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 the MIR Space Station and the Soyuz Transport Ship

by Yurii Tiapchenko

Translated from the Russian by Slava Gerovitch

The MIR space station consists of the core module ("the base block") and five research modules. Crews are delivered to the station by transport ships Soyuz-T (TM). The station provides an environment for scientific and technological experiments and for certain production processes. The functions of the crew are as follows:

  1. control the position of the station and its systems in order to create conditions that are necessary and sufficient for life support and for carrying out experiments and production;
  2. fulfill flight mission, that is, carry out experiments and production.

This paper describes equipment designed for the first function: information display systems (IDS) Pluton and Mirzam of the station core module, and IDS Merkurii of the research modules, as well as IDS Neptun, which serves the same function on the manned spacecraft Soyuz-T (TM).

The main IDS on the orbital stations Salyut of the Rocket-and-Space Corporation Energia were Sirius-17K and Mirzam-17K. The manned spacecraft Soyuz was equipped with the same type of IDS Sirius (in the first period) and Mirzam (in the second).

Figure 1. IDS Sirius: instrument board (center) and command-signal devices (left and right) for control and monitoring of onboard systems.

IDS Sirius consists of two command-signal devices and an instrument board. For the first time in the world, IDS Sirius implemented the following features:

  1. selective control and monitoring systems with compression of commands and information, based on command-signal devices with the matrix method for selecting objects of control and monitoring;
  2. display of television and measurement information on a multifunction screen, separately or in the combined mode;
  3. transmission to the Earth of the information displayed for the cosmonaut on the multifunction indicator screen;
  4. programming-timing method of monitoring and control;
  5. new technological base and design of electroluminescent multifunction signal indicators;
  6. finger controllers for spacecraft guidance; and others.

These IDS had been unique and had been successfully used in the Soyuz-7K, Soyuz-Apollo, Salyut, and Almaz programs, and yet in the design phase of the MIR space station and during the modernization of the Soyuz spacecraft the goal was set to create new IDS. What were the reasons for this decision?

The objective reasons were the need to provide interface with the onboard computing complex during distant and close approach, mooring, docking, re-entry preparation, and descent on the Soyuz spacecraft, and also a significant increase in the complexity and volume of tasks carried out on the space station.

The subjective reason was the mismatch between the design of manual control panels of the command-signal type and the demands of human engineering, which emerged during ground tests and at the launch site. Such ground tests included monitoring of execution of complex commands, i.e. commands that could simultaneously turn on or off numerous devices. Operators were asked to monitor if the commands were carried out correctly or incorrectly. In order to do that, they had to constantly switch between different display modes of the command-signal device and search for correct or false signals, which took much time. Working with the command-signal device also presented difficulties for cosmonauts when they tried to monitor the execution of generalized commands.

This drawback was eliminated by the introduction of device status control indicators. The principle of monitoring based on status change was first developed and implemented in IDS created by the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Technology for the ground experimental complex (NEK), and also in the IDS Uran of the landing module of N1-L3.

As a result of modernization of control system, the following IDS were created:

  1. IDS Neptun for Soyuz-T, which relies on information support and software for the onboard computing complex;
  2. IDS Pluton.

IDS Mirzam of the MIR station is analogous to the IDS Mirzam of the Salyut station.

Figure 2. Cosmonauts' panel of the IDS Neptun for Soyuz-T.

IDS Pluton includes four functional subsystems:

  1. subsystem of manual control of the onboard control complex;
  2. subsystem of emergency and warning signaling;
  3. subsystem of parameter monitoring;
  4. EVA control panel.

The subsystem of manual control of the onboard control complex consists of two panels: a signal monitoring panel (Figure 3) and a command panel (Figure 4), which is spatially separated from the signal field. This subsystem is implemented as a command-signal panel with hierarchical selection of control objects and uncompressed (multi-channel) display of signal information.


Figure 3. Signal monitoring panel

Figure 4. Command panel

In order to increase the efficiency of operator work with IDS, the dark screen mode and the actual status mode are implemented. The introduction of these modes and the spatial separation of command and signal fields are among the most significant achievements in the development of IDS for large systems. The central post of the MIR station has two such subsystems.

