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The History of Torre Bert

Sketch of Torre Bert published in the Reader's Digest in 1965-1967.

Analysis and reactions (II)

What to think about these alleged "tovaritch kosmonautov" in distress ? We know indeed that some Russian crews and even a dog, Laïka, died during the first missions but these news facts reported by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers are unknow from archives. The sole sources converging in this direction are... TASS and the Chinese Space Agency that recently claimed that the Soviets launched and lost several "secret cosmonauts" before and after the flight of Gagarin. Who can ever confirm these facts ?... We need proofs and evidences, not speeches !

The records made by Judica-Cordiglia brothers highlight another problem. At the beginning of the space conquest, heartbeats rate and breathing were never transmitted to ground stations using the audio downlink, there was only one case, in 1979 by Salyut-6

On the Vostok-1 and Voskhod-1 orbiters for example used in 1961 and 1964, these biomedical data were transmitted through the telemetry at 19,9994 MHz. Only audio contacts, like this one between Bykovsky and Krutchev in1963 where established on AM at 20 MHz with visual control on TV cameras transmitting images by shortwaves, then demodulated. Let's recall in a few lines how worked this communication network.

The official history

First soviet space communications like the ones of the other nations were established on HF and VHF frequencies. The cosmonaut ensured a two-way radio communication link with soviet ground stations located at the Central Control Room in Moscow, at the cosmodrome, as well as at remote sites located across Russia : Novosibirsk, Kolpashevo, Khabarovsk and Yelizovo. 

The radio communication links were carried out on various frequencies ranging between 9 and 20 MHz, as well as on VHF on 121.750 and 143.625 MHz. They never transmitted voice on higher frequencies. UHF bands were used to transmit telemetry during the Moon missions (e.g. on 768 and 922 MHz) while microwaves were used with transponders tuned on S-band between 2.8-2.9 GHz. Some landing radar installed onboard the first Luna spaceprobes worked also on X-band at 9.2 GHz.

To come back to Vostoks, the satellite tracking was carried out from ground stations on the HF frequency of 19.995 MHz or 20.008 MHz in FM mode. This channel was used for reliable contact up to distances of 1937 km (1204 miles). When the crew was out of this range an onboard tape recorder was used. The same frequencies could be also used for the audio but then in AM mode. No Soviet crew never worked in SSB mode, excepting the american Apollo crews.

Usually audio signals were transmitted on 20.006 or 18.035 MHz, sometimes on 17.365 MHz. Gagarin for example transmitted his famous comments from his space capsule on 19.995-20.005 MHz in AM mode, conversations that any listener could easily capture on a portable receiver equipped with a longwire antenna as soon as the orbiter was over the horizon.

Drawing showing the various communication links and devices installed on Vostok orbiter. The four large sticks set up in front of the orbiter ensured TV transmissions and maybe other services with ground stations in VHF frequencies. Here is another drawing.

Beside the tracking and the audio channels, telemetric medical datasets were sent in FSK-PDM or CW-PDM mode. FSK mode is a very efficient method of transmission because, like CW, it uses a very narrow bandwidth (~1 kHz) and could easily be heard far beyond the horizon and through interference. At some occasions, FSK signals travelled all around the Earth thanks to ducting properties of the ionosphere layers. 

The FSK-PDM mode was supplemented by the two TV cameras (remember videos of Gagarin), which provided a frontal and a profile view of the actions and reactions of the cosmonaut in orbit.

We can see on the drawing displayed at left that Vostok orbiter was equipped of four large stick antennas of approximatively one meter long, displaying thus broadband characteristics (tubing of large diameter), and tuned on VHF frequencies. From a CIA article entitled "Snooping on Space Picture" published in "Studies in Intelligence" in 1964, we learnt that these TV antennas worked on 83 MHz, thus the antennas were cut at λ/4.

The telemetry was sent on 19.995 MHz or 20.008 MHz or a near frequency. Later, telemetry signals from Cosmos orbiters were sent at 66.2 MHz wideband (cf. this audio file of Cosmos 353, 1970) as well as on digital format at 19.150 MHz (cf. this audio file of Cosmos 376, 1970). A two-tone biomedical beacon sounding like CW was also transmitted at 19.948 or 19.995 MHz or a near frequency.

