Encyclopedia Astronautica
Third Generation Soviet Space Systems

Buran docks to Mir
As it was supposed to be - Buran docking with Mir space station.
Credit: © Mark Wade
Polyus Combat Sat
Cutaway of the Polyus 1 space weapons platform.
Credit: © Mark Wade
Fwd view of Energia
Forward view of Energia launch vehicle in assembly hall at MIK
Credit: © Mark Wade
Okean-O2 satellite. The Tselina-2 and -3 SIGINT satellites are believed to use the same vertically-stacked satellite bus and to be similar in appearance.
Credit: Dmitry Pieson
Okean-OE was similar.
Credit: NASA
Yantar-2K Cutaway
Credit: Dmitry Pieson
Yantar E1
Credit: © Carsten Wiedemann
Soviet Reconnsats
Soviet reconnaissance satellites. Top row: Zenit-2, Zenit-4, Advanced Zenit with aerodynamic orientation; Middle Row: Yantar 1K, Yantar 2K, Orlets-1 with multiple return capsules; bottom row, Buran-serviced pallet-based satellite; Yantar 4KS electrooptical
Third Generation Soviet Space Systems

Third generation Soviet space systems constituted an integrated Multi-Element Space System, including the planned Multi-echelon Anti Ballistic Missile System. Preparatory work for third generation systems was undertaken under the Tenth Five Year Plan (1976-1980), with full definition of the systems in the 11th Five Year Plan, (1981-1985). In 1985 the plans were drastically revised and a crash programme was undertaken to meet the American Strategic Defence Initiative challenge during the 12th Five Year Plan (1986-1990). Third generations systems were to be fully on line by 1990. This plan was not achievable and the Soviet Union disintegrated before any third generations systems could be placed in service.

Research institute 50-TsNII-KS GUKOS conducted studies in 1976-1980 on the third generation of satellite systems. These would have a 10 to 15 year development and deployment cycle. Participating in the studies were the Academy of Sciences, scientific institutes, and industry. Among the resulting studies were those code-named Gorizont-K, Dal, Zamysel-95, and Klokot. Project Borba studied the operational strategic problems of military activity in space. Shturm-2 identified the military, scientific, and technological research and development required for third generation military space units. The final results of the studies were summarised in the reports 'Basic Direction of Military Space Unit Development to 1995' and 'Program for Military Space Units, 1981-1990'. Approval of these plans from the Central Committee and Soviet Ministers was issued on 2 June 1980. This covered the period through 1990 and included plans for use of the Almaz-T multimode reconnaissance system and Elektro geosynchronous meteorological satellite.

Further operational studies included the 16 volume OTT-70 which set forth system specifications and force descriptions. RK-75 set forth the order of battle for both space and rocket forces. At the end of 1980 the VPK Military Industrial Commission also ordered a strategic plan extending to 1995 and a plan for research to 2000.

These plans were drastically revised as a result of what the Soviet Union perceived as the remilitarisation of space by the United States with the F-15 ASAT and Shuttle programmes. At this time second generation Soviet space systems were supporting the military, but 25% of the new systems were behind schedule (Yantar-4K, Geo-IK, and Strela especially). The use of space for combat, especially plans for use of the Buran spaceplane, were not taken seriously by the Ministry of Defence. In April 1976 Ustinov had authorised work to start on military space combat systems, but by 1979 the development work was unfocussed.

The leadership at GUKOS (Main Directorate of the Space Forces) wanted to collect all of these diverse projects into a single organisation. This Space Force would be equal to the RVSN Strategic Rocket Forces in status. This was opposed by RVSN, but on 10 November 1981 a decree made GUKOS responsible for all space forces and satellites. GUKOS was tasked with ensuring synergistic organisation of satellite constellations; co-ordination of the ABM anti-ballistic missile forces and SPRN early warning satellites with the PVO Air Defence Force; co-ordination with the VVS Air Force on use of space reconnaissance data and cosmonaut training; and operation of the space tracking system.

