[FPSPACE] Last-minute Russian appeal to NASA to monitor Soyuz pre-entry TM
jameseoberg at comcast.net
Wed Nov 12 15:30:32 EST 2008
If it was so standard, why wasn't there a Russian mobile ground station
that could have been sent? How did the US end up paying for it, and
how much did it cost, and why the short notice?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Sven Grahn" <svengrahn at telia.com>
To: <jameseoberg at comcast.net>
Cc: <fpspace at friends-partners.org>
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 3:23 PM
Subject: SV: [FPSPACE] Last-minute Russian appeal to NASA to monitor Soyuz
The standard Soyuz downlink on 166 MHz which is pretty straightforward PCM
which is frequency modulating the carrier. I would think.
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Ärende: [FPSPACE] Last-minute Russian appeal to NASA to monitor Soyuz
pre-entry TM Författare: "James Oberg" <jameseoberg at comcast.net> Datum: 2008
november 12:e 17:43
Amazing story -- especially the twists and dodges by NASA to AVOID revealing
WHY the data was important (we all can guess --
can you spell p-y-r-o-b-o-l-t ??) and why it was kept secret for two months,
and why the US, somehow, was supposed
to pay for this development instead of the Russian side, who owned the
vehicle in question.
I suspect there is an even BIGGER story behind this story. Let's go look
-- Jim O
Blind Engineer Provides Insight Into Soyuz Capsule Re-entry Issues // Ed
Campion (NASA GSFC PAO)
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Nov 10, 2008 -- A blind engineer at NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., had the vision for a solution to a
problem that ultimately required him to fly to Europe to obtain potentially
important data on the flight of a Soyuz capsule returning two International
Space Station crew members and spaceflight participant Richard Garriott to
Marco Midon is an electronics engineer in the Microwave and
Communications Branch at NASA Goddard and has been with NASA for almost 11
years. He recently provided critical engineering support for the
implementation of 18 meter Ka-Band antennas at White Sands Test Facility in
New Mexico and also served as NASA systems engineer on a project to upgrade
a NASA ground station at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Earlier this month, Midon read a memo from the head of space operations
at NASA HQ asking for ideas on how the agency could respond to a request
from the Russian Federal Space Agency to provide telemetry data on the Soyuz
capsule during de-orbit and re-entry.
"I saw the e-mail asking for ideas about how data from the Soyuz could be
received and recorded and right away I knew how it could be done" said
Midon. "The real question was whether it could be done in the time that was
The agency-wide request from the head of all human spaceflight efforts
came after it was determined that there were no commercial, or space station
partner facilities that could provide the service needed because the
downlink frequency (VHF) is not usually used for space T/M.
NASA and Russian partners agreed that providing data beyond that which is
recorded just prior to separation of the Soyuz modules might be valuable in
shedding light on the spacecraft's past entry performance.
"In the spirit of the old NASA, the Goddard team responded to my request
with an amazing 'can-do' attitude. The team was focused on the problem to be
solved and let no hurdles stand in the way," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA
associate administrator for Space Operations. "Good Soyuz performance is
important for International Space Station operations, and any help NASA
could provide helps all of the partnership."
Midon's proposal involved a low-cost mobile system that could be
transported and deployed along the track of the separation and re-entry plan
of the Soyuz vehicle.
"After getting the go-ahead to pursue my idea, my first course of action
was to verify that we could obtain the necessary equipment" said Midon. "I
called one vendor about the antenna needed and then another about the
pre-amp that would be required to amplify signals tuned to this particular
oddball frequency and how both items were needed immediately. The answer
from everyone was 'yes,' so rush orders were placed."
With less than four days before Soyuz landing, the next step involved
Midon contacting individuals at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia
to confirm that the center could support a test of the system being
proposed. After getting confirmation, he traveled to Wallops and supported
activities that simulated what the Russian signal would look like and
verified it could indeed be received and recorded.
A day later, all the equipment ordered was in place, and the stage was
set for the final test to prove that Midon's idea could indeed work.
