Running this site is all about the radio and mysterious signals. However, if there is a picture what would summarize everything I ever wanted to do with my life, then this is pretty much it:
The sea, the space, the radio, technology, science, mystery, journey .. you name it, its all there. The largest ever built space tracking ship, Kosmonavt Yuri Gagarin was a foundation to a prominent fleet called "Space Marine Fleet" (Morskoj Kosmicheskij Flot) of the USSR.
Built at the Baltic Shipyard in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on 1971, the technical facts are:
- 11 decks
- lenght: 231.6 m
- beam: 32 m
- displacement: 45 000 tons
- engines: two 9000 hp steam turbines
- speed: 18 knots.
- crew: 136 seamen + 212 mission specialists
In total, the ship had 75 different antennas, most spectacular of which were two 25 meter parabole dishes. The tracking system of the huge dishes involved not only directing the antennas, but also keeping the entire ship steady in desired position and angle - the act reportedly possible up to gale 5 winds.
Surprisingly, the fleet of tracking ships did formally belong to a USSR Academy of Sciences rather than Ministry of Defense. However, the military had a de facto command over the ships.
The misson for the space fleet was to help tracking the Russian (and in some cases also other countries, such as US on the Sojuz-Apollo mission) space missions. Since the ground stations can not track the space objects beyond horizon, these ships were extending the communication capabilities significantly, relaying data to ground stations.
The ships were therefore performing a long missions and covering considerable distances, visiting many different ports around the world and creating lot of admiration around.
The specifics to mission were also reflecting on facilities on a ship - 1250 different rooms, more than 100 labs and workshops, library, 300-seat lecture hall, football field, three swimming pools etc. were all there to keep the crew fit for a task, once the long waiting was over.
The advances in communication and signal processing technology, as well as economy constraints, have put most of the ships of this kind out of service and to scrap. It is more practical to run a satellite-to-satellite links rather than try capturing everything on earth. The very same space-race she helped to run, became also a reason for her becoming obsolete.
Kosmonavt Yuri Gagarin was sold to scrap metal after a dispute between Ukraine and Russia, where Russia had no finances to keep the ship, but Ukraine, although claiming her as part of the Black Sea fleet after the collapse of USSR, had no use nor resources to operate her.
So it happened, that the most beautiful and prominent of all the space fleet tracking ships was sold to India for a $170 a ton...
I compiled all the photos I have about this ship to a video. Its good for daydreaming, what was the communications world like before it all became about satellite links and WiFi!