I could not find any information about the process of extracting and interpreting data from Sputnik 1, or the involvement of computers in the data analysis of that information.

Does anyone have info about this?

  • $\begingroup$ At the time of Sputnik 1 launch, there might be no available computer for the russian scientists to analyze the data from sputnik 1. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 8, 2018 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ Scientists of that time were able to plot a graph from a bunch of numbers by using only a pencil, paper and a slide rule for computation. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 8, 2018 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Data on chart recorders was a common and very useful way to record and visualize data everywhere: space.stackexchange.com/q/21293/12102 $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 8, 2018 at 22:53
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    $\begingroup$ What data did Sputnik 1 send/provide? $\endgroup$ Dec 8, 2018 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @CptReynolds: Sputnik 1 did send very few data. But there was much data gathered on Earth observing the orbit of Sputnik. This was the first data ever about the drag effect of the upper atmosphere on a satellites orbit. The transmitters worked for 21 days until the batteries were empty, but Sputnik 1 was in orbit for 92 days. Thus 71 days with orbit data from ground observation only. Sputnik 1 completed about 1400 orbits, a mean of 15 orbits per day. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 10, 2018 at 21:17

2 Answers 2


You have to remember that technology was much less advanced at the time of Sputnik 1. It’s ability to downlink information was tiny, and the science was organized around that:

  • The ball was pressurized, and the skin and internal temperatures were (the only?) quantities downlinked. This was used to put a lower limit on micrometeoroid impact rate, as a leak would be visible. Analysis would just be plots and fits for decay rates.

  • Instead of direct measurement instruments, the goal of measuring “high-atmosphere” density was met via orbital decay measurements.

  • The electron density in the ionosphere was measured from amplitude and delay measurements of the two frequencies of the radio beacon.

I wasn’t involved, but I’m sure the data analysis was done in notebooks of columns of numbers; if “computers” were involved, they were probably what we’d now recognize as calculators with limited programming.

Things advanced very fast after that. Within five years, the US was well on the way to an extensively computerized system for doing orbital analysis.



The main tasks of the satellite were: verification of calculations and basic technical decisions made for launch; ionospheric studies of the passage of radio waves emitted by satellite transmitters; experimental determination of the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere by deceleration of the satellite and the study of the operating conditions of the equipment in the space environment. Главными задачами спутника были: проверка расчетов и основных технических решений, принятых для запуска; ионосферные исследования прохождения радиоволн, излучаемых передатчиками спутника; экспериментальное определение плотности верхних слоев атмосферы по торможению спутника и исследование условий работы аппаратуры в космической среде.


September 24, 1957 Top secret (of special importance) Note by V. M. Ryabikov, K. N. Rudnev and others to the CPSU Central Committee on the work on the preparation for the launch of artificial earth satellites

The launches of the PS (Prosteyshiy Sputnik) missiles will provide valuable data on the deceleration of the rockets in the upper atmosphere and the satellite’s life time in orbit, as well as to study the effect of the ionosphere on the passage of radio waves. According to the braking of the PS object, information will be obtained on the density values ​​of the upper atmosphere, which are currently unknown and necessary for accurate calculations of the laws of motion of artificial earth satellites. Measuring temperatures inside the satellite will give experimental data on the operating conditions of radio engineering and scientific equipment in orbit, which are essential for designing a special system that maintains a normal operating temperature inside the satellite.

In addition, the launch of the PS object will make it possible to check the sufficiency of the strength and aerodynamic characteristics of the R-7 rocket at elevated flight speeds, at which rocket firing at much longer ranges than 8000 km is possible.

21 "Krug" and 7 "Leto" radio direction finders, which are at the disposal of the USSR Ministry of Defense and the State Security Committee, are involved in monitoring the PS flight. The data on the position of the PS object in orbit, detected by direction finders, will be transmitted from different places of the USSR territory to the coordination center NII-4 of the Ministry of Defense, specially organized for this purpose, in which they will be processed. On the basis of these data, the parameters of the further movement of the object will be determined. It is advisable to systematically transmit messages about the time of passage of the satellite over the main cities of Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Australia.