Sensors attached to the cosmonaut's body under the suit recorded pulse, respiration, blood pressure and electrocardiogram. It is obvious that these data cannot be transmitted by voice. There is however at least one mission during which the voice channel carried out biomedical data; on May 11, 1979 Salyut-6 transmitted electrocardiograms on the voice channel on 121.75 MHz. But at that time Torre Bert was already dismantled for a decade.

To listen to : Sven Grahn's space mission audio files

Antennas and frequencies

In some interviews, Gian Battista Judica-Cordiglia said that his dipoles arrays were not very efficient. If we check the building (see previous page) it is a fact that the gain could never reach high values. The "parabolic dish" 12 meters wide looks more like a plane surface - and it is - or even more to a ground plane antenna ! Radiation pattern was directional of course, but with a wide open lobe and vertically polarized... Not much relations with space communications, except that it is tilted on its base to track easier satellites crossing the sky over northern Italy. According to Judica-Cordiglia brothers, this antenna was modeled after one used by a NASA tracking station in Africa and was modified after the initial trials.

Note that Torre Bert used also an helical antenna system placed at center of the "ground plane", more suited to capture satellite emissions on VHF bands as well as several other short VHF Yagis.

But even if the six stacked Yagis are well cut on the respective working frequencies, the complete system could not work on the alleged bands. Let's check each of them.

Extract of the banplan, centered on 405 MHz.

Extract of the The Electromagnetic spectrum PDF file. The alleged 405 MHz band used by Torre Bert for space communication falls just in a military band... Even in 1961 they had not a chance to capture here the least audio, telemetry, video or APT signal from a spacecraft !

108 MHz was indeed a space radio band in the 60's for the US spacecrafts. 137 MHz also, this is a standard space frequency, mainly used by weather satellites. 

405 MHz has never been a band allocated to space communications. It was a military band (Army), then shared with private services (today meteorology and medicine). 

145.8 MHz at last, is a primary ham band not reserved to space communications. More, the facsimiles transmitted by Kosmos and other spacecrafts were sent on 163 MHz and on 183.5 or 183.6 MHz for the Luna E-6 serie probes... This last frequency was confirmed on April 8, 1963 in the article published in "Aviation Week & Space Technology" entitled "Soviets Launch Lunik 4". In these conditions how Torre Bert could receive their so-called "APT-like" pictures on 145.8 ? This allegation is false.

In addition, as far as we know, these lunar probes never transmitted image (ATP) during the approach phase but only after their soft landing.

Torre Bert needed also of a demodulator to process the ATP signal, then they had to re-compose the tape recording on a TV monitor, and from there, record the signal with a camera (plugged in aux or directly from the screen). Gian confirmed that this is well what they did but he didn't never extend on the frequencies used.

At last, and this will close the discussion, with their receive system there are few chance that Torre Bert was capable to pick up the weak signals sent with a power of 10 W by Luna-4 orbiting the Moon. It should arrive at their antenna with a power of only 0.1 microwatt, the equivalent of a loss of 80 dB !

With such losses it was impossible for them to receive slow-scan pictures from over 100 km away in such conditions. They 'd use many more stacked antennas using many more elements, equipped of efficient preamplifiers and very sensitive receivers. Only a radiotelescope or a very expensive amateur installations (EME) equipped with weak signal processing systems could ensure such tasks. In the 1960's only national agencies could support such projects and some fortunate radio amateurs able to build an array of some tens of Yagis steerable in azimuth and elevation.

Sven Grahn did a study of Torre Bert claims and does not share at all their enthusiasm.

Sven Grahn works for the swedish space program and has recorded many transmissions from various spacecrafts since 1966 using commercial receivers and Yagis. He checked also Judica-Cordiglia brothers' claims, and does not believe either that Torre Bert recorded the sensational messages that they claim (dying cosmonauts, etc), or if they did, they have denied to explain him how they exactly proceeded for an obscure reason that has probably nothing to do with their work. For Sven, "such extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be believed. The two brothers never have produced such extraordinary evidence, details about reception frequencies, log books, etc.".

I did my own investigations too. In fact the few frequencies that Judica-Cordiglia brothers provided to inquirers are those publically released by Moscow, and thus nothing convincing.

From the pictures released in the press, and the scare interviews we had of the brothers, it is no any doubt that Judica-Cordiglia brothers emphazed their activities and that their network was poorly performing. As we told previously, this later fact was even confirmed by the Gian Battista himself.

Even today, using a quarter-length vertical and a mid-range receiver, a hardware configuration probably close to the efficiency of their so-called Zeus network, an european amateur will experiment much difficulties to reach another station located in Angola, Argentina or Tahiti where Judica-Cordiglia brothers claimed have contacts in the years 65's. If they worked with such antennas, the results was probably not very convincing, mainly in phone, except if they worked in CW or RTTY mode, more suited to pass through QRM and the other difficulties like QSB (fading).

But in 1965-1966 when the Zeus network was active, the Sun activity was quiet. The Sun reached its minimum activity, with a Wolf number less than 30 as confirms this graph extracted from the Word Data Center for Sunspot Index in Belgium. The propagation conditions to the South hemisphere was thus poor at daytime, and at night, the MUF must not be higher than 7 MHz or even less, closing all upper bands to DX.

As we see below, in the 65's, on the roof of Judica-Cordiglia brothers' House in Turino there was only a 2-element HF beam. No vintage picture taken during that period shows a Marconi vertical, a ground plane or a dipole cut for HF frequencies to work these remote stations. Nowhere in their tracking station there was a microphone or a CW key connected to a HF transmitter, there was only telemetry and receivers.

At left, the 2-element beam erected by 1965 (left) on the roof of Judica-Cordiglia brothers' House in Turino. Document Alex Tomlinson. At right,the ground plane vertical antennas (right) till in place in the 90's.

There were also large antennas on the roof of their Turino house, but only in the 90's, as we can see above right. We see several VHF antennas and what looks to be a ground plane vertical cut at λ/4 or so but of short size, not efficient for DXing. The two brothers never confirmed either that they were licensed radio amateurs; they have never provided any license and there is no mention of Achille or Giovanni Judica ou Judica-Cordiglia in the italian Callbook. Strange organization for a so-called international network.

The Zeus network probably existed well, I don't know if it was really efficient, but it worked only one year and probably only for listening purposes. It was managed by Gian's fiancee Laura, today became his wife. If some operators infringed the law in emitting without license that could explain its suddent stop, all the more that it seems that the two brothers were still students at that time and could not ruin their studies. In the best case they were only listeners of HF and VHF bands like many SWLs.

For short, if some members of Torre Bert team contacted remote stations by means of HF or VHF transmitters (what was never proved), they used amateur bands in violation of the regulation, thus as pirats. They could well work in emission on the very new 11-m Citizen Band (27 MHz) opened in 1958 but the Judica-Cordiglia brothers never spoke about it, and due to its relatively high frequency and low authorized power (< 10 W) is it limited to local communications (few tens of kilometres).

The rumor

It is very easy to build a fake story or to make information retention, and let the time play in your favor in releasing from time to time a bit of information or peacemeal documents, or to pretend that the Italian intelligence confiscated all pictures, even if this is partly true. It is also very easy to get the support of friends and reporters who share ideas similar to yours about the so-called conspiration and disinformation maintained by authorities.

Such cases count by thousands, specially in the field of ufology and paleontology, and the web, out of any control, is the perfect place to create a rumor and amplify such phenomena up to a world scale through dedicated websites.

Gian dealing with the Shroud of Turin and Torre Bert.

To complexify a bit more this problematic, as I introduced, in April 1965 J.D. Radcliff published the Torre Bert story in the "Reader's Digest". The text was addressed to a general audience and mainly to youngs. It was translated some months later in French and many other languages, and reprinted in their annual album. This is at this occasion that I discovered this story that partly encouraged me to become amateur radio.

"Fate" magazine and the "Washington Post" published also those alleged claims. If these publication influenced me at that time, these three famous magazines are probably not without have produced a big impact on many readers too, amplifying what is today considered as a rumor, because never confirmed.

Some years later, and up to 90's many other magazines published the story like the italian newspaper "Il Giornale". This article was reprinted in other newspapers like the one displayed at left that describes in its column "Chi è l'esperto, He is the expert", the Judica-Cordiglia brothers adventure, entitled their article "The man that I investigated on the Shroud and the space disasters", mixing the Shroud of Turin affair with Torre Bert. In quest of a scoop, paparazzi are always at first place !

In all cases, on April 7, 1965, irritated, at the request of the russian general Kamarin, Radio Moscow did a comment about these allegedly distress messages received by Torre Bert : "The article is based upon statements made by the Judica-Judica-Cordiglia brothers, who allegedly received signals and recorded conversations in space by a number of soviet cosmonauts who did not return from their flights... two years ago the same nonsense could be found in the pages of the "Washington Post"...a few organs of the burgeois press, in an attempt to give their cosmic lies an appearance of truthfulness, mention data provided by the american information services. These services would have provided in confidence to the journalists information about these dead cosmonauts. However, such data do not reflect the truth. And with this statement we could close the whole matter".

