Jodrell Bank's role in early space tracking activities - Part 2

Sven Grahn

Table of Contents

Part 1

Part 2

Tracking Soviet Interplanetary probes


After the Soviet lunar probe launches in 1958,1959 and early 1960 (see table of Soviet Venus probe launches) their focus shifted to planetary flights. In October 1960 two unsuccessful Mars probe launches were made and the Venus probe launch window that opened in early February 1961 was also used by the Soviet Union. The first launch on 4 February failed when the last stage of the launch vehicle was stranded in earth orbit. The ullage rocket module (BOZ) of the fourth stage did not fire when a DC converter supplying power to the pyro timer failed (57). However, the second probe, Venera-1 (manufacturer's code; 1VA) smoothly left earth orbit on 12 February 1961. We now know (55) that objective was to hit Venus and the forward dome of the probe may have been some sort of  thermal cover, so that the probe would reach as far down as possible while relaying data, and so that something would actually reach the surface. Soviet media did not mention the intention to hit Venus when they published a rather extensive description of the probe and its mission. In the TASS statement the transmission frequency of 922.8 MHz of the Venera 1 probe is mentioned, the first time that this frequency was ever given as a telemetry frequency for a Soviet space vehicle.However, the Soviet tracking network soon lost contact with the probe.

According to a message to Jodrell Bank from Dr Alla  Massevitch the last contact with Venera 1 occurred on 17 February 1961 at 1404-1535 MT. Dr Massevitch explained in another report (53) that the probe "was designed to transmit signals every five days. For about 17 minutes it should have sent out an unmodulated sound, and then transmitted coded messages giving scientific information such as temperature, pressures, and the presence of meteorites."  So, presumably, the probe malfunctioned some time between 17 and 22 February 1961. However, Soviet tracking stations had computed that the probe would indeed pass near Venus and asked Jodrell Bank to try to pick up telemetry from the probe when it passed closest to Venus on 17 May 1961. Presumably a command to switch on the probe's transmitter was sent from the main Soviet ground station in the Crimea. Jodrell Bank did pick up unidentified signals on 922.8 MHz on 17 May 1961 and sent them to Moscow for analysis. Obviously nothing relating to Venera 1 had been heard since Soviet authorities never claimed to have regained contact with the probe.

However, Soviet authorities did not lose all hope of contacting the probe.  Soviet scientists Drs Massevitch and Khodarev were invited to Jodrell Bank by Prof. Lovell in a telegram dated 30 May 1961 and certainly visited the observatory from 9-16 June 1961 and tried to pick up more signals from Venera, but to no avail (53). Telegrams from Moscow with pointing data for Venera 1 continued to be sent to Jodrell Bank in support of this last-ditch reception attempt. The last telegram from Moscow with pointing data for the Venera 1 probe that I could find in the Venus probe file in the Jodrell Bank Archives is dated 20 June 1961.


In 1962 the new space probe model designed by the Korelev design bureau, called "Object MV" (MV for Mars-Venera), capable of being launched to both Mars and Venus was taken into use. The first launches of this new spacecraft took place towards Venus on 25 August, 1 September and 12 September 1962 (See table of Soviet/Russian Mars probe launches). The Mars launch window opened soon after the Venus window. Two Mars versions of Korolev's "Object MV" was prepared for launch in 1962. MV-3 for landing on Mars and MV-4 for flying  past the planet. Three launch attempts were mader on 24 October, 1 November, and 4 November. The first two attempts were fly-by probes and the last was a landing attempt. Only the middle attempt made it out of Earth orbit, the probe launched on 1 November and called Mars-1.

Soviet media published an extensive description of the probe's mission and its subsystems. The radio systems were described as follows: "The craft carries three radio systems, working on wavelengths in the metre (1.6m), decimetre (32cm) and centimetre (5 and 8 cm) ranges....The radio complex working in the metre range serves both for transmission of telemetric information about condition of the station and for maintaining communication with the earth in the event of abnormal functioning of the orientation system." (52)An interpretation of this description can be found in Radio Systems of Soviet Mars and Venus Probes.

Obviously Jodrell Bank tracked the Mars 1 probe and telegrams giving transmitter ON times for Mars-1 and pointing data were regularly sent to Jodrell Bank from Moscow. It was necessary for Jodrell Bank to know when the probe's transmitters would be on because they operated for only an hour or so a day. For example, Mars 1 transmitters would be operating at 0850-1040 Moscow Time on 27 November 1962, at 0825-0955 Moscow Time on 7 December 1962, and at 1700-1830 Moscow Time on 15 January 1963. Until 13 December 1962 the probe operated at regular two-day intervals between communications session and then changed to five-day intervals (52). Moscow even gave (44) details about the radio systems of Mars 1: "The telemetry transmitter operates on 922.8 MHz with +/- 120 deg phase modulation with the subcarrier frequency in the range 1100-1700 Hz, during telemetry transmission the subcarrier frequency is modulated in frequency by a code signal." All went well for Mars-1 for the first five months, but on 21 March 1963 all contact with the probe was lost due to an orientation system problem. Mars-1 is estimated to have passed Mars at a distance of 193000 km on 19 June 1863. 

