Zarya - Soviet, Russian and International Spaceflight
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The Kettering Group


Scarborough, UK
2014 Aug 31
Sunday, Day 243

Maintained 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

Kettering Group Timeline

Many things were achieved by the Group over time. Some of them are already marked here but there are certainly others worthy of mention. As such, this page should be seen as 'work in progress'.

If you feel that anything is missing, your contibution will be welcomed as a possible entry to be added to the list.

Date Milestone
1927 August 4 Geoff Perry Born.
1957 October Russell Gladden, senior science master at Kettering Grammar School, observes Sputnik or (more probably) its rocket visually.
1957 November Geoff Perry observes Sputnik 2 visually.
1958 January John Osborne, of Stowe School, plays recording of the signals from the first Sputnik at the Annual Meeting of the Science Masters' Association in Leeds. Geoff Perry is in attendance.
1959 September 1 Whilst the main part of Kettering Grammar School continues to operate from the premises in Bowling Green Road, the Science Department moves to a new building co-located with the School's playing field on the Windmill Avenue site.
1960 May 16 Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect signals from the first Korabl Sputnik (known then in the West as Sputnik 4).
1960 May 19 Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect that Korabl Sputnik's signals are later than expected but do not realise that the reason is a faulty retrofire.
1961 October Geoff Perry and Derek Slater track Discoverer 32, an American photo-reconnaissance satellite of the Corona type.
1962 April 26 Launch of Cosmos 4, the first of Korolyov's Zenit photo-reconnaissance satellites to reach orbit. They are to become the 'staple diet' of the tracking team for many years.
1962 June Geoff Perry and Derek Slater detect signals from Cosmos 5's ionospheric studies beacon at 20.008 MHz. It is tracked from the school through to decay during 1963.
1962 September 1 Kettering Grammar School relocates the remainder of its departments.They join the Science Department at the Windmill Avenue site now that all of the new buildings are complete.
1964 First pupil involvement in satellite tracking at Kettering Grammar School.
1964 October 12 For the first time, the team at the School intercepts voice transmissions from orbit. The spacecraft is Voskhod with cosmonauts Komarov, Feoktistov and Yegorov aboard.
1965 April 25 Dieter Oslender detects the TK recovery beacon from Cosmos 65. The significance is not realised until 1978 when he compares notes with Sven Grahn.
1965 July 22 Flight International magazine publishes "Kettering's Cosmos Scholars", an article about the Satellite Tracking Group written by Kenneth Owen after a visit to the School.
1966 January Sven Grahn makes contact with the School after picking up signals from Cosmos 104 and becomes the first international associate of the Group.
1966 March 17 Launch of Cosmos 112 - the first orbital mission from Plesetsk.
1966 April 14 TK recovery beacon detected by Sven Grahn from Cosmos 114. It is the first Zenit recovery beacon to be logged by the Kettering Group
1966 April 21 Flight International magazine publishes a letter from Geoff Perry announcing that the Soviet Union has started to use a new launch site, probably near the Arctic Circle.
1966 Work of the Group in tracking the recoverable Cosmos satellites is acknowledged by Dr Desmond King-Hele, head of the Space Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in the UK, in his book "Observing Earth Satellites".
1966 August 6 First interception of a recovery beacon by the Tracking Group at the School - TK from Cosmos 126.
1966 October 14 Launch of Cosmos 129 from Plesetsk at a new inclination. Analysis allows the location of the launch site to be pinpointed by looking at where the initial ground trace meets that of Cosmos 112 - it is to the south of Archangel.
1966 November 3 In the course of a space lecture that he was giving in London, Geoff Perry announces the location of the Soviet Union's new launch site.
1966 November 10 Flight International magazine publishes a letter from Geoff Perry giving the location of the new Soviet Launch site.

Soon after this, the site acquires the identification tag "Plesetsk", perhaps leaked by the western intelligence community. It is not until 1983 that the name and location are formally acknowledged by the Soviet Union.
1966 December The Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Group gets its first major headlines, the subject is Plesetsk.

The one that best sums it up is the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph front page headline "Pentagon Signals A Hit".
1967 June Members of the Group are entertained to tea at the House Of Commons by Kettering's Member of Parliament Sir Geoffrey de Freitas and Leicester North East MP Tom Bradley, a former pupil of Kettering Central School which was merged with the Grammar School in 1962.
1967 October Charles Sheldon visits the UK and calls at Kettering where he meets members of the Group.
1967 November 2 Geoff Perry and Bob Christy are presented with the Group's new RA-217 receiver by the Chairman of Racal, Ernie Harrison, and Daily Express Deputy Editor John Young.

