running on PCs. When I saw this picture I sincerely doubted that a TV hooked up to receiver tuned to the Luna-4 frequency would produce anything but noise.

To find out more I contacted Giovanni Abrati who relayed the following explanation from GJC : "The Moon pictures were transmitted in slow-scan, recorded on audio tape and re-composed using a TV monitor and a camera set to 'B'." This makes sense technically and I have asked GJC to confirm that the signals were received in the 183 MHz band normally used by Luna probes.

However, the "Moon picture" reproduced in the newspaper clipping looks very much retouched. It would be quite interesting if the "Lost Cosmonauts" web site could also publish the pictures said to have come from Luna-4.  A disturbing fact is that I have nowhere found any evidence that stations like Jodrell Bank or the NRL ground station in Maryland with its 45-m dish picked up these pictures (Check my Jodrell Bank articles). In addition, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there have been no signs of images having been transmitted during the approach to the moon by the E-6 Lunar probes, only after landing.

The publication "Radiospazio" and its description of radio intercepts

I have photocopies of the publication "Radiospazio", issues 1 and 2 dated May and June 1963 (2) published by the Judica-Cordiglias in which the tracking activities of the Torre Bert tracking station are described (See reproduction of the cover of issue 1 on the right. Click on the picture of the cover to see the entire cover and its table of contents).

The first issue gives a summary of the activities of the Torre Bert operation. Using my limited knowledge of Italian, I have been able to make out the following:

The sensational reports about failed Soviet space mission are numerous, but here are the main reports: In particular the radio intercepts of heartbeats and heavy breathing from a dying cosmonaut are described at length in the June 1963 issue. From the text alone it is virtually impossible to form any opinion about these radio intercepts. Therefore I am glad that the Abrates have been able to publish (on the Web) the sound files from these much discussed radio intercepts. In this way everyone can judge for himself the quality of the radio intercepts and their credibility.

As far as I can tell from the "Radiospazio" issues, the "heartbeat" and "heavy breathing" files were recorded at 2255 (Central European Time?) on 2 February 1961. However, even the "Radiospazio" issues contain very sketchy logs of these and other receptions and vague data as to reception frequencies ("around [intorno ai] 20 MHz"). Concerning the "breathing" and "heartbeat" signals I would like to note that heart rate and breathing was never transmitted directly on the Vostok/Voskhod voice link. Instead this data was transmitted in the way described at my Web site ( "Biomedical telemetry" ). (You can hear the heartbeat of Valery Bykovsky as interruptions in the CW signals from Vostok-5). A key question is: Why would the failed flights use a different transmission system compared to the successful ones?

Much later, at the end of the 70's, electrocardiogram signals were transmitted on the Salyut 6 voice link, but then the signal was easily recognizable as ECG.

The file with the female "cosmonaut's" voice recorded during the period 16-19 May 1961 (dates vary, sometimes the period is given as 16-23 May 1961) is so garbled that it is virtually impossible to make out individual words. Compare this to the sound file with the voice of Vladimir Komarov at my Web site and you shall understand why I think the Torre Bert sound file has no value at all as evidence of anything!

More pictures from Torre Bert

In my files I have Xerox copies of more pictures from Torre Bert that I have reproduced below. What you see from these pictures is an ambition to create an impressive-looking environment with devices such as wall-screens for displaying satellite position.

Here is another picture of the main tracking antenna with single helix as the driven element and no sign of the six Yagis in the other picture
The wall displays are somewhat confusing. The "USA" display shows an approximately  i=50 deg orbit out of the Cape. Such launches took place in the early days, but were indeed unusual. The "URSS" display shows and  obit at i=60 deg instead of the standard 65 deg inclination. Just sloppy work? There are indicator lights along the orbit closest to Italy that probably could be lit to show the motion of the satellite. I have added an explanation of the display next to the clocks.< /EM>
Another impressive-looking display, this time of a lunar trajectory, seemingly based on the Luna-3 trajectory. Indicator light could show the position of the spacecraft. There is a status display and just below the left ceiling light there is the text "Parcheggio", i.e "Parking", probably to indicate the probe was still in parking orbit. The position display seems also to have the ability to display a parking orbit. The usufelness of this device is highly dubious, but it looks "cool"

An overall view of the building at Torre Bert. The main antenna is visible as well as three antennas on the adjacent building. The antenna on the right corner of the adjacent building has four vertical members (hard to see in the picture above)



I think that the Judica-Cordiglia brothers did run a tracking station and picked up signals from various spacecraft. However, for some reason they thought that they needed sensational stories maintain their image of a "hot-shot" operation. Once they over-interpreted some receptions and made fantastic claims they were "trapped" and had to continue to produce sensations.