"We took the equipment down to Wallops and set up everything," said
Midon. "While we were busy doing that, other folks talked to the Russians
who agreed to turn on the Soyuz that was docked to the space station for two
communication passes. Basically we were 72 hours out from landing and knew
we would only have these two short communication passes to prove the whole
As it turned out, the first pass wasn't all that successful with little
or no signal received. But Midon came up with some tweaks to the system to
make it a little more sensitive and during the second pass, good data was
While Midon and his group continued with their efforts, other NASA
engineers were busy in determining the best location to place the portable
system. Three potential locations were initially identified -- Turkey, North
Africa and Greece. After reviewing flight path trajectories, it was decided
that Athens would provide the best view to capture telemetry data.
So on Wednesday, October 22, with less than 48 hours before Soyuz
landing, the site for the temporary station was set. Midon and Jim Evans, a
Honeywell Technical Solutions employee at Wallops, traveled to
Baltimore-Washington International airport with all the equipment.
A new challenge arose when one package was determined to be 12 pounds
over the airline's allowed limit. Midon and Evans decided to take most of
the equipment on their flight to Greece, while others worked options for
getting the remaining equipment delivered.
Because no commercial delivery service could guarantee the equipment
would arrive in time, Harry Schenk, a Honeywell employee at Goddard who had
helped with earlier efforts, volunteered to fly to Greece with the remaining
By the time Midon and Evans arrived in Athens, less than 24 hours
remained before the Soyuz flyover would take place. The two went immediately
to the American Embassy in Athens which was the chosen location for setting
up their equipment.
Throughout the afternoon and into the evening, Midon and Evans worked to
set things up while waiting for Schenk to arrive with the final pieces of
equipment. By around 10 p.m. and less than eight hours before the event, all
the equipment was powered up and verified ready to support.
After finally checking into the hotel and getting at least a few hours
sleep, the three men were back at the embassy around 4 a.m., local time, for
the Soyuz flyover which was planned for just after 6 a.m.
But there was still one more issue to work.
"When we got back to embassy for the event, we realized a recorder wasn't
working," said Midon. "We realized that the likely cause was a heating
problem because the room wasn't air conditioned. We found a marine who is
one of the few people around at that time of day who found us a fan so we
could circulate more air around the unit and that seemed to fix the
Based on information provided by flight dynamics engineers, the antenna
on the roof was positioned and just after 6 a.m., the system began receiving
data from the Soyuz capsule as it traveled through the atmosphere.
"The pass was very low, only 8 1/2 degrees and we were in a valley so I
wasn't sure we were going to get anything" said Midon.
"At first, the signal was very weak. But then after two-to-three minutes
the signal got much stronger, and it was clear we were getting good data.
The strong signal lasted about a minute and with processing back in the lab,
we're hoping there is at least 90 seconds of good data that can be
Later, Midon had a phone conversation with Gerstenmaier who thanked him
and his group and said how much both the American and Russian flight control
teams appreciated their incredible effort.
Midon remarked "I think the real story here is that we only had two or
three days to come up with a solution to something and were then able to
implement it in Europe. I may have been the technical guy who figured out
how to do it but there were a lot of other folks whose willingness to pitch
in provided us with an opportunity to succeed."
Blind NASA engineer solves Russian problem
GREENBELT, Md., Nov. 11 (UPI) -- A U.S. space agency team led by a blind
engineer built a system to receive data from a Soyuz spacecraft just days
after Russia asked for assistance.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said the request
from the Russian Federal Space Agency was to devise a way to capture
telemetry data from a Soyuz space capsule during de-orbit and re-entry.
Marco Midon, a blind NASA electronics engineer, proposed a mobile system
be deployed at a ground site below the Soyuz re-entry path after its
separation from the International Space Station. Midon ordered the
He and other NASA engineers then traveled to Athens, Greece, to set up
the equipment on the roof of the American Embassy. Just after 6 a.m. on a
morning in late October, only days after the Russian request, the system
began receiving data from the Soyuz capsule as it re-entered Earth's
"I think the real story here is that we only had two or three days to
come up with a solution to something and were then able to implement it in
Europe," he said. "I may have been the technical guy who figured out how to
do it, but there were a lot of other folks whose willingness to pitch in
provided us with an opportunity to succeed."
(c) 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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