The venue is Northampton College, Islington, London (now the City University), where Geoff is giving a talk on radio tracking. John Marshall is also present to deliver a talk on photographing satellites.
1968 The team acquires a "Great Northern Telegraph Undulator". Originally designed to produce a paper record of telegraphic code on a 'ticker tape' sized paper strip, it is the ideal tool for viusalising and measuring the pulses in the likes of a Zenit or Soyuz PDM transmission.
1968 April Geoff Perry presents a Lunch Time Discourse to Kettering Rotary Club at the Kettering Industrial Co-operative Society's Central Hall, Montague Street. In return he is presented with an electrically-driven digital clock and commemorative plaque for the Group. Also in attendance are Bob Christy and Vic Rowe who discover that there really is such a thing as a free lunch!
1968 Derek Slater succeeds in recording and decoding transmissions of ESSA meteorological satellite images.
1968 December A selection of Kettering Grammar School pupils acts as the question panel for an edition of the BBC current affairs programme "Panorama" where the subject is the 'Space Race'. On the receiving end is Dr Thomas O Paine, the Administrator of NASA.

The Kettering side of the programme is filmed in the school Lecture Theatre and another film crew is in Washington with Dr Paine as he answers the questions over a live radio link.
1969 The Winter 1968-69 issue of TRW Space Log is published, containing an article by Charles Sheldon "The Soviet Space Program - A Growing Enterprise". The article is a fore-runner of the Congressional Reports. In it, acknowledgement is made of the Plesetsk announcement and the Kettering efforts in tracking recoverable Cosmos satellites.
1970 April 24 Launch of China's first satellite. It is tracked by the Group at Kettering and some of the telemetry is decoded. Transmission includes the Revolutionary tune "The East Is Red".
1971 March 3 China launches its second satellite, Shi Jian 1, and the Group receives telemetry similar to that from China's first satellite. After a few days, the signals cease when the onboard battery runs down.

In the event it seems the original transmissions may have come from the satellite's launch vehicle. Several days later, the realisation dawns that the annoying 'clicks' interfering with reception of the recoverable Cosmos satellites are actually from Shi Jian 1 transmitting at the same frequency - 19.995 MHz.

The annoyance is long-lived, the Chinese satellite is solar powered and continues to transmit until orbital decay eight years later.
1971 April Bob Christy determines the telemetry format of the 'clicks' from Shi Jian 1, China's second satellite. They are a modified form of PDM where, to save transmitter power, only the start and end of a pulse are transmitted.
1971 June 5 During the half term break, Bob Christy (by now an ex-pupil) stops by the school to monitor the Salyut 1 frequency on an early-morning pass. After several weeks of silence, there is a transmission.
1971 June 6 Bob Christy monitors the Salyut 1 frequency for a second day running and detects a signal. It is soon obvious that it is a Soyuz spacecraft with a crew of three.

The School announces the launch well in advance of TASS and another round of major headlines follows.
1971 June 29 Final signals received from Soyuz 11 by Peter Bentley in Bangor, Wales and recorded automatically at Kettering - all seems well. Shortly afterwards the cabin air is exhausted and the crew suffocates.
1972 US Ambassador to the UK, Walter Annenburg, presents Geoff Perry with an advanced programmable calculator to help with the Group's analysis work.
1972 February 25 Sven Grahn tracks the Soviet Luna 20 as it returns from the Moon with a soil sample.
1972 December From Florida, Dick Flagg picks up Apollo 17 on its way to the Moon.
1973 January 1 Geoff Perry is appointed an Ordinary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's New Year Honours List. The citation is for "....founding and leading the Satellite Tracking Group, Kettering Grammar School".
1973 Chris Wood's analysis of the Tsikada and Parus groupings and signal content sees the light of day. Independent work on the orbits by Ian Wildman at the School produces the same orbit groupings.
1974 June Geoff Perry is awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Jackson-Gwilt Medal and Gift of 50 GBP. First presented in 1897, Geoff is the 25th recipient. A previous winner was Clyde Tombaugh in 1931 for discovering Pluto.
1976 September 1 Kettering Grammar School becomes the comprehensive education Kettering Boys' School.
1976 The name is changed to "The Kettering Group" to recognise its international aspects and that "Kettering Grammar School...." is no longer appropriate
1980 Pupil at the School, Andrew Sims, takes-on responsibility for monitoring the status of the Molniya communication satellite constellation.
1980 December 31 The Satellite Orbits Group at the Appleton Laboratory in Slough - formerly the Radio and Space Research Station ceases to hold responsibility for keeping observers informed of orbital events. Pierre Neirinck's weekly Satellite Observers' Notes (SON) have almost become a fixture.

For many years, Slough has provided the Group with predictions and orbital information, as well as passing on information about the Group's activities. Many late-night telephone calls were made to and by Pierre with the latest data and news.
1981 September 11 Charles Sheldon dies.
1982 July 2 Start of a twenty four hour tracking marathon at the School. Held in conjunction with the annual Open Day for parents, the session nets 134 passes from 21 satellites.
1982 July US Congressional Research Service publishes the first volume of a report "Soviet Space Programs: 1976-1980" for presentation to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Group's work is a substantial contributor through Geoff Perry's co-operation - intitally with Dr Charles Sheldon and then with Marcia Smith after Sheldon's death in 1981. Volumes 2 and 3 follow later.
1983 June An article in the newspaper "Pravda" is the Soviet Union's first public acknowledgement that Plesetsk exists.
1983 October The British version of Reader's Digest magazine carries an article "The Schoolroom Space-Watchers of Kettering". Over the next eight months, the same article finds its way into at least six other countries' versions of the magazine though the actual title varies from edition to edition.
1984 Geoff Perry retires from teaching and moves to Bude in Cornwall, his long-time summer holiday resting spot.