Zond 1 and 2

Zond 1 was launched on 2 April 1964 but no target was given for the flight. However, most observers guessed that it was aimed at Venus. Moscow gave technical details about the flight: On April 4 TASS described a course correction at 1818 UT on April 3 and stated that "telemetric information from Zond 1 is coming in on a frequency of 922.76 MHz." (51)  This revelation of the transmission frequency must have been aimed at stations such as Jodrell Bank and the observatory successfully located the Soviet space probe Zond 1 shortly after its launch (47).  A course correction was made on May 14 when the probe was 13 million kilometres from the Earth (50).  An unsuccessful search with the 75 m Mark I telescope was made during the predicted time of closest approach to Venus 17-21 July 1964 (47).

Jodrell Bank was also successful in picking up the Zond 2 probe launched to Mars on 30 November 1964. Contact with the probe was irregular and  uncertain according to (47). This seems to contradict a magazine report (48) which stated that Zond 2 was received regularly by Jodrell Bank. In January 1965 and at around 2100 UT on 3,10 and 17 February 1965 signals were picked up using the 15 meter dish at Jodrell Bank.  In the same report a visit by Soviet scientists to Jodrell Bank on 17 February 1965 is described. Academician Keldysh was asked whether Jodrell Bank would be requested to track any Soviet space probe in the future and replied "We shall whenever it is necessary". On May 5, Gennadi Skuridin, on a  visit to the U.S., reported that "Transmissions from Zond 2 have stopped. We have been unable to raise it again". (49)It flew past Mars silently on 6 August, 1965. 

Venera 4 - Jodrell Bank tracks the first in a series of instrumented entries in the atmosphere of another planet

Jodrell Bank during the tacking of Venera-4. From the left:
A.C.Bernard. Lovell,
John G. Davis, Robert Pritchard.

Venus probe launch attempts continued to be carried out in 1962, 1964 and 1965  (see table of Soviet Venus probe launches) but all failed for various reasons. In 1962 the new space probe model, designated "Object MV" (MV for Mars-Venera), capable of being launched to both Mars and Venus was taken into use. The first launches of this new spacecraft took place on 25 August, 1 September and 12 September 1962. The first two (model 2MV-1) were aimed at landing a capsule on Venus and the third (model 2MV-2) was an attempt at a fly-by of Venus. These launches all failed, leaving the fourth stage stranded in earth orbit. One must remember that in August 1962, NASA launched Mariner 2, that flew by Venus in December 1962. The space race was really hot!
In the spring of 1964 four more attempts at reaching Venus were made. Zond-1 was the only probe in that series that actually headed out to Venus, but it failed before reaching its fly-by of the planet. Another batch of five Venus attempts were made in 1965. Two landings and two fly-bys were attempted. Only two probes reached an interplanetary trajectory. Venera 2 did fly by Venus and Venera 3 probably hit Venus, but the probes both failed before reaching their target.

The first space probe that reached the surface of Venus in working condition was Venera 4. It was launched on 12 June 1967 and entered the atmosphere of Venus on 18 October 1967. The 384 kg capsule transmitted data for 94 minutes. The capsule was crushed by atmospheric pressure at 18 bar when it was at an altitude of 22 km experiencing an outside temperature of  274oC. It dropped to the surface of Venus at a point near 19N 38E longitude.

Jodrell Bank tracked the flight's approach to the surface. The observatory picked up signals from Venera 4 at 0317 UT on 18 October 1967, some forty minutes after Venus rose above the horizon. The signals were similar to those that Jodrell Bank had picked up in July 1967. The signal was described (56) as "two tone telemetry similar to the Lunik's transmissions but speeded up four times." Doppler shift measurements were made and they showed that the distance to venus was 30000 km at 0440 BST and the probe accelerated along the line-of-sight with 0.3 m/s2. The received signal strength was -140 dBm. Jodrell Bank expected, that if the probe would orbit Venus, it would slow down and the Doppler shift would reveal that between 0403 and 0450 UT. But, no such slowing down was noticed, rather the opposite. the probe continued to accelerate towards the surface and at 0415 UT the probe was estimated to have been 10000 km form the surface. At 0438:05 UT the signals ceased, at an estimated altitude of 100 km. Fifteen seconds later the signal re-appeared on the same frequency, at 20 dB down and with a much reduced data rate. The Doppler shift in this signal was very small and initially, the Jodrell Bank team thought the capsule rested on the surface. The signals ceased finally at 0614 UT.

