The Apollo missions to the Moon required complex hardware to communicate between Earth and the spacecraft, sending radio signals over hundreds of thousands of miles. The premodulation processor was a key component of this system, combining voice, scientific data, TV, and telemetry for transmission to Earth.1 It was built from components that were welded together and tightly packed into a 14.5-pound box.2 In this blog post, I look inside the premodulation processor, examine its construction, and describe how each module worked.
The communications systems in the Apollo Command Module were very complex, as shown in the block diagram below.3 The premodulation processor (PMP, yellow) played a central role: most of the audio (red), data (orange), and TV (purple) went through the premodulation processor, where the signals were combined for transmission by the S-band (blue) radio systems. The premodulation processor also handled most of the voice and data signals received from Earth or from the Lunar Module via the VHF (green) or S-band radio systems.
One reason for the complexity of the premodulation processor was that the audio system had to support a variety of communications configurations. The diagram below illustrates one configuration, when astronauts were walking on the Moon (i.e. extra-vehicular activity, EVA). They communicated with the Lunar Module on the Moon's surface via VHF/AM radio, which relayed their audio to Earth via the Unified S-Band (USB) radio. Meanwhile, the Command and Service Module (CSM) orbiting the Moon also communicated with Earth via S-Band. These voices were conferenced together so the astronauts and ground could all hear each other. The need for redundancy added to the complexity; for example, signals from the Moon could be relayed through the Command Module in the event of an equipment failure.