The subsystem of emergency and warning signaling consists of 3X3 signal screens with red, yellow, and green signals. Red and yellow signals are accompanied by sound signals. New signals are flashing.


Figure 5. Parameter monitoring panel 

The subsystem of parameter monitoring serves to monitor the most important parameters of onboard systems. It uses the sequential/parallel method of information display. Devices with light indication built by Vibrator factory in St. Petersburg are used as indicators.

The structure, functions, and working modes of the IDS Merkurii of the MIR space station are analogous to the structure, functions, and working modes of the IDS Pluton.

For maintenance and repair of the IDS installed on the MIR station, a spare part and instrument toolkit was provided on board and on the ground. The actual reliability of the systems proved higher than was expected, and the toolkit was practically never used.

The situation with the IDS Neptun of the Soyuz spacecraft was different. The unique instruments created for this IDS in cooperation among many enterprises, despite their effectiveness, proved too expensive for industrial production. Some of the suppliers of spare parts went out of business in the past 10 years, and the Rocket-and-Space Corporation Energia and the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Technology faced the difficult task of supplying panels for Soyuz-TM spacecraft. This problem was solved in two steps. First, some panels were reused. Second, old electroluminescent indicators were replaced with compatible new models, based on light-emitting diode matrices and digital indicators.

The main results of the development of IDS for the MIR program are as follows:

1. For the first time in the world, in the development of automated control systems for complex objects, the following problems were solved:

  • design of command-signal panels with an uncompressed mode of signal information display, with hierarchical selection of control objects, and with spatial separation of information and control fields;
  • determination of the optimal structure of a display for the proposed control procedure;
  • implementation of a control mode based on device status change;
  • implementation of a dark screen mode and an actual status mode;
  • design of an onboard IDS based on mnemonic schemes using light-emitting diodes.

2. The high efficiency of methods of IDS design and testing, developed in manned cosmonautics, has been proven.

3. The use of the IDS Neptun instead of the IDS Sirius-7K has confirmed the high adaptability of command-signal panels to a change in control commands.

4. The Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Technology and the Rocket-and-Space Corporation Energia were among the first in the history of cosmonautics to solve the problem of reusing IDS hardware developed for the Soyuz-T (TM) program.

5. IDS using electroluminescent devices, light indication devices, push-button switches, and other devices for display, switching, and processing of information, developed for manned cosmonautics in accordance with the RK-75 specification, have demonstrated excellent economic, technological, and ergonomic parameters.

6. Research has shown that the reduction of safe life of the IDS Neptun of the Soyuz-T spacecraft during complex ground tests at the factory and at the launch site (68%) is significantly higher than during an actual flight (8%). Display devices and control equipment on average reduce their safe life by 0.05 to 12.4% during complex ground tests, and by 0.027 to 2.1% during flight. This means that the design of IDS must take into account the specificity of operator work during ground tests.

7. During the execution of long-term programs, an important practical lesson was obtained, namely that partial modification of IDS is expensive and inefficient.


The following employees of the Specialized Experimental Design Bureau of Spacecraft Technology made a big contribution to the development of IDS for the Salyut and MIR space stations, and for Soyuz-7K, -A8, -T, and -TM spacecraft: S.G. Darevskii (chief designer of the Bureau until 1973), S.A. Borodin (chief designer since 1973), D.N. Lavrov, V.P. Konarev, N.A. Oshchepkov, E.I. Bondarev, S.A. Pakhomov, G.N. Otreshko, G.F. Tiulenev, R.K. Andrianov, S.A. Sadovnikov, A.D. Pochetov, V.P. Zubchenko, M.I. Borisov, V.N. Maksimova, A.A. Khmelinskii, A.V. Belkov, L.P. Simanovskii, A.G. Lebedev, and many others.

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 Russian Spacecraft: Generations III, IV and V

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

Interview with Yurii Tiapchenko

site last updated 8 November 2004 by Slava Gerovitch