There was not enough time to redesign the next batch of Venus probe, so Venera 5 and 6 met the same fate as Venera 4. Venera 5 survived for 53 minutes in the atmosphere and reached  26 km from the surface. Venera 6 said to have survived to 10-12 km altitude 51 minutes after atmospheric entry. (54) The landing capsules of the next batch of two Venus probes launched in August 1970 were modified to survive to the surface. One probe failed to leave Earth orbit and was given the cover name Kosmos 359. Venera 7, launched on 17 August 1970, was equipped with a redesigned landing capsule that could stand 180 atm and 540oC. Radio signals appeared to stop after 35 minutes, but weak signals, 20 dB down,  were found (by post-flight signal processing) to have continued for 23 minutes. The capsule landed at 5oS, 351o longitude. The environment on the surface measured to be 90 +/- 15 atm, 475 +/- 20oC. The following probe, Venera 8, launched on 27 March 1972, had a detachable antenna to solve the previous probe's problem and worked very well. The environment on the surface was  470 +/- 8oC, 93 atm. 

Ranger tracking

Signals from the two US Moon probes Ranger 6 and Ranger 7 were received on 960 MHz using the 15 meter altitude/azimuth telescope in conjunction with a parametric amplifier. Ranger 6 was tracked until the moment of impact with the Moon on 2 February 1964, while Ranger 7 was followed on 31 July 1964 until it disappeared below the western horizon about one hour before impact. (47)

Luna 4-14, the second-generation Soviet lunar probes

It took three and a half years from the astounding success of Luna 3 until the Soviet Union again launched a lunar probe. When these new probes finally appeared observers assumed - correctly - that the goal was to soft-land a probe on the moon. The new series would again thrust Jodrell Bank into the limelight! It started with two failures, the first on 4 January 1963 when the probe was stranded in earth orbit (1963-01A, Sputnik 25), and the second on 2 February 1963, when the probe did not reach orbit and fell into the Pacific These failures were not immediately known to the public.

Luna 4,5,6,7,8 - trying again and again to land on the moon

The first of these new Luna probes that was announced as such was Luna 4, launched on 2 April 1963. The Soviet Union did not ask Jodrell Bank to track the flight, but Jodrell Bank finally acquired Luna 4 during 6 hours on 4 April after searching for it since 2 April (31). Signals were far more complicated than those from Luna 3. On the day it flew past the Moon (at 0124 UT at a distance of 8500 km), 6 April, signals were recorded for 44 minutes, but there were no signs of firing of retro-rockets at the Moon (19)Despite the lack of a direct request for support from the USSR, Soviet media gave the transmission frequency - 183.6 MHz (32), and also the traditional position fix giving a distance from the earth at certain geocentric co-ordinates at a defined instant. This was clearly an invitation to monitor signals in order to obtain independent confirmation of Soviet claims. The table on the left shows the navigation fixes for Luna 4-14 published in the official launch communiqués from TASS (33).In addition to the tracking reports from Jodrell Bank, the US National Security Agency had arranged with the Naval Research Labs in Maryland to use its 45 m dish to track Luna 4. Because the flight to the moon took 88 hours instead of 80 hours even a station as far west as on the US east coast could pick up the signals on 183.6 MHz, which were "complicated and full of variety" (2). (see Luna 4-14 radio systems for a detailed description).

Two more launch attempts were made in 1964. The first launch took place on 21 March and failed when he thirs stage did not reach full thrust. The second attempt took plcae less than a month later, on 20 April 1964, when the third stage again cut off prematurely.

A year later, in the spring of 1965, this spacecraft series resumed with attempts to land on the Moon - the so-called E6 probe. The first two attempts failed. The probe launched on 12 March 1965 was left stranded in Earth orbit as Kosmos 60, while probe launched on 10 April never reached orbit due to a third stage failure.  On 9 May Luna 5 finally was injected into a trans-lunar trajectory. Both the new NSA station at Asmara, Ethiopia (See article on the US "Deep-Space Collection" programme), and Jodrell Bank tracked Luna 5 which transmitted similar telemetry to that from Luna 4. The Asmara station intercepted "both of the two spacecraft signals several times during the mission, and both Asmara and Jodrell Bank were listening during the final approach to the moon" (2). Two signals - indeed! 183.6 MHz and what other frequency? 922.7 MHz? However, the Doppler measurements made at Jodrell Bank revealed no signs of retro-rocket firing from Luna 5 (20). Luna 6 was launched on 8 June 1965, but the course-correction was not turned off correctly on 9 June causing the probe to miss the Moon by 161000 km and enter heliocentric orbit. Luna 7 was launched on 4 October 1965. From observations made at Jodrell Bank (20) it was conclude that the retrorockets of Luna 7 were in operation during the period 2058-2104 UT on 7 October 1965. However, this turned out to be wrong. According to what we know now (61)  the retro-rocket never fired because the earth sensor lost lock just before ignition. The probe crashed into the Moon at 2208.24 UT. Luna 8 was launched on 3 December 1965, but thus time the retrorockets fired too late. Signals received at Jodrell Bank  from Luna 8 ceased at 2151.32 UT on 6 December 1965 (21), which we now know was the moment of impact. The retro-rocket did not ignite.