Satellite tracking activities at the School cease after 24 years.
1984 December Gathering of Kettering Group members at the Science Museum, London to collect the Royal Aero Club's Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded for the Group's work during 1983
1986 Derek Slater retires from teaching.
1987 March 23 First broadcast of "Sputnik, Bleeps and Mr Perry" (also known as "Behind the Bleep") on UK Channel 4 television - the dramatisation depicts several of the school staff in the 1960s.

Scenes are filmed at the school with Geoff Perry being played by Ian McNeice and Derek Slater by James Hazeldine.
1988 February US Congressional Research Service publishes the first volume of "Soviet Space Programs 1981-87" for presentation to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The report is co-ordinated by Marcia Smith, with sections based on the Group's work written by Geoff Perry and Max White. Volume 2 follows later.
1989 December 12 The NOVA television channel airs a programme "The Schoolboys Who Cracked the Soviet Secret", a re-enactment of events of 1966.
1991 April 23 A special hand franking is commissioned by, possibly, a stamp dealer. The dealer is from Stoke on Trent. It is used to postmark First Day Covers for the UK Post Office "Europe in Space" issue, possibly from all the special 'first day' postboxes in Northamptonshire.

The dealer also produced 500 covers for sale printed with a simple design and the words "Kettering Boys' School 'Satellite Trackers' ". They were offered for sale with the stamps and the franking already applied but there is no indication of how many ended up in circulation.
1993 The "Wonder Stuff" releases a set of CD/cassette recordings under the title "Construction for the Modern Idiot".

A 1966 newspaper photograph of some of the Group, taken in the 'Physics A' laboratory for "The Times", is on the cover of "Full of Life (Happy Now)" and a negative colour reversal of the same photograph adorns the companion remix version.
1993 August 31 Formal closure date of Kettering Boys School. The buildings are taken over by the Tresham Institute, formerly Kettering Technical College.
1995 The book "Cytringanian Farewell" is published in Kettering to mark the closure of the School in 1993. It contains material on the satellite tracking activities.
1995 October With guidance from Stuart Eves, Geoff Perry relates space debris newspaper stories coming out of Ghana to the Express satellite. It was assumed lost through a launch mishap at Kagoshima, Japan 1995 January.

The resulting analysis convinces people that it may indeed be the missing satellite, with the result that its re-entry module and parachute are subsequently retrieved.
1996 September Mark Severance, a group member from the US who has experience of listening to voice from Mir and is also a NASA employee, gets to work on a problem that is preventing Mir from working through American ground stations at Wallops and Dryden.

The issue turns out to be two-fold. The American system is clipping the voice because the bandwidth of the receiver is too narrow (the Russians provided the wrong figure), and the system is not correcting for the varying Doppler shift as Mir crosses the sky. After weeks of frustration, on 1997 Feb 14, he eventually gets NASA management to listen and make the necessary changes.

The incident is recorded in the book "Dragonfly - NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir" by Bryan Burrough (see pages 151-153).
1997 Mark Severance is part of the American team at TsUP in Moscow supporting the Shuttle-Mir missions. The job involves working at a console and speaking to the crew aboard Mir.
2000 January 18 Geoff Perry dies at Bude, aged 72.
2001 August "Newton", a popular science magazine magazine published in Japan in several different language versions, uses explanatory diagrams produced by Bob Christy to illustrate a feature on the Mir re-entry. The originals were published on Bob's 'www.zarya.info' web site a few weeks prior to the re-entry to help people understand what was planned to happen.
2002 June Former Kettering Group members meet at the Kettering Park Hotel. Also present are Jean Perry and Isabel Carmichael (formerly Perry).
2003 Derek Slater and Bob Christy spend several hours at Derek's house helping record footage of the receiving equipment and video questions/answers for inclusion in a programme "Cold War Kids" as part of the BBC-4 "Time Shift" modern history production.

In the event, less than three minutes is used. Disappointingly, the transmitted programme consists mainly of the same BBC-contracted 'talking heads' that have taken part in the rest of the Time Shift programmes.
2007 The School buildings are demolished as the Tresham Institute constructs a brand new education complex. The main site has served 45 years and the Science Block 48 years as teaching buildings.

The remaining aerials on the Science Block go into storage at the Institute.
2009 July Kettering Borough Council honours the Group with a granite slab in the newly redeveloped Market Place as part of its "Kettering Timeline".

On the advice of a panel of "local historians", the wording reads: "October 1966 - Kettering Grammar School Beats NASA" (sic).
2010 May 16 50th Anniversary of Geoff Perry and Derek Slater tracking Korabl Sputnik, the Group's first satellite observation
2011 Derek Slater passes the CR-100 receiver plus the BC-221 and CRR-74028 frequency meters into the keeping of the British National Space Centre at Leicester for use in a future display.
Copyright © Robert Christy, all rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited