Special-purpose telemetry processing equipment configurations, often computer-based, were also developed and operated by NSA in the National Telemetry Processing Center (NTPC). Different types of equipment sets were needed to process and analyze different forms of telemetry used by different telemetry transmission equipment.

The telemetry signals were collected by various collection platforms. Magnetic tape recordings of the collected data signals were then sent to NTPC for processing. These measurements were then sent on computer tape to various analysis centers which identified the function of the various transducers and developed performance estimates. The resulting information was used to formulate defense policy and guide treaty negotiations.

RISSMAN was one of the computer systems specially designed for this work using custom hard ware. For a decade, from the early 1980s through the end of the Cold War, RISSMAN processed these tapes daily, often around the clock.

Prior to RISSMAN was TELLMAN, the Agency’s first telemetry processor to make extensive use of a general purpose computer. RISSMAN processed a wider variety of signals with higher system reliability and lower maintenance costs. RISSMAN’s custom-designed chassis for the front-end of the signal processing is shown on the rack on the left in the NCM exhibit. RISSMAN used three Intel 8086 microcomputers to perform real-time process control. Not shown are the Digital VAX-11 computers that provided data “demultiplexing,” data file storage, and user-interface. RISSMAN also provided local area network (LAN) access within the NTPC, digital tape generation, and quality-control plotting services.

The knowledge gained from foreign telemetry collection and analysis, as well as other ELINT signals, provided information for the United States to design electronic countermeasures. Equipment such as radar warning systems and jamming equipment were designed and helped protect those in harm’s way. Decision and policy makers also used the data gained from these signals to formulate defense policy and guide treaty negotiations.

Above is a photograph of the RISSMAN equipment display. The RISSMAN telemetry preprocessing system was designed and constructed by NSA engineers and technicians.

Smithsonian Air and Space

The National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC, has had a “Missile Gallery” exhibit for many years. After the Cold War, it began to include Soviet (and now Russian) artifacts. The initial emphasis was on the manned flight programs of both the United States and Russia in the “Race to the Moon” display several years ago. Other displays included the joint Apollo-Soyuz effort and continuing joint efforts on the International Space Station.

When the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office declassified several of the U.S. photographic reconnaissance satellite programs, it loaned the museum several spacecraft components, particularly on the first major photographic CORONA program. NSA provided a replica of the early GRAB ELINT spacecraft. The U.S. Navy provided information on U.S.-collected ELINT from satellites; it covered the Soviet defense radars that detected any bomber threat to the Soviet Union. The CORONA and GRAB spacecraft have been included in the “Spying from Space” display. The display overview graphic states:

Satellite reconnaissance programs are cloaked in secrecy. Only since the 1990s has the public learned about just a few of them. The United States began developing satellites in the late 1950s to augment the aircraft, ships, and ground stations it had used for reconnaissance since World War II. Satellites have important advantages over these other platforms. They provide greater coverage and are much less vulnerable to attack. The United States conducts reconnaissance to acquire imagery intelligence and signals intelligence. Along with other sources of intelligence, reconnaissance provides civilian and military leaders with timely and accurate information on political, military and economic developments around the world. It also assists the military in its operations.

The Smithsonian requested that Cold War SIGINT information collected by the United States be added to the “Secret Eyes in Space” display. It was agreed that NSA would loan the museum the HARDBALL single rack of equipment and one rack from the RISSMAN three-rack assembly, along with pertinent information. These items and associated information were added to the Air and Space Museum exhibit in 2014. The introductory panel text that describes the HARDBALL/RISSMAN area is shown below:

HARDBALL and RISSMAN equipment racks

The United States and the USSR signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) in 1972 and the follow-on SALT II in 1979. These were the first agreements between the superpowers limiting their strategic nuclear weapons systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The treaties permitted both nations to use “National Technical Means”—satellites and other platforms conducting imagery and signals intelligence—to verify compliance. Ground stations in countries bordering the Soviet Union were critical to this effort. Equipment with the Ground Station intercept receivers, like the one displayed here, and other hardware, collected telemetry sent from the Soviet ICBMs to their ground controllers during flight tests. The magnetic tapes with the data were brought to the United States for analysis to ensure that the missiles did not exceed the treaty limits. . . .

The United States and Russia have signed additional treaties beginning in the 1980s that have further reduced their strategic nuclear weapons arsenals. National Technical Means remain a key instrument for verification.

photograph of the NSA equipment in the National Air and Space Museum display appears above.

A photograph of the STONEHOUSE antennas and operations building, as shown on the following page, is included in an adjacent Smithsonian display.

Featured Picture – RISSMAN telemetry signal preprocessing equipment and description at the National Cryptologic Museum

Source: Center for Cryptologic History