Luna 9 - the first landing on the moon

The tracking of Luna 9 was to become Jodrell Bank's most spectacular, dramatic, and controversial appearance in the media. Luna 9 was launched from Baikonur on  31 January 1966 and was immediately recognized by all observers as another Soviet attempt to land an instrument package on the moon. The moon rose at Jodrell Bank on 3 February 1966 at 1333 UT. Signals from Luna 9 were received starting at 1629 UT until landing at 1845 UT. After a few minutes of silence the signal reappeared. Ten minutes later it changed character and the signal was recognized as facsimile because it was similar to signals used in transatlantic transmissions experiments using the Echo II balloon satellite (27).When I visited Jodrell Bank in September 1967 the public affairs officer, Reginald Lascelles, explained that he had been the person identifying the signal as being facsimile, because of this previous employment in newspapers where he had heard the characteristic sound of facsimile signals! Be that as it may - someone recognized the signal as facsimile!

The pictures from Luna 9 were received on 4 February 1966 at 1530-1655 UT and again on 5 February at 1640-1740 UT. Other facsimile transmissions were received on 3,4 and 6 February "which we have not seen as photos" (22) . Jodrell Bank recorded long series of telemetry bursts, each lasting six minutes and corresponding to one picture (23).  The international facsimile standard is that the White/black transition corresponds to a a change in audio frequency between 1.5 to 2.3 kHz, while the Luna 9 transmissions used a change from 1.2 to 2.0 kHz. The difference in horizontal/vertical ratio was sometimes given as a factor 2 and sometimes as a factor 2.5 . The picture signals were transmitted on a subcarrier with maximum deviation of 2 kHz. The synchronization signal for the pictures (start of each line?) was a tone with the frequency 1.1 kHz (24). The lunar panoramas consisted of vertical lines with 500 elements (each 3.6 minutes of arc wide) and the 360 degree view around the horizon consisted of 6000 such lines (25). Jodrell Bank recorded the Luna 9 pictures on a Mincom CM-110 tape recorder (62) .

The fact that Jodrell Bank used a standard facsimile receiver (borrowed from the Daily Express in Manchester) to print the pictures coming in from the moon and did not recognize that the horizontal/vertical ratio did not conform to the international standard led to an exchange of harsh words with Soviet Academy of Sciences. Naturally, the Soviet authorities would have liked to publish the pictures at their own initiative and used the fact that the pictures published by Jodrell Bank were not quite correct as a pretext for complaining about about the premature release of the pictures. Prof. Lovell defended himself by pointing out the great general interest of the pictures from moon and that the pictures still showed the correct qualitative characters of the lunar surface. This conflict with Soviet authorities is not only evident from public exchanges, but also from correspondence in the Jodrell Bank Archives where I found a letter (43)  from the Academy of Sciences of the USSR complaining about  the "hurried publication of the Luna 9 pictures" by Jodrell Bank.

Incredibly, just as in the case of Luna 2 there were disbelievers that asked Jodrell Bank for proof of this latest Soviet feat. Thus, The "Anti-Communist League of America, Inc." (Carrying the text: "Communism must be destroyed" in its letterhead) wrote (26) to request information about the descent phase of Luna 9. In reply, they received a reprint of the article in Nature about Jodrell Bank's reception of signals from Luna 9 (28).

Luna 10, 11, and 12 - shifting the focus to lunar orbit

When Luna 9 had succeeded in landing on the moon, the Soviet focus immediately shifted to putting a probe into orbit around the moon. In February 1966, Kosmos 111,a failed lunar probe was launched [give details about reason for failure and details such as HF frequency]. Another attempt, this time successful, was made on 31 March 1966, when Luna 10 was launched. Jodrell Bank successfully tracked the probe, detected its insertion into lunar orbit and measured its period (35). Other tracking stations, such as the Bochum Space Observatory in Germany, also picked up the probe, including the transmission of the tune "The International"  (38 kB mp3) at 1944-1950 UT on 3 April 1966 (34) . This transmission was made to celebrate the 23 rd Congress of the CPSU. The two following probes in the E6 Luna series  were also orbiters. The character of Luna 11 has been hotly debated and some authors think that Luna 11 was similar to Luna 10, i.e. it had a non-stabilized orbiter, while other space historians think it was similar to Luna 12, which did not separate a payload in lunar orbit and actually produced pictures of the moon. The only evidence, although inconclusive, as to the character of Luna 11 found in the Luna 11 archives is a statement (36) by Prof. Lovell explaining that "we received facsimile signals for a short time from Luna 11 which appeared to be of identical form to those transmitted by Luna 9. However, it proved impossible to make anything of the information."

I found nothing about Luna 12 in the Jodrell Bank Archives. Perhaps this was due to the fact that special measures were taken to ensure that Jodrell Bank would not be able to repeat its Luna-9 scoop during the Luna-12 mission (59 p. 46). One option considered was to gradually send back the pictures during the brief windows that Luna-12 was only within range of the Crimea, which could pick up the spacecraft three hours before it entered Jodrell Bank’s radio visibility zone. However, in that mode "it would have taken months" for the pictures to trickle down to Earth. Another solution was found, enabling the Russians to send back the pictures in 24 hours, while still leaving Jodrell Bank empty-handed. As one of the Lavochkin bureau veterans explained : “We were able to send back information in two bands, the metre and decimetre bands, and to quickly switch from one band to the other, while Jodrell Bank needed about a day to reconfigure its equipment [for this] ... That is the way we worked : we made full use of the [three hour Soviet window] and then, as the probe came within range of Jodrell Bank, began alternating between the two modes in varying sequences, playing cat and mouse with Jodrell Bank. We successfully completed our nearly round-the-clock work to send back the images and breathed a sigh of relief. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from our shoulders." (59) 

Luna 13 and 14
After Luna 12 The Soviet union launched a second lunar lander, Luna 13, equipped with several new devices, including a device to measure the hardness of the lunar surface. Jodrell Bank tracked Luna 13 and received images in the same fashion as from Luna 9. The final launch in this series occurred almost 18 months later, on 7 April 1968. It was Luna 14 and pictures of the Luna 12 probe (which it probably resembled) show a conical antenna obviously intended for the standard 768/922 MHz TT&C system. It has been reported that Luna 14 was a test of various subsystems for the next generation of Luna probes, including the drive system for the Lunokhod lunar rovers. There is a message (45)  in the Jodrell Bank Archives to professor Lovell while he was in the U.S. that the observatory had picked up Luna 14: "PLEASED TO INFORM YOU SIGNALS FROM LUNAR ORBITER 14 RECEIVED.". Of course the telegramme refers to Luna 14. 

Tests of a Soviet piloted circumlunar spacecraft - Zond 4-8

Launches in 1967

The Zond designation was confusingly used also for the series of Soviet space vehicles that tested a manned circumlunar spacecraft. Perhaps the intention was to be able to hide the true nature of these craft in the case the program failed. The first two test launches of these Zond craft  (see "The continuing enigma of Kosmos 146 and Kosmos 154") were mainly tests of the propulsion system needed to leave earth orbit. Kosmos 146 seems to have been partially successful, while Kosmos 154 was a failure because the ullage rockets needed to restart the last stage of the Proton launch vehicle were discarded prematurely. During the second half of 1967 the Soviet Union made extensive efforts to launch the first "full-up" unpiloted test of the Zond circumlunar mission. After several attempts in August and September the launch finally occurred at 1907:59 UT on 22 November 1967 (42).  Analysis (see "Mission profiles of 7K-L1 flights") shows that this launch was aimed at the moon, but the launch failed due to a second stage engine failure.

Zond 4 and the launch attempt in April 1968

The next launch, of Zond 4, took place at 1828 UT on 2 March 1968 and, strangely,  it was launched on an elliptical orbit away from the moon. [Explain fate]. It is unclear if Jodrell Bank tracked this flight. Russian media were very reticent concerning this flight. The next launch attempt in the Zond program occurred very soon after Zond 4. A Zond was launched in the direction of the moon  at 2301:57 UT on 22 April 1968 (42). This flight also failed because premature cutoff of the second stage due to a short circuit.

Zond 5 - a strange Soviet game of hide-and-seek and voices from the sky

The next launch took place after the summer of 1968 when Zond 5 was sent on a circumlunar trajectory in September. Jodrell Bank certainly tracked this flight, but antenna pointing angles in all probability did not come from the Russians, but rather from the U.S. Deep-Space Collection Programme . From press reports we know that Jodrell Bank intercepted signals, including voice signals uplinked to the spacecraft from Yevpatoria and returned by the spacecraft to simulate the presence of a cosmonaut. These Zond spacecraft did not transmit in intermittent communications sessions as the Luna probes, but instead their transmitters were operating continuously on 922.76 MHz. (See Zond 4-8 radio systems)  In the case of Zond 5, Soviet authorities played a bizarre game of cat-and-mouse with the media, initially denying that the spacecraft was going to the moon:

"What happened at the moon at 0455 UT this morning[18 Sept 1969]? The head of the Jodrell Bank observatory in England, professor Bernard Lovell, says that a Soviet spacecraft rounded the moon and started on its way back to earth at that time. A few hours later this report was denied by a spokesman of the foreign  office in Moscow. The report does not agree with facts, he said. At Jodrell bank, engineers monitored signals all night from a spacecraft near the moon. They heard signals regularly at 40 minute intervals. At 0455 UT this morning they found that the spacecraft had circumnavigated the moon at a minimum distance of 1500 km. The craft then headed back to earth along an elliptical trajectory. No retrorockets were fired...." (40)

After Zond 5 had passed the moon there were more surprises in store for those monitoring the flight at Jodrell Bank: "On the night of 19-20 September, the craft was clearly observed by Jodrell Bank to be on the return swing and a Russian voice, presumably tape-recorded, was heard calling out instrument values, as though communications were being tested for a subsequent manned mission." (39).  It turned out that such voice signals were also picked up by the Bochum space observatory (41). According to the observatory's director, Heinz Kaminski, the voice had been either sent from Earth to the spacecraft or the other way by means of a tape recorder.

On Friday 20 September, TASS finally ended the bizarre hide-and-seek and announced that Zond 5 had passed within 1950 km of the moon's surface at 0440 UT on 18 September and was heading back to earth.  (See table below for a complete timeline of the Zond 5 flight). The flight ended on 21 September 1968. Jodrell Bank lost contact at 1500 UT on 21 September 1968 when the spacecraft was 80000 km from earth. The descent vehicle separated at 1530 UT and re-entry started at 1554 UT. The radio black-out period ended at 1558 UT and splashdown occurred at 1608 UT in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar.

Zond 6 - a dress rehearsal that went wrong?

Zond 6 was launched at 1911:31 UT on 10 November 1968, rounded the Moon at a distance of 2420 km on 14 November and on 17 November it made a skip-lob re-entry into Soviet airspace. Howeveer, the re-entry capsule crashed to the ground because of a faulty parachute, but the pictures take at the Moon could be rescued and published. In this way the flight was erroneously regarded by many Western observers as a complete success leading up to a piloted circumlunar flight within short. Very little information about Jodrell Banks' tracking of Zond 6 can be found in the Jodrell Bank Archives, but they do contain the typed text of a statement to the press dated 14 November 1968: Zond 6 passed behind the Moon from 0350 to 0420 a.m. (given as 0250-0320 UT in  (37). ) at a distance similar to that of Zond 5, that is between 1000 and 2000 miles. There was no guidance or firing of retrorockets and the Zond now appears to be on its return journey to earth. Tracking is continuing until the probe sets early this afternoon and will be resumed tonight. The only other document about the Zond flights found in the "lunar probes" file of the Jodrell Bank Archives is a letter from Prof. Lovell to Prof. DWR Wilson, University of Alberta, dated 27 November 1968 in which he explained that "...Zond 5 and 6 set below our horizon several hours before re-entry.."

Zond 7

In August 1969, a few weeks after the flight of Luna 15 and Apollo 11, the Soviet Union launched the next Zond flight, but it was still unmanned. It was the first, and as it turned out, only really successful flight in the Zond series. Jodrell Bank tracked the flight and  informed the media that Zond 7 also transmitted voice communications, and that signals were much stronger than those from Zond 6 (38). We now know that yhis observation is explained by the fact that the high-gain antenna on Zond-6 did not deploy, while it apparently did on Zond-7. (60). 

Luna 15-24

Perhaps the monitoring of these Soviet attempts to beat the Apollo programme by a series of unmanned lunar probes was Jodrell Bank's last major public appearance as a space tracking station. Luna 15, the first attempt to "beat" Apollo, was launched three days ahead of Apollo 11 and the media immediately saw a drama unfolding: The unmanned Soviet lunar probe with an unknown mission - but probably a lunar sample return - and the first attempt at a a manned lunar landing.

Jodrell Bank again came to play a major role in monitoring the flight and in interpreting the flight events to the general public. Professor Lovell noted that the probe was on a "slow" trajectory to the Moon, taking a day longer to reach the Moon that previous Luna flights.

On July 17, as Luna 15 entered lunar orbit,  Jodrell Bank reported that the signals from Luna 15 "are of an entirely new type never heard before." (46)  It is hard to know if this means that Jodrell Bank had never before tracked a Luna probe on 922.8 MHz (which we know was used by Luna 15) or that the telemetry format was much different (See Radio Systems used by the Luna 15-24 series of spacecraft). At this time Jodrell bank was co-operating closely with the US Deep Space Collection effort and this organization may have helped Jodrell Bank find the correct frequency and location the spacecraft in the sky.However, Jodrell Bank provided the news about the final phase of the Luna 15 drama in a news release:

"Signals ceased at 4.50 p.m. this evening [1550 UT on 21 July 1969; Soviet news releases gave the time as 1551 UT]. They have not yet returned. The retrorockets were fired at 4.46 p.m. [1546 UT; Soviet news releases gave the time as 1547 UT] on the 52nd orbit and after burning for 4 minutes the craft was on or near the lunar surface, The approach velocity was 480 km/h [presumably determined by measuring the Doppler shift] and it is unlikely of anything could have survived."
There was a bizarre incident during the flight. In the U.S. the notion was raised that Luna 15 could possibly interfere with Apollo 11 in some way. NASA let Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, approach the Soviet Academy of Sciences to find out if there was any risk of radio interference to Apollo 11 from Luna 15 operations near the Moon. The Soviets replied and it seems that the frequency 115 MHz was raised in this exchange.

