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The Kettering Group

Tyneside, UK
2024 Apr 22
Monday, Day 113

Curated by:

Kettering Group on the Web:

Book published on closure of the School

Kettering results, history, exploits and accounts

Contemporary Article

Geoff Perry item

Soyuz & Salyut - article by Geoff Perry

BBC News Feature

The 'Sheldon Reports'

This title is how they are fondly remembered as historical documents by students of the Soviet space programme. In reality it is a set of public, factual reports from research staff of the Library of Congress to whichever Congressional Committee (House or Senate), at the time of publication, was tasked with keeping abreast of developments in space.

Charles S Sheldon IIThe reports were produced entirely from open information sources but there was cross-checking in the background against classified data to ensure words had been interpreted correctly. The earliest Report was published in 1962 and from 1967 they were produced under the leadership of Dr Charles S Sheldon II - hence the popular name. When he died in 1981 during preparation of the report covering 1976-1980, the responsibility of completing it and producing subsequent reports fell to Marcia Smith.

With the demise of the Soviet Union and arrival of international co-operation in space, the need for detailed analysis and reporting faded to the point that producing the Reports was no longer viable. Marcia continued to work for the Library and followed it with a three year stint at the National Academy of Sciences before founding her own consulting practice and the website SpacePolicyOnline.com. That site builds on the thrust of the Congressional reports but is contemporary rather than historical and covers a wider field including commercial and international space activities, and space law.


Sheldon Report 1967The first Report to include a Kettering mention came out late 1967. It contained a reference to Kettering Grammar School and the Plesetsk revelation. Every major report since has used the Kettering Group's research and later publications included sections authored by Kettering Group members.

As well as a Soviet analysis, the 1967 Report contained simple comparisons with contemporary US programmes but although it touched on military aspects of the Soviet side. Allusions to the US equivalent were generally avoided. A shortened version of the 1967 report appeared in the winter 1968-1969 edition of TRW Space Log under the title "The Soviet Space Program - A Growing Enterprise". It was written by Charles Sheldon.

The 1967 Report was was stop-gap prior to the 1966-70 version. It was a relatively slim volume running to 137 pages, including nearly 30 pages of hand drawn illustrations. The 1966-70 Report ran to hefty 670 pages. Added to the simple factual content of the earlier one, 1966-70 contained much detail in its descriptions and had significant numbers of numerical and comparative tables. It set the tone for later Reports by moving into the structure and policies of Soviet space industry and the government departments directing it. The report was published at the end of 1971 and, shortly after, it was joined by a quickly-produced addendum covering 1971 itself.

A significant section of the 1966-70 version was devoted to the recoverable reconsat programme, using Kettering data derived from the Group's 'bread and butter' tracking of the ubiquitous Zenit spacecraft. There is a separate section within the zarya,info web site covering the Zenit missions and their radio transmissions.

1971-75 was covered by a two-volume set and ran to nearly 900 pages with one volume devoted to policy, strategy and space law.

1976-80 had three volumes and among its content were many tables, diagrams and graphical plots charting the history and development of the Soviet program. Much data resulting from Geoff Perry's analysis of the Kettering Group's work found its way into the tables and graphs, and the Group is mentioned by name at numerous points. Geoffrey Perry is credited in the preface as one of the authors.

Ralph Gibbons from the UK and David Woods of the US provided many of the detailed and annotated drawings of satellites, spacecraft and ground equipment.

The final Report to see the light of day covered 1981-87. It was the only version not to mention the Kettering/Plesetsk connection in its description of the launch site. Geoff Perry is again mentioned as authoring some specific sections as are Max White who wote an Appendix on deployment of the fleet of Soviet tracking ships and Dick Flagg who contributed material on launch windows for lunar exploration missions. It meant that Kettering Grammar School and its successor, the Kettering Group, was part of every single 'Sheldon Report' from 1967 onwards.

Plesetsk and the 1967 Report

This is what the 1967 Report had to say about Plesetsk. It is notable that the name arising from Kettering Grammar School's work in 1966 and 1967 is the name that was eventually acknowledged by Russia in 1983 and came into common use when it began to speak publicly about the cosmodrome following dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991:

Sheldon Report 1967......there is still a reluctance in this country to take the official initiative in naming any Soviet launch sites. So the honor in this case was left to some British school boys at the Kettering Grammar School north of London. Their excellent program of tracking uses relatively simple equipment and has been crowned with many successes. By listening to radio signals from spacecraft they not only find their orbits, but even have come to recognize when Soviet recoveries are in process and what beacon signals come from the landed capsule until ground parties reach the payload. The Kettering boys quickly spotted the new ground trace, and were able to reason that the number of orbits to recovery was different too, in order to bring the ground trace of the final orbit back to the normal Kazakhstan recovery area for such payloads at the correct time of day. Lacking precise information about the time of launch, they could not pinpoint the site. However, after a bit, the Russians made another launch from this site at quite a different inclination to the Equator, and the crossing of the two ground traces of the initial orbit gave a very good approximation of the launch site. This was near the town of Plesetsk, south of Archangel, and hence its name is given to the cosmodrome in the absence of a Soviet acknowledgment of this site by name.

The script to the right of the page is inscribed in the copy of the 1967 report held by Robert Christy. It was written when Charles Sheldon visited the UK for a touring holiday, and stayed briefly with Geoff Perry at Kettering during the early 1970s. Other Group members have inscribed copies of later Reports to recognise their individual contributions.

page date: 2013 Sep 10

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