Among all data gathered by the two brothers, that they are partly false or not, there is a fact that using amateur equipments, Judica-Cordiglia brothers were able to capture space communications, deduce the launch of new missions, and to shake the russian empire. Thanks to their work, NASA was also aware to the fact that smart people can easily identify space frequencies, even if they are under embargo.

For an obscure reason always not explained, Torre Bert and Zeus network were dismantled around 1966. Several reasons can be advanced. First, the recent new family life of their main investigors has probably heavily contributed to this abandon; then the bad publicity made around their claims, and the flop of the Zeus network added probably other harassments to their frustration. In all cases the two brothers began their professional life around that time too what could explain this final withdrawal.

New developments

Whatever the explanations, as we will explain in another article dedicated to the history of amateur radio, slowly amateurs were preparing their entry in the world of space communication. Radio amateurs launched their first ham satellite in 1961 with OSCAR 1, and in 1969 they set up the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, AMSAT. The Judica-Cordiglia brothers didn't never belong to this famous organization because they were simply not licensed amateur radios.

Today Achille is a former cardiologist and a past president of the Lyons' Club Italy while Gian Battista has been a forensic scientist who took the first color picture of the Shroud of Turin in 1969. Some decades ago he was also involved in the successful "scientific" defense of Mr Berlusconi's former Defense Minister, although I am not sure that this second argument is relevant knowing the character. Anyway, the two brothers are today highly respected and successful persons.

Their last book : disappointed

In 2004, I was informed by Giovanni Abrate from "Lost Cosmonauts", that the Judica-Cordiglia brothers finished writing a book with an accurate chronicle of their activities. The book was submitted to various prospective publishers. We were all impatiently waiting for what new facts and evidences this book could learn us about their activities and alleged claims. The book would describe in detail the techniques used by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers, the frequencies, the Zeus network, the leads provided by US Intelligence and many other facts, including the statements by many personalities of science, technology and the press, who were present at the time of the intercepts and who have stated their support for the Judica-Cordiglia brothers.

In 2007, James Oberg read the current article that he qualified of "excellent technical analysis". Jim also read the last book written in italian by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers titled "Dossier Sputnik. «...Questo il mondo non lo saprà »". Unfortunately this book is far to confirm their allegations. Here are the comments that Jim accepted to share with us about this so-long-awaited book :

"I read [Cordiglia brothers] new book. It is an immense disappointment [...] There is no credible evidence to believe any of their claims--

not about 'missing cosmonauts' (we knew this thirty years ago)

not about receiving a photo of the Moon from the Luna-4 probe

not about receiving voice signals from Vostok-1

not about receiving telemetry and voice from MA-7 (Glenn)

not even about meeting top NASA officials (the only photograph in the book shows them standing on the street in front of the NASA headquarters and its sign). [...]

I gave them credit for inspiring other people to attempt amateur radio listening of space events (exactly as you wrote in your own article), but I insisted that nothing that they claimed to discover has ever been verified by any other radio amateur or by the massive disclosures of 'glasnost' and post-Soviet revelations. Rien." Jim.

Unfortunately Jim's conclusions confirm what we expected : all Cordiglia's claims are based on very few real facts. For short, don't waste your time in reading their book, you will lost your money and will not discover any "disclosed scoop" nor learn anything new.

Note that this book was followed in 2010 by a second volume titled "Banditi dello spazio - Dossier Sputnik 2".

About the Torre Bert affair

After 50 years, the original copyright associated to Torre Bert pictures and articles (all material published prior 1966) is entered in the public domain and can be used freely without infringing the law.

On March 3, 2004, I contacted Giovanni Abrate to get some additional information. I thank him for his courtesy in reading this review that not necessary converges to his opinion and the talks that he holds on his website. As expected, by return of mail he corrected in fact all of my arguments going against his claims.

With sympathy he probably accepted the deal as a good critical is better than rumor but he didn't answer to all my questions. He stond on his positions and didn't accept any of my arguments, like he refused the ones of the other inquirers, considering all them, including those linked below, as "anti-Cordiglia brothers". He accepted however to discuss.

