The ROCKET MAIL – one of the most intriguing subjects in the astrophilately did not bypass the Russian space program. Early 1990s in Russia were marked with the economy downfall and everybody had to earn the living. Besides many projects targeted towards western investors several were involving German studies and a couple contained postal items – covers and stamps. The Russian Navy submarine commercial activities involved two astrophilately confirmed projects in 1995 and 1997. Interestingly these test activities resulted in the first ever submarine launched satellite – German Tubsat N, delivered by an RSM-54 Shtil missile from a nuclear submarine K-407 Novomoskovsk (Новомосковск) in Jul 1998. In terms of the flown mail – other variations exist but all of them are pure fantasy and were declined by official sources. Still many “launched” and “unlaunched” covers can be found on the market and my idea is to show and tell the real story behind them based on my conversations with the people involved and understanding of the subject. Of cause any comment or update is welcome.
Besides the “fancy” projects there are covers that reflect general ICBM launches from Russian Navy submarines. They are decorated with much kind of stamped marks including the "official" military unit stamp. I don’t know whether is it genuine or not but in any case, taking into consideration the closest postmark principal of FIP – the covers are good as they were cancelled in Gadzhievo (Гаджиево) – the home base of the Russian Northern Fleet submarines.
There is actually very little to show but quite a lot to explain so I try my best on this page....
Project "TKM-Volna" carried out in May-June 1995 jointly by Russian and German scientists on board nuclear submarine K-44 Ryazan (Рязань). On June 7, 1995 02:00 a ballistic missile RSM-50 (SS-N-18) converted under the "TKM-Volna" project to carry a capsule with scientific equipment and postage items (1310 envelopes with the symbols of the Elrabeck experiment) has been launched from the Barents Sea to the Bering Sea missile range “Boevoe Pole” (Боевое Поле - Combat Field) near Kamchatka. The missile covered a distance of 7000 km in 20 minutes flying upon the sub-orbital trajectory. K-44 Ryazan has been logged in the Guinness book of records as the fastest mail carrier in the world.
This was the first of the 2 known and officially confirmed Russian ballistic missile launches.
During the preparation of the project it was agreed to organize an experimental rocket mail and in February 1995 a special agreement between ITC "Marka" and "Cosmos" JSC "Composite" has been signed. On May 29, 1995 a correspondence acceptance point has been established in Severomorsk. All the accepted mail has been registered and respectively postmarked. In total there were 1140 ITC Marka prepared covers and 130 privately mailed letters.
While delivered to Kamchatka, all the mail has been transferred to the post office Petropavlovsk-50 and cancelled by a special postmark with the date - 09.06.1995. In July ITC Marka issued a certificate of authenticity in the Russian and English languages, confirming the authenticity of each mail item including private letters. There are covers that bear the postmark with other dates – those are not official and were not launched. Russian philatelic society used the postmarks for souvenir cancellations.
But this is not the whole story. Sergey Chizhov created 115 covers to be sent as private letters (100 for German dealer Carsten Fuchs and 15 for his friends in Russia). Unfortunately Artur Chilingarov who was responsible for the whole project from Russian side did not cooperate stating there was no spare payload capacity left. Nevertheless people close to Sergey Chizhov managed to sneak 40 (30 Fuchs and 10 personal) covers passing them through regular post so those ones bear a Severomorsk-9 registered stamp and not an “Experimental rocket post” as the official ones. All other postmarks are the same. Of cause no ITC Marka certificates were issued for those covers. So there were 170 private letters and not 130. The fact is also supported by an article published in Cosmonautics News magazine (1995).
This information was kindly provided by Sergey Chizhov.
On October 3, 1997 nuclear submarine K-447 Kislovodsk - (Кисловодск) carried out an RSM-40 missile firing from a Barents Sea, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Makeyev Design Bureau and 40th anniversary of the 1st satellite launch. The head part of the missile carried a container with a special commemorative cargo (envelopes, badges, pennants, etc) landed in Kamchatka at Kura missile range. Some sources state that 2300 covers were carried and cancelled in Vilyuchinsk on 4.10.07 others list 2100 but in any case only 2000 certificates were issued by Makeyev Bureau, thus the exact number cannot be confirmed. Interestingly some efforts have been applied to confirm the activity and a number of letters have been received from Makeyev’s GRTs (Stare Rocket Center) like the example below.