Another interesting fact related by Giovanni Abrate (one of the authors of the "Lost Cosmonauts" site) is found in his comment that (3):

"What is difficult to understand for those who did not live through these events in Turin, is that Torre Bert very rapidly became a center of media attention. Many of the relevant intercepts were actually made in the presence of national and international media. Some of Italy's most respected journalists 'lived' at Torre Bert, shared the Judica Cordiglia family's meals, in order to be present when the transmissions were intercepted. The US Vice-Consul in Turin provided intelligence and advance warning of possible impending soviet launches."

So, the presence of journalists may explain some of the claims. Journalists need to deliver stories to their editors. They cannot spend long hours at a "tracking station" and not report anything that sounds substantial......

The psychological mechanism is similar to that displayed by the Bochum observatory in Germany that also regularly over-interpreted the signals they heard in order to grab headlines. The Bochum operation needed support from sponsors and it seems that headlines was a way of getting continued financial support.  However, the Bochum observatory never reached the extreme heights of fantasy that the Judica-Cordiglia brothers (or the reporters that surrounded them) achieved.

In general the Judica-Cordiglias never seemed to understand that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be believed. They never have produced such extraordinary evidence..details about reception frequencies, log books etc.. The recordings published on the "Lost Cosmonauts" website is an improvement in this respect, but unfortunately these recordings do not impress.... . It is also a pity that details of receptions by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers of more "hum-drum" satellites are not easily available. This could help in evaluating their credibility by cross-checking their reports with those of other satellite trackers.

In summary, the sensational stories that were put our by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers and how they have been propagated through the years are interesting as a social phenomenon - how myths begin and self-perputate themselves..!

Postscript 3 August 2008

I have now looked at the documentary about the Judica-Cordiglia brothers available on YouTube It is of course, the same old story, but very well told by the filmmakers. However, there is nothing that convinces me. The heartbeats and strange radio calls we have heard before - nothing new at all. However, a few more details are given about the recording of Gagain's and Glenn's voices.
Tracking Gagarin
Now they say they were tipped off about and imminent manned launch on 12 April 1961. They could have listened on 20.005 MHz which was used by the Sputniks. The AM voice from Vostok 1 was transmitted on 20.006 MHz and 9.019 MHz according to the TASS news release. So, in principle, they could have picked up Gagarin. What makes me a bit suspicious is the recording played in the documentary. It sounds awfully like the voice recording released by the Soviet Union at that time - and available on a EP record. See:
How good was the original recording made by the brothers? Was it really Gagarin? There was plenty of ground-based Russian AM voice in the 19.995-20.005 MHz band in those days.
Tracking Glenn
Now they say they measured the HF whip antenna used during recovery operations to figure out the frequency used by Glenn. This is interesting. The HF telescoping whip antenna deployed during recovery served both the HF AM voice on 15.016 MHz and the recovery beacon on 8.364 MHz (Check the Mercury Familiarization Manuals ). This makes it dubious whether it is possible to determine the frequency by measuring the length of the whip. There could have been all sorts of devices to adapt the antenna to both frequencies. Also, the recording played in the documentary is extremeley brief and it is barely possible to hear the word "Mercury".
Tracking Explorer-1
There were no other recordings (except Sputnik 1) played in the documentary that other people have heard. I woud have liked to hear signals from spacecraft that sounds like the signals that other trackers have heard.  The signals from Explorer-1 were not convincing either. It was just a plain carrier, while other trackers heard commutated subcarriers (See
Allt this is as confusing as it always has been. The brothers say in the documentary that the loved to do "mischief" as young men. Indeed! That is what I think they keep doing. 


  1. Henry G. Plaster, "Snooping on Space Pictures", Studies in Intelligence, RG 263, Entry 400, "Articles From Studies in Intelligence, 1955-1992", National Archives and Records Administration.
  2. RADIOSPAZIO, Mensile del centro radioascolto spaziale Torre Bert de fratelli A. e G.B. Judica-Cordiglia, Issue 1:May 1963 and Issue 2:June 1963.
  3. Giovanni Abrate, e-mail to Sven Grahn, 16 January 2000.
  4. Oberg, James, "Phantoms of space", Part 1 and Part 2.

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