Russian Space Web's Russian ground control and tracking network mentions

A Soviet Iluyshin-18 aircraft configured to maintain communications with spacecraft.

in the sidebar and includes the small image below.

Question: How were Soviet/Russian aircraft used to track and/or communicate with spacecraft?

The linked article outlines a substantial set of ground stations, and there may have been tracking ships at sea as well.

  • How were aircraft used? Which roles did they fill that ground and sea stations couldn't?

  • How (the heck) did their antennas work, since flying with a big dish antenna on top would have been quite a challenge?

A Soviet Iluyshin-18 aircraft configured to maintain communications with spacecraft

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ AWACS manage to fly with a big saucer on top just fine. My handheld radio transceiver can talk with the ISS, so radio communications with orbiting spacecraft from a plane is, well, easy. So, the plane could easily be used either for (1) temporary coverage over some remote area during a critical period, or (2) circling around the landing zone. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 17, 2021 at 13:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting factoid, The Soviets "launched lunar missions only in winter or spring, when the moon would be high over Crimea and allow the longest possible day for communicating with the spacecraft." Also, a “peculiarity of Soviet practice.” The U.S. space program left rockets on the pad for days or even weeks, waiting for an optimal time within a launch window, but the Soviets had a precise day and time that would give them the best trajectory to their target, and they launched at exactly that moment. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Aug 18, 2021 at 10:19

1 Answer 1


The development of ballistic missiles launched from under water anywhere in the world ocean and equipped with on-board computers led to the creation of new radio telemetry systems (RTS) with a digital radio link. Their tests for the USSR Navy were planned for sea areas, therefore, at the insistence of the OKB V.P. Makeev, it was decided to develop a new generation of aircraft measuring points( aircraft tracking station).

In 1964, on the basis of production aircraft IL-18V (USSR-75840 and USSR-75528), the OKV S.V. Ilyushin equipped two aircraft measuring points, designated IL-18RT. Dozens of enterprises and military units took part in the creation and testing of machines under the leadership of a specially created state commission.

The planes were literally stuck with antennas of various types, among which the antennas of the Arfa special communications equipment at the tips of the stabilizer stood out. enter image description here The antenna-feeder system of the MA-9MKS station consisted of eight antennas: three (bow, side and tail) plus two (front and rear) for receiving signals of two different types, the transmitting repeater antenna, the simulator antenna and the indicator antenna. In turn, the nasal antenna was a system of four loop vibrators mounted on special supports around the circumference of the fuselage in front of it. The system of nasal antennas looked similar for reception in a different mode, and the vibrators were installed on the same stands.

enter image description here

When creating aircraft measuring points, the designers were limited both in terms of mass-dimensional and energy parameters. In this regard, "weak" antennas were installed at the aircraft measuring points, due to which the stations measuring rapidly changing parameters had insufficient sensitivity.

enter image description here

[Самолетные измерительные пункты]4


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