Computing in the Soviet Space Program












Yurii Tiapchenko 

Yurii Tiapchenko, deputy Chief Designer and head of the Division of Onboard Information Display Systems (1993-2002) at the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Technology. To the left: instrument board of the Vostok spacecraft

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: Generations III, IV and V


40 Years of Manned Space Flights: The Stages of Development and Characteristics of Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft by Yurii Tiapchenko (published as "40 let pilotiruemoi kosmonavtiki. Etapy razvitiia i osobennosti sistem otobrazheniia informatsii (SOI) otechestvennykh PKA," Problemy psikhologii i ergonomiki, no. 3 [2001]: 45-51)

Translated from the Russian by Slava Gerovitch

The Third Generation

Structure of command-signal field

Structure of command-signal device

Program control indicator panel in the test mode

Program control indicator panel in the reentry mode

Finger controller on Soyuz

The third generation of information display systems (IDS) includes command-signal devices that use command-information compression of the second type. Figures above depict the structure of command-signal field and the structure of command-signal device. Such systems implement a compression of the information field of analog parameters; these systems include devices for information exchange with onboard computer systems and CRT television-type devices for video monitoring, which combines TV and measurement analog information. The main tools are multifunctional indicators based on vacuum tubes, and electroluminescent and plasma displays. An example of the third generation is Sirius information display systems for the Soyuz-7K, Soyuz M, and Soyuz A8 spacecraft and for the long-term orbital station Salyut. A typical Sirius IDS includes two command-signal devices, an instrument board, and two (left and right) finger controllers.

Instrument board and command-signal device of the IDS Sirius on Soyuz-7K, A8, DOS-17K

These systems implement the principle of programmed temporal monitoring and control. On the program control indicator panel (above), a pointer moves along the time line. When the pointer reaches the mark of a particular command or a signal, an indicator on the right would light up when this command is executed. If the indicator does not light up, the operator enters this command via the command-signal device and monitors its execution by observing the corresponding indicator on the program control indicator panel.



The Fourth Generation

Control panel for approach of the IDS Vega on the Buran space shuttle


In the fourth generation of IDS, the most important role in presenting information to cosmonauts belongs to onboard computers and computer display systems. Examples of fourth-generation systems include IDS Neptun with display processor Simvol for the Soyuz T and the Soyuz TM spacecraft, control panel for the onboard computer complex DISK-1B of the Almaz complex, display systems of the STEK complex on the long-term orbital station MIR, and IDS Vega of the reusable spacecraft Buran.




The Fifth Generation

Main cosmonaut console on Soyuz-TMA

Integrated control console on the utility module of the Alpha International Space Station

The fifth generation of IDS is distinguished by the high degree of integration of means and methods of information display. Unlike the previous generation, fifth-generation IDS incorporate their own computer systems, video-processors, and graphics adapters. These systems begin to implement dialogue principles with the use of graphics, text, sound, and speech. Examples of fifth-generation IDS are information display systems for the utility module of the International Space Station Alpha, including an integrated control panel, and IDS Neptun-ME of the modernized spacecraft Soyuz TM.

In IDS of the fifth generation, devices with selective command entry systems (command-signal devices and fields), autonomous devices for information exchange with an onboard computer, measurement systems and digital display processors are all integrated into a unified electronic dialogue system. The human-machine interface is implemented as a human-computer graphic interface. At this stage, a transition is made from displays based on CRTs to flat-panel indicators based on plasma panels and electroluminescent displays.


Our analysis of the technical means and methods of information display in IDS for Russian spacecraft suggests that Russian engineers have pioneered the design and testing of the following innovative solutions:

  • introduction of push-button controls and lateral hand controllers for spacecraft in a wide assortment of types;

  • elaboration of design principles and the actual construction of various types of command-signal control panels of the selective type with or without signaling about changes in the condition of the system;

  • elaboration of the principles of construction of combined systems for control and observation and the actual construction of multi-function indicators based on CRTs, electroluminescent, cathode-luminiscent, and plasma displays;

  • elaboration of design principles and the actual construction of means of programmed temporal control and monitoring;

  • construction of multi-scale and two-axis indicators with light readings, multi-scale plasma indicators of parameters, etc.

One of the most important achievements is the transition to the computer and information technologies recently termed COTS-technologies. A major component of such systems if a human-computer interface. IDS based on COTS-technologies are installed on the utility module of the International Space Station and on the modernized space ship Soyuz-TMA. These systems open a new page in the development of ergatic control systems.

See also other articles by Yurii Tiapchenko:

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: An Overview

Information Display Systems for Russian Spacecraft: Generations I and II

Information Display Systems for the MIR Space Station and the Soyuz Transport Ship

Information Display Systems for Soyuz-TMA and the International Space Station

Interview with Yurii Tiapchenko

site last updated 22 March 2003 by Slava Gerovitch