Suppose Luna 15 had worked perfectly, would it have beaten Apollo to returning the first lunar samples to earth? By using the flight profiles of Luna 16,20 and 24 one can deduce that Luna 15 could have returned to earth 12.44 days after launch. This would be July 25.565 (i.e. at 1334 UT on July 25, almost a day after the splashdown of Apollo 11, which took pace at 1635 UT on 24 July! So, Apollo 11 would not have been beaten anyway! Even if Luna 15 had been able to stick to the quickest return flight schedule (that of Luna 16) it would have been back after 11.65 days, i.e. at 0100 UT on 25 July - even this after the return of Apollo 11! 

Jodrell Bank and public opinion about the space race

Sir Bernard often spoke out openly about his opinion of various space missions. In particular his comments that Apollo 8 contributed very little to astronomy was misinterpreted. To the knowledgeable person his statement is obviously true, but it was interpreted as a criticism of the Apollo program in general. As an example of how the public reacted to Sir Bernard's refreshing outspokenness is the following extract from a letter from Mary N. Allen, 1441 Montgomery Street, apartment 6, San Francisco, California, dated 30 December 1968: ".....I think you should recognize that for millions of people around the world (not, I gather, excluding many in the U.K.) you are the epitome of all that is bogus, washed up and unscientific in weak, wobbling Old Britain. After, and usually before each "space occasion", your silly, ignorant and often gushing utterances call forth this awareness anew. ..."

