“LITTLE STAR” – the secret Soviet radio telescope

We found out we could visit a former top secret Soviet military base where they were listening to the communication between Europe and USA – we had to see that!!

Between Ventspils and Cape Kolka are endless forests and in the middle of this forest some huge antennas are peaking out of the trees. Of course during Soviet times nobody was allowed to get close to this area as it was a high security military base.

On the way to VIRAC
Entering the VIRAC station
VIRAC stands for “Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre” as the antennas are nowadays used to explore the universe in cooperation with other antenna stations in Europe and around the world.
We had booked a tour per mail and a guide awaited us. He made us climb into an old antenna, onto the tower which formerly held this antenna and walk through a dark and narrow 600metres long tunnel once connecting the station with another antenna. A very adventurous tour!
The old satellite dish now out of order located on the ground …

Climbing up into the dish …
Funny to stand in this huge dish made of aluminium which reflects radiowaves to the center antenna.
We even could climb up to the antenna which receives the reflected satellit radio waves.
View from the top …

The whole military base included 3 radio telescopes: 32m, 16m and 8m in diameter as well as all the necessary infrastructure for over 2000 scientists, generals and soldiers with their families (including kindergarten, school, shops, technical support houses, 4 block houses with 260 flats, post office etc.) in an area over 400ha. The secret code name for this place was “Звёздочка” (Little Star).

The telescopes were built by the Russian Navy in late 1960. In 1994, when Russian army pulled out of Latvia, the withdrawing troops took most of the equipment with them including the smaller antennas. They also poured acid on the telescope’s motors, cut all the cables, took away all the documentation and destroyed much of the surrounding infrastructure. But they couldn’t take the big telescopes with them. It was a lot of work to repair everything with no manuals and all the wiring destroyed, but they succeeded. The big 32m dish which weighs 60tons was taken down and renovated so that it works now very accurately.

Control unit, used until 1994 to move the giant dish
A piece of Soviet high tech of the 60´s
Soviet Army map of Europe’s secret military bases
Photos of soldiers once stationed here
Very rare foto documents, because taking pictures at “Little Star” was strictly forbidden!
Former commanders office 
Antenna now listening to the universe
Out of use
Walking through the tunnel with our mobile phone lights
Now updated to the latest technology
We really enjoyed this visit
What a star!

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