On 22 August 1980 the VPK Military Industrial Commission resolution ordered development of a space forces Five Year Plan for 1981 to 1985. In July-August 1981 the plan was reviewed. Objectives included:

  • Development of new space systems to detect preparations for surprise nuclear attack, to locate the position of nuclear explosions, and to enforce the START-2 treaty
  • Modernisation of existing reconnaissance, communication, and navigation systems
  • Introduction of the Buran and Zenit boosters into service
  • Preliminary research on a new class of light and heavy launch vehicles of the next generation

This plan was submitted to a special session of the Ministry of Defence in August 1981. It envisioned development of 8 new space systems plus the Tsiklon-3 booster with a new upper stage. The integrated Global Space System would consist of multiple subsystems:

  • YeSSS Communications System
  • GKKRS Command-Relay System
  • Uragan Navigation System
  • TGKS Geodesy, and Earth Database System
  • Planeta Hydrological-Geological System.
  • Continuous Observation Operational Space System
  • MKRTs Naval Targeting System
  • Multi-echelon Anti Ballistic Missile System

At the same time long-range plans for military space projects in the period 1985-1995 were approved.

Multi-echelon Anti Ballistic Missile System

At the end of the 1960's and the beginning of the 1970's the United States began new research in the use of spacecraft for the destruction of military targets in and from space. In the late 1960's development began at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory of a space-based nuclear weapon-pumped laser. This was originally envisioned as a fearsome weapon, consisting of several dozen independently aimed lasing rods arranged around the bomb. When the bomb exploded, a large percentage of its force would be conducted down the lasing rods toward the targets at which they pointed (in the microsecond before the rods themselves vaporised).

At the same time the Air Force and NASA were studying reusable space shuttles. A single shuttle payload bay of such weapons had the potential of destroying the entire Soviet ICBM force - not just in launch phase but in a first strike, frying them right through the silo covers. One of the most heavily classified projects of the time, it still came to the attention of Soviet intelligence.

During this same period NASA was struggling to justify a post-Apollo space program. The Nixon administration decided that the USAF shuttle project would be dropped, and their requirements incorporated into the NASA design. One of these requirements was a mission involving a launch into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force base, release of unspecified payloads into orbit, and return to Vandenberg after a single orbit of the Earth. This requirement forced NASA to drop their preferred straight-wing design for a heavier double-delta wing that had the necessary cross range. The Soviet leadership saw their worst fears confirmed. This was a modern version of the first-strike multiple-warhead UR-500 and N1 super heavy rockets which they had developed but then abandoned in the early 1960's.

America was also beginning work on other directed energy approaches that did not require use of nuclear detonations. In 1968, a gas dynamic laser was reviewed in a study to see if it would be a viable as a satellite anti-missile system. In 1971, the Aerospace Corporation developed a prototype infrared fluorine-hydrogen laser. By 1975, Lockheed put together the first concept of a satellite armed with a laser and a deployable mirror.

Parallel work began in the Soviet Union in the same period. One direction was advocated by the Ministry of Radio Industry, which had managed the development of the Soviet ABM system since the late 1950's. Another approach was the use of neutral particle beam weapons, advocated by Gersh Budker at a secret institute in Novosibirsk.

During the late 1960's and early 1970's Soviet research institutes, design bureaux, the Academy of Sciences, and the General Staff conducted numerous discussions and unofficial studies. Among these plans were the use of the Korolev MKBS space station as a platform for a neutral particle beam weapon and logistical support of a constellation of military interceptor vehicles. The MKBS approach was abandoned when the N1 launch vehicle was cancelled.

An April 1976 decree began definitive project work on 'Star Wars' technology within the Soviet Union. To develop space weapons the two-phase Fon program was undertaken. Fon-1 encompassed fundamental research and draft project work on a variety of technologies - laser weapons, neutral particle beams, electro-magnetic rail guns, new orbital interceptor missiles, new conventional and nuclear warhead technologies, new anti-ballistic missiles, and space platforms to support these weapons. Fon-2 would take the technologies selected as a result of Fon-1 and conduct flight trials of prototype systems. Fielding of operational space combat units would only come thereafter.

The MOP Ministry of Defence Production set up a new Eighth Main Directorate to manage the work of the various institutes and bureaux. P S Pleshakov of the Ministry of Radio Industry oversaw the work of the design bureaux. In the 1970's and 1980's ambitious and complex research was conducted on space vehicles capable of destroying rockets in flight, airborne vehicles in the atmosphere, vessels at sea, and targets on land. These studies assessed both the feasibility and affordability of such spacecraft.

Early results were not encouraging. NPO Kometa (A I Savin), manufacturer of the existing IS-A anti-satellite system, was asked to study the feasibility of a conventional system to destroy 10,000 ballistic re-entry vehicles and cruise missiles within 5 to 25 minutes with an effectiveness of 99.8%. The study concluded that such a system was not practical technically or economically.

Directed energy weapons might have a better chance of engaging many targets in a surprise attack, but testing of charged practical beam technology resulted in many technical problems that would take a long time to solve. (The 1976 conclusion of the US Defence Intelligence Agency that such work had reached an advanced stage at an immense facility at Semipalatinsk was shown to be incorrect after the fall of the Soviet Union).

Laser technology was also pursued but also faced many technical and cost problems in achieving high energies. The principle centre for laser research was TsKB Luch, headed by Nikolai Ustinov, son of the Soviet Defence Minister. In the late 1970's this was reorganised into NPO Astrofizika. Astrofizika designed lasers for both tactical and strategic use and was receiving 1% of the Soviet defence budget during this period. A free electron laser was tested at Storozhevaya, and a 1 MW gas laser at Troitsk.

OKB Vympel was the systems integrator for ground-based laser systems. They built the major Terra-3 laser testing centre at Sary Shagan, which was eventually equipped with Astrofizika high power red ruby and carbon dioxide lasers. But the energies were not sufficient for anti-ballistic missile use. The first applications would be limited to anti-satellite operations, and then primarily to blind optical sensors.

Other institutes involved in research were NIITP (Research Institute for Thermal Processes) which handled high energy gas dynamic lasers, and the Scientific Institute for Radio Device Production, which worked on plasma weapons.

Meanwhile Livermore work on the nuclear-pumped laser had evolved into a space-based x-ray laser weapon which would destroy ICBM's during boost phase, after they had cleared the atmosphere. But in 1977 President Carter cancelled further development work on this weapon. The threat seemed to recede and by the early 1980's Fon-1 work had focused on the more achievable goal of improved interception and destruction of enemy satellites.

But in June 1982 America announced its intentions to test a new SRAM-Altair ASAT from an F-15 fighter. Later that year Edward Teller dazzled Ronald Reagan with tales of desk-sized x-ray lasers that could be deployed within four years and create an invulnerable defence shield around the United States. Work on the x-ray laser was renewed with vigour as the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI). The program quickly expanded to include research on a broad range of directed energy and rocket interceptor weapons.

Reagan's 'Star Wars speech' on 23 March 1983 seemed to indicate a much earlier deployment than the Soviets had previously thought. Plans were made in America for deployment of the existing Vought MNV warhead developed for the F-15 ASAT. 40 to 45 of these homing vehicles, weighting 2.0 to 2.5 tonnes each, would be housed in orbital platforms in 65-degree inclination, 550 km orbits. Test and deployment of the constellation was to begin in five to seven years. Later studies indicated 30 to 40 such platforms would be deployed with 1350-1800 interceptors.

The Soviet response was immediate. Yuri Andropov ordered additional funding and implementation of Fon-2. At the same time Soviet diplomatic initiatives were undertaken. A proposal was made to the Unite States to ban all space-based weapons. Andropov declared a unilateral moratorium on testing of the improved IS-MU ASAT. As a 'warning shot' the Terra-3 complex was used to track the STS-41-G space shuttle Challenger with a low power laser on 10 October 1984. This caused malfunction of on-board equipment and temporary blinding of the crew, leading to a US diplomatic protest.

Premier Andropov brought the necessary new discipline and enthusiasm to begin development of Soviet counterpart systems. In response to reports that the US intended to have SDI operational in 10 to 15 years, Minister of Defence Ustinov and VPK Chief Smirnov ordered an urgent revamping of the 11th Five Year Plan (1981-1985). The objective was deployment of space combat systems at the earliest possible date. Total space program expenditures to cover these systems were to be increased 35% from the 11th to 12th Five Year Plans (1986-1990) and 50% from the 12th to 13th Five Year Plans (1991-1995).

However the top-level managers that ran the Soviet space program were fading into history. Afanasyev left MOM (Ministry of General Machine-Building) in 1983. When Ustinov died in December 1984 the Soviet space program lost its biggest backer. He had been the impetus behind development of Buran and the electro-optical reconnaissance systems. He was the leading proponent of a vigorous Soviet response to Star Wars.

The Baikonur and Plesetsk launch centres were reorganised in 1984, with the Baikonur 5 NIIP MO incorporating the 50 TsNII KS research institute, including a new 8th Directorate for operation of the Buran shuttle and BKS Combat Shock Space System - alternative space weapons. The living facilities at the Golistsino-2 command and control centre were also upgraded.

50 TsNII-KS was first asked to evaluate SDI in 1983. By 1985 the Soviet Ministers were asking for concrete proposals. A study group headed by Ye P Velikhov was formed from the Academy of Sciences and military institutes. Subpanels evaluated multi-layered systems using lasers, guns, and electrodynamic weapons. The capability of the US Shuttle and Soviet Buran to deploy such systems was studied.

The final conclusion was that new, fully reusable, more economical launch vehicles would be required to support the enormous launch rate required for SDI. Concurrent with this studies were made of ecologically clean, high power rocket engines needed to power a new generation of launch vehicles. Lox-Kerosene or Lox-LH2 propellants would be used by a modular family of launch vehicles with payload capabilities of 5 tonnes, 10-12 tonnes, 20-30 tonnes, 40-50 tonnes, and 80-100 tonnes. A common engine would be used in the first stage of all of these designs, which would be recoverable and reusable.

Aircraft-space systems with horizontal takeoff and landing would achieve a 30% reduction in system weight compared to conventional vertical takeoff. Use of nuclear energy was also considered under project MG-19, but development of such a system did not seem possible in the short term.

Analysis of the shuttle indicated that the design was a 'clunker' - it wasted 70 tonnes of orbiter mass on every flight to deliver 30 tonnes of payload. The Chelnoka study evaluated manoeuvring aerodynamic-orbital dynamic systems to attack enemy satellites. Buran did not seem suited to this but could be used as a laboratory to develop new space technology. There was a need to test systems in orbit, and the Salyut and Mir space stations would allow this. Technology testing aboard these existing platforms would lead to a new generation of space systems by the turn of the century. These reparable and upgradeable space platforms that would be tended by Buran shuttles.

Concurrent with these urgent moves the Soviets began a diplomatic counter-offensive to kill the American SDI programme through less-expensive means. This had been launched in earnest at a conference in Vienna on 9-25 August 1982. A series of UN Resolutions in August 1981 (36th UN General Assembly), 1982 (38th General Assembly), and the 12 December 1984 (39th General Assembly) all condemned and attempted to prevent the militarisation of space. These resolutions were entirely in response to the initiatives of the Carter and Reagan administrations. The hostile intentions of the Americans were also evidenced by the 1982 NATO First Strike Policy, which went back to McNamara.

On 10 March 1985 Gorbachev came to power and on 12 March he asked for Geneva talks on nuclear and space forces. Nevertheless in May 1985 the US had formed the Strategic Defence Initiative Organisation (SDIO) to develop a multi-echelon ABM system. In September 1985 the US intercepted the SolWind satellite at an altitude of 450 km using an F-15-launched ASAT with an infrared seeker. The USSR conducted ASAT research as well, but had never engaged in a massive 'star wars' program on the scale of the American effort. In the Soviet view the concept of SDI was flawed - the necessary technology was an illusion. But the threat was real, and it was determined that even deployment of a flawed American system would upset the strategic balance.

America rushed the second generation ASAT into development. On 19-21 November 1985 Gorbachev and Reagan conducted summit talks in Geneva. The diplomatic efforts were having the desired effect - in December 1985 the US Congress stopped further ASAT tests as long as the Soviet Union did the same.

In parallel with diplomacy planning went ahead on deployment of a Soviet counterpart to SDI. At the end of 1984 it had been clear that the Soviet Union could not delay deploying space combat systems. The Ministry of Defence was to put together a plan by mid-1985 for integration into the 12th Five Year Plan (1986-1990). Revised military planning for 1986-1995 was undertaken. NPO Energia was given the leading role in preparing the plan, together with research institutes led by 50 TsNII-KS.

The Ministry of Defence determined to proceed with a response to America's SDI at a meeting on 8 November 1985. The financial plan was ready on 7 December 1985. The concept was for a Multiple-Element ABM system costing 30.7 billion roubles in 1986-1990. A government commission headed by Academy of Sciences Vice President Ye P Velikhov reviewed the plan on 11 December 1985. It was then presented to the VPK Military-Industrial Commission in January 1986. The plan included:

  • Systems research
  • Basic scientific research
  • Experiments aboard the Salyut 7 and Mir space stations
  • Tests of experimental ground systems and build of prototype space systems
Tests of systems would be conducted in two phases: from 1986 to 1990, from 1991 to 1995, and then deployment completion by 2000. Key review points were incorporated into each phase. The VPK approved the plan as presented. TTZ specification documents for the new systems were to be issued by the first quarter of 1987.

The project was finalised in a decree of 7 February 1986 Under this decree GUKOS was reorganised as the Chief Directorate for Space Forces (UNKS). The decree put UNKS in control of all space units, and placed it on an equal footing with the other branches of the armed forces. On 25 February 1986 the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was held. In considering the 12th Five Year Plan, there was much denunciation of American actions. The peace-loving Soviet Union had fought constantly against the arms race, and what was the American answer? Star Wars!

Development of the planned conventional third generation space systems was delayed after 1985 by priority being given to Soviet SDI systems. Therefore flight trials of third generation satellites, planned for the 1986-1989 period were delayed to 1990 or beyond. The 12th Five Year Plan (1986-1990) doubled spending on space and priority was given to combat systems. The state budget for scientific research and experimental design went from 9% of the total in 1985 to 9% in 1989. Buran and Zenit flight test schedules were accelerated while work on light and heavy class launchers came to a stop.

The explosions of the shuttle Challenger on 28 January 1986, a Titan 34D booster on 18 April 1986, and a Delta rocket on 3 May 1986 brought the US space program to a halt. The shuttle was delayed by 2 years and 8 months, and its use for commercial launches was abandoned in favour of existing expendable vehicles. NASA continued to promote commercial use of space, which featured prominently in its 25 year space plan published in January 1988.

UNKS had barely been formed when a 'negative' political atmosphere developed in the Soviet Union. Chernobyl exploded on 26 April 1986, followed by the declaration of the new policy of Perestroika in January 1987.

The Gorbachev-Reagan meeting at Geneva in October 1986 was promising, but at Reykjavik on 12 October 1986 Reagan reused to scrap SDI. In response the Soviets decided to halt