May 28, 2009

Vandenberg Telemetry Ship and Apollo Instrumentation Ships

The USNS Vandenberg was sunk today in Key West Florida to function as an artificial reef.

I consulted with my fried Ron Streich who was a telemetry engineer on the Apollo Instrumentation Ships. Mr. Streich sent me the following information on the Apollo Instrumentation Ship's and the Vandenberg:

The USNS Vandenberg and USNS Arnold and one other 655 foot long, 18,000 ton converted Liberty ship had big 30 foot antennas that were L-band and S-band radars for tracking non-cooperative targets. These ships were used to monitor Soviet missile launches. The Vandenberg, Arnold, and a third missile tracking radar ship operated until the end of the cold war.

The USNS Redstone, USNS Mercury, and the USNS Vanguard were first used as Apollo Instrumentation Ships (AIS) before becoming Air Force Range Instrumentation Ships (RIS). The USNS Mercury was the first ship to be removed from service in 1970. Mercury was returned to service as a grain carrier. The Redstone was scrapped several years later then the Vanguard was scrapped last.

The three 30 foot dish antennas were Unified S-band with a 20 kW uplink transmitter, a telemetry S-band autotrack antenna and a 30 SATCOM antenna. Each ship had 107 ITT contractor technical crew and 65 Military Sea Transport Service (MSTs) ship crew.

The USNS Mercury home port for several years was Sydney, Australia. Home port of the USNS Redstone was Honolulu, HI. Home port of the USNS Vanguard was Miami, FL then Port Canaveral. When the Mercury was scrapped after Apollo 11, the Redstone was converted to a range tracking ship for the Navy with four new 20 foot telemetry antennas to track salvo launches of Poseiden missiles from a submerged submarine. The Vanguard continued support of Project Apollo for several years then became a range instrumentation ship and finally was scrapped.

The other two Apollo tracking ships were converted Victory ships at 455 feet length and 12,000 tons designated as re-entry ships. One was the USNS Watertown with home port of Honolulu, HI and the other was the USNS Huntsville with home ports of Honolulu, HI and Port Hueneme, CA. Both of these ships had 16 foot Unified S-band antenna, 16-foot CAPRI radar and 20 foot flat ground screen with 24 dipoles P-band telemetry antenna. They had no permanent SATCOM antenna but portable SATCOM systems were sometimes carried for critical low rate data. Both of these ships were transferred to the Air Force for range support after Apollo 7 showed the bigger ships could also support re-entry. Then they were scrapped prior to Apollo 11 to become a cargo ship and the other scrap iron.

Mr Streich details life aboard the Redstone:

"When I was on the Redstone our home port was Honolulu Pier 40 East but we also stopped in Kwajalein frequently for fuel and food and drop off data tapes then sail out again quickly on another mission. Two months at sea before returning to home port for a week or two was typical except when we stopped at Kwajalein overnight and went out again for two months for Apollo 9, 10 and 11 to cover the broad ocean areas. The Redstone did orbital support, computed and transmitted the uplink commands for Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) on all three missions then covered re-entry. Most people think we had a lot of spare time but there was very little spare time until after re-entry because we had passes every 90 minutes with uplink commands, spacecraft telemetry and voice and astronaut telemetry plus playbacks between passes for 24X7 for a lot of overtime. When not doing Apollo tasks we supported other NASA and military launches and satellite passes to earn our pay."

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