[FPSPACE] Last-minute Russian appeal to NASA to monitor Soyuz pre-entry TM

James Oberg 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 
pre-entry TM

The standard Soyuz downlink on 166 MHz which is pretty straightforward PCM 
which is frequency modulating the carrier. I would think.


Sven Grahn
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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 

   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 
thing worked."

   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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