At the same time, 66 optical observation posts, organized by the Astro Council of the USSR Academy of Sciences and equipped with simple optical instruments, and 26 amateur radio clubs DOSAAF, uniting a wide range of radio amateurs of the Soviet Union, are involved in observations of the PS object. Attracting these funds will provide additional data on the motion of the satellite and check their effectiveness for observations during subsequent launches.

The results of launches of the PS facilities will be used in preparation for the launch in 1958 of artificial satellites of large dimensions and weights (D objects) with scientific equipment, allowing for a broad program of scientific research. Due to the great technical difficulties encountered in the development of the “D”-object with scientific equipment, as well as the complexity of the measuring complex and its long-term development, the first launch of the “D”-object is possible in the spring of 1958. *** If the launch of the satellite and its launch into orbit will be successful, then it should be reported on the radio 2-2.5 hours after its launch, i.e. after from the Coordination and Computing Center will be obtained reliable data on the passage of the satellite the first full rotation of the Earth. Messages about the future movement of the satellite should be regularly transmitted by radio.

If the satellite does not go into orbit, but makes a complete revolution around the Earth, this should also be reported, since this experiment will confirm the possibility of a rocket hitting anywhere in the world and successfully launching a satellite.

Пуски ракет «ПС» позволят получить ценные данные о торможении ракет в верхних слоях атмосферы и времени существования спутника на орбите, а также изучить влияние ионосферы на прохождение радиоволн. По данным торможения объекта «ПС» будут получены сведения о величинах плотности верхних слоев атмосферы, неизвестные в настоящее время и необходимые для проведения точных расчетов законов движения искусственных спутников Земли. Измерение температур внутри спутника даст опытные данные об условиях работы радиотехнической и научной аппаратуры на орбите, которые крайне необходимы для проектирования специальной системы, поддерживающей нормальную рабочую температуру внутри спутника.

Кроме того, запуск объекта «ПС» позволит проверить достаточность прочностных и аэродинамических характеристик ракеты Р-7 при повышенных скоростях полета, при которых возможна стрельба ракетой на значительно большие дальности, чем 8000 км.

К наблюдению за полетом объекта «ПС» привлекаются 21 радиопеленгатор «Круг» и 7 радиопеленгаторов «Лето», находящихся в распоряжении Министерства обороны СССР и Комитета государственной безопасности. Данные о положении объекта «ПС» на орбите, засеченные радиопеленгаторами, будут передаваться с разных мест территории СССР в специально организованный для этой цели координационно-вычислительный центр НИИ-4 Министерства обороны, в котором они будут обрабатываться. На основании этих данных будут определяться параметры дальнейшего движения объекта. Целесообразно систематически передавать сообщения о времени прохождения спутника над основными городами Европы, Азии, Америки, Африки и Австралии.

Одновременно к наблюдениям за объектом «ПС» привлекаются 66 оптических наблюдательных пунктов, организованных Астросоветом Академии наук СССР и снабженных простейшими оптическими приборами, и 26 радиолюбительских клубов ДОСААФ, объединяющих широкий круг радиолюбителей Советского Союза. Привлечение этих средств позволит получить дополнительные данные о движении спутника и проверить их эффективность для наблюдений при последующих пусках.

Результаты пусков объектов «ПС» будут использованы при подготовке к запуску в 1958 году искусственных спутников больших габаритов и весов (объекты «Д») с научной аппаратурой, позволяющих осуществить широкую программу научных исследований . В связи с большими техническими трудностями, встретившимися при разработке объекта «Д» с научной аппаратурой, а также сложностью измерительного комплекса и длительной его отработкой, первый пуск объекта «Д» возможно провести весной 1958 года.


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