References and Notes

  1. Bernard Lovell, "Astronomer by Chance", McMillan Books, London, 1991, ISBN 0-333-55195-8
  2. James D. Burke, "Seven Years to Luna 9",: Studies in Intelligence, Summer 1966
  3. James D. Burke, "The Missing Link", Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1978
  4. "Venus 4 underscores U.S. delay", Aviation Week, 23 October 1967, p.26
  5. V.A. Kotelnikov, .M. Dubrovin, O.N. Rzhiga and A.M. Shakhovsky. "Reception and investigation of the properties of radio signals from Soviet Space Rockets".
  6. Hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics and Special Subcommittee on Lunik Probe, U.S. House of Representatives, Eighty-Sixth Congress, First Session, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 1959. The hearings were held during the period May 11-29, 1959.
  7. Martin Caidin, "Race for the Moon". William Kimber Publisher, London 1960.
  8. The Big Red Lie, Lloyd Mallan, Fawcett Book no 417, New York, 1959.
  9. A letter from the AFBMD dated 6 May 1958
  10. J.G Davies, A.C.B. Lovell, Observations of the Russian Moon Rockets Lunik II and III, Space Research 1, Proceedings of the first COSPAR conference, 1960.
  11. Letter from Professor Lovell to Prof. Nesmeyanov of AN USSR, 9 December 1959.
  12. Asif A. Siddiqi, "First to the Moon", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol.51, pp.231-238, 1998.
  13. Leonid I Sedov, "The Orbits Of Cosmic Rockets Towards The Moon", presented at American Rocket Society's 14 the Annual Meeting, Sheraton Park Hotel,Nov 16-20,1959. ARS paper no 1051A-59.
  14. Henry G. Plaster, "Snooping on Space Pictures", Studies in Intelligence, Fall 1964.
  15. "The Other Side of the Moon", Translated from the Russian by J.B. Sykes, Pergamon Press, 1960.
  16. A telegram from Prof. Davies to SPACE CONN NASA WASH DC dated 8 October 1959. The telegram concluded "RUSSIAN PREDICTIONS FOR OCT 9 FOLLOW".
  17. Swedish Daily Expressen for Monday, 19 October 1959, p. 12: "Lunik saw 2/3 of the moon's far side"
  18. Swedish Daily Expressen for Tuesday, 27 October 1959, centre spread: "Pictures from space: the far side of the moon".
  19. A letter from Prof. Lovell to Brian Harvey, dated 22 February 1966.
  20. A letter from Prof. Lovell to Martin Postranecky, Prague, dated 9 November 1965.
  21. A letter from Prof. Lovell to Martin Postranecky, Prague, dated 21 June 1966.
  22. A letter from Prof. Lovell to E.M. Shoemaker dated 11 February 1966.
  23. A transcript of a seminar on Jodrell Bank's reception of pictures from Luna 9 written by Eugene M Shoemaker
  24. A letter from Prof. Lovell to E.M. Shoemaker dated 6 April 1966.
  25. A message from M Keldysh at the Academy of Sciences of USSR
  26. A letter from John Crippen, Executive Secretary of "The Anti-Communist League of America, Inc." dated 5 March 1966.
  27. A telegram from Prof. Lovell to SATREV NY (newspaper?)
  28. J.G. Davies, Sir Bernard Lovell, R.S. Pritchard, F.G. Smith, "Observations of the Russian Moon probe Luna 9", Nature, February 26, 1966, pp. 848-850.
  29. A telegram to SPACE CONN NASA WASH DC dated 7 October 1959
  30. Second telegram to SPACE CONN NASA WASH DC from J.G. Davies dated 7 October 1959
  31. "Lunik 4 believed to have failed in Mission", Aviation Week & Space Technology, 15 April, 1963, p.38.
  32. "Soviets Launch Lunik 4", Aviation Week & Space Technology, 8 April, 1963, p.38.
  33. Mastery of Cosmic Space by the USSR, official TASS communiqués and materials from the central press 1957-1967, Nauka Publishers, Moscow 1971.
  34. A letter  from Mr Heinz Kaminski, of the Bochum Space Observatory in Germany, dated 30 September 1966, congratulating Prof. Lovell on the Luna 9 success and attaching data from Bochum's observations of Luna 10 during the period 3-5 May 1966.
  35. A letter to Hans Schnabel dated 17 June 1966 Prof. Lovell wrote that "We made measurements on Luna 10 only during the first few days of its career". He goes on to note that Jodrell Bank determined the orbital period to be 3 hours.
  36. A letter to William Pickering, director of NASA JPL, dated 30 September 1966.
  37. Geoff Perry, day-to-day log, entry for 10 November 1968.
  38. Geoff Perry, day-to-day log, entry for 12 August 1969.
  39. K.W Gatland, "Robot Explorers"
  40. Swedish Daily Expressen for Wednesday, 18 September 1968: "Spacecraft rounded the moon. Who launched it?"
  41. Swedish Daily Expressen for Friday, 20 September 1968, quoting a Reuters telegram.
  42. Issue  No. 10, 1998 of the Russian magazine Novosti Kosmonavtiki
  43. Letter to professor Lovell from Mstislav Keldsyh of AN USSR dated 26 February 1966.
  44. A telegram to Jodrell Bank  from Akademi Nauk in Moscow dated 10 January 1963 gave details about the radio systems of Mars 1.  The telegram was in Russian, but the Cyrillic characters were transcribed in latin letters. Dr Stas Barabash at the Swedish institute of Space Physics in Kiruna has helped me translate this telegram.
  45. A telegram dated 10 April 1968 sent to "LOVELL WESBUROHOTEL NY" by R Pritchard.
  46. Brian Harvey, The New Russian Space Programme, John Wiley & Sons, 1996, p.130.
  47. The COSPAR bulletin for 1964 (date unknown, I have only kept the relevant pages)
  48. Flight International, 25 February 1965, "Jodrell Bank Tracks Zond 2".
  49. Flight International, 20 May 1965
  50. Flight International, 28 May 1964, "Zond 1 changes course".
  51. Flight International, 9 April 1964, "Soviet probe heading for Venus?".
  52. Pravda, 15 December 1962, "First flight to Planet Mars".
  53. Flight International, 22 June 1961, "Venus Probe Remains Silent".
  54. Donald F Robertson, "Venus - A prime Soviet Objective", Spaceflight, May 1992, pp.158-161.
  55. Timothy Varfolomeyev, "The Soviet Venus Programme",Spaceflight, February 1993, pp.42-43.
  56. Nature, Vol. 216, October 28, 1967, p.321, "Landing on Venus".
  57. Timothy Varfolomeyev, " Soviet Rocketry that Conquered Space, Part 5, The First Planetary Probe Attempts, 1960-64",Spaceflight, March 1998, pp.85-88.
  58. Bernard Lovell, 'The Moon Match', in "Summer Days"edited by M Meyer, Eyre & Methuen, London 1981, pp 123-131
  59. Biography of Babakin published in 1996.
  60. Hendrickx, Bart, "The Kamanin Diaries 1967-1968", JBIS Vol 53 No 11/12, Nov/Dec 2000, p.415
  61. Hendrickx, Bart, Siddiqi, Asif, Varfolomeyev, Timothy, "The tough  road travelled: A new look at the second generation Luna probes", JBIS, Vol. 53, 9/10, Sept/Oct 2000, p. 340
  62. Mincom, a now now-defunct division of 3M, which specialized in magnetic tape recorders for instrumentation and sound recording.

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