As you can guess – this was a second and the last confirmed rocket post activity involving a Russian nuclear submarine. Note that in certificate K-447 is mentioned as 325/3.
certificate has a number corresponding to the cover
Millennium stamps launched from a Barents Sea New Year eve 1999 and landed near Kamchatka in the next Millennium – 1.1.2000.
This is a very beautiful story besides being a good piece of fantasy.
A German company of Hermann Sieger signed an agreement to get a share in a payload of a missile launch that had to become a Millennium flyover – 3000 miniature sheets with 20 hologram stamps in each. The launch was subsequently delayed. As per agreement all the stuff was returned to the company including respective certificates signed by A. Chilingarov .. but the German dealer put the items on the open market sale as “flown”.
The other “rocket mail” stories are not as fascinating as being a pure fantasy of a group of sneaky dealers. Several attempts were made to acquire a share in the payload of ICBM launches but none of them came true. The last one was dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin flight in 2011. All the stuff was packed and appropriately marked. The launch was cancelled but the German dealer put the items on sale as "flown". As expected there was an explosion and all the further plans for the rocket mail based on the Russian carriers were cut once and for all.
Just want to show some examples and a respective response of Makeyev’s State Rocker Center indicating the "fakeness" of these artifacts. But in any case they are quite attractive and can have their place in collection if purchased for reasonable money.
Another outstanding project was Resurs 500 dedicated to the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovery of a New World in 1492.
On November 16, 1992, Soyuz rocket launcher containing Resurs-500 capsule similar to the one flown by Yuri Gagarin, was launched from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The satellite orbited the Earth for seven days before parachuting into the Pacific Ocean about 120 miles off Grays Harbor on the Washington state coast on November 22. The space capsule was recovered and brought to Seattle by a Russian missile-tracking ship Marshal Krylov. The capsule contained various memorabilia including covers.
Now, there are two different opinions on how many and which covers were flown. According to Sergey Poznakhirko and his book – “Russian Space mail” there were 700 covers – 500 marked by SovInformSputnik and another 200 from N.Smirnov – the sponsor of the program, head of the Interservice company. All Smirnov covers got a special Resurs-500 purple cachet. All the SovInformSputnik covers plus 17 Smirnov’s were cancelled by a tracking ship Marshall Krylov stamp. Interestingly – the ship’s public stamp used for cancellations contained an error in the writing. There are different rumors about the origins of such stamp but most probably it was crafted by members of philatelic society who took part in Klylov's voyage to Seattle and the erroneous misspelling was made deliberately to avoid forgery. Some of the covers with Krylov stamp also received a purple Resurs 500 cachet on the reverse. Note, all the flown covers were cancelled with Plesetsk postmark with the date of launch - 16.11.92. The cancellation took place in Samara several days before the actual launch where all the covers were packed into the capsule. Sergey also states that 50 certificated were flown – one for each 10 SovInformSputnik covers.
Another version was proposed by Walter Hopferweiser in his “Rocket and Space mail” catalog. According to Walter there were only 90 flown covers prepared by Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics and after the recovery all of them were taken to Moscow by museum deputy director Mikhail Lisun and got museum postmark. This version is partially supported by collector and dealer – Alex Panchenko who had personal relations with Lisun and got his Resurs-500 covers and stamps directly from him.
Frankly speaking I do not like any of the versions – the first one gives a very high number of flown covers that actually does not correspond to the covers seen on the market. I also do not believe that there were flown certificates for SovInformSputnik – most of the certificates I’ve seen were filled-in differently. I would not believe that 50 flown pieces could differ one from another in such manner. Most probably they were applied to the covers after the flight. The second version on the other hand lists too low number – in my opinion there were covers that have been presented to the guests of honor and supporting organizations during the ceremonial event on Nov 22, 1992 – those did not get Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics postmarks.
The pictures of this operation were shot by a photographer Mark Hammergren, who was aboard Marshal Krylov during the recovery. Some of his photos were used later for cachets on the commemorative covers. More can be found here.
Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics cover
note - the certificates are unnumbered
Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics cover
SovInformSputnik cover with Marshal Krylov stamp
Resurs-500 purple cachet is fading on the reverse
"nonsense" postcard bearing Plesetsk postmark on the date of launch. It's different stamped marks do not have any logic behind. BE AWARE OF SUCH ITEMS !!!
nice serviced cover with Resurs 500 project stamped cachet