In 2003 and 2004, I contacted my friend Valentin Strashinski, from TsNIIMash and leader of ISS project ET Shadow to ask him to confirm with Sergey Samburov from the Rocket Space Corporation “Energia” (RSCE), the history of Vostok/Voskod and alleged "black programs". None of them confirmed the existence of these black programs. According to RSCE archive (public) here are the sole cosmonauts who died since the beginning of the Soviet space program. This information is well-known :

- 1961, Valentin Bondarenko burned in a pressurized chamber during a pre-flight training

- August 5, 1966 accident of Soyuz-1. Death of Vladimir Komarov

- June 30, 1971, accident Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Victor Patsaev

You will find some more comments wrote in Russian on Statya website.

On April 25, 2004 I contacted again Giovanni Abrate so that he sends me some documents about these first soviet accidents. Here is an extract of his answer :

"Hi Tierry! Thanks for your kind message. The events that you mentioned are now well known, including the terrible fire that killed young trainee Bondarenko.

I know and respect the Judica-Cordiglia brothers and I know, at least by reputation, many of the journalists and scientists who were present at the time of the intercepts.

I have had unofficial confirmation of the veracity of these facts from two different and independent former members of the U.S. Government who were in a position of knowledge.

I should note that this does not apply to the alleged flight of Vladimir Ilyushin, as the Judica-Cordiglia brothers never received any signals on the day of the purported flight.

I do believe, based also on the interviews held by a journalist from FOX television with prominent ex-cosmonauts, that the Soviet Union had TWO space programs: a public one, led by Korolev and a "black" one, where clearly more daring missions were attempted.

I hope, if that is the case, that one day we will know for sure.

Please note that the Chinese space agency made a statement recently mentioning dead soviet cosmonauts who perished "at the beginning" of the soviet space program. If you read the Ilyushin story, you can see that the Chinese would be in a very good position to know, since Ilyushin purportedly crash landed in China".

On another side, I tried on several occasions between 1990-2005 to enter in contact with the Cordiglia brother in Italy. It was the complete radio silent as if there was a blackout on all this story for an undisclosable or shameful reason.

At last, note that Achille Judica-Cordiglia passed away on January 11, 2015 in Turino at 81 years old.

By way of conclusion

Beside the recordings made by the Judica-Cordiglia brothers of alleged cosmonauts in distress that remain unexplained, we can conclude that the two brothers did track satellites; they were pioneers in their field like James Oberg was another one for the Russian Space Agency. Unfortunately the comparison stops here because the Judica-Cordiglia brothers are far to be so objective, and straightforward than James Oberg.

After investigation, I have demonstrated in this analysis that the Judica-Cordiglia claims are partly but often false; some space recordings,  alleged frequencies, the use of transmitters and HF communications were never confirmed by the authors nor by any private investigator or institution. 

Their story looks to the one of many amateurs equipped with dedicated antennas and sensitive receivers listening prohibited  frequencies and recording some interesting messages. Then, encouraged by this success, the Judica-Cordiglia brothers tried to develop an amateur network whose activities and performances were somewhat exagerated and some details omitted by themselves, to be emphased at the end by the italian medias. This case is closed.

But this story does not end sadly. Thanks to the reading of their aventure that encouraged me to pursuit my education in this field and the experience of many other amateurs read in magazines or listened de visu, my dream of kid became a reality : I won my amateur radio license and I am always happy to communicate with some astronauts and other scientists by shortwaves or using Internet !

For more information

Italy's Amazing Amateur Space Watchers, April 1965, Reader's Digest (the story of Torre Bert)

Books written by A. and G. Judica-Cordiglia (1965/1969, 2006, 2007, 2010)

Deux radio-amateurs à la conquête de l'espace, ARTE TV

I Pirati Dello Spazio, YouTube (the story of Torre Bert in Italian)

Lost Cosmonauts, by Giovanni and Mario Abrate (all about Torre Bert)

Lost Cosmonaut Rumors (review on Aerospaceweb)

"Lost in Space", published in Fortean Times, July 2008 (no more online)

Energia website (RSCE)

Sven Grahn's Space Place (comments about Judica-Cordiglia's claims)

Distasters and accidents in manned spaceflight, David J.Shayle, Springer Praxis, 2000

James Oberg

Uncovering Soviet Disasters, by James Oberg, 1988

Phantoms of Space, by James Oberg, 1975

List of non-human astronauts, from Colin Burgess' Spaceflight article and Novosti Kosmonavtiki

NASA History Office

How to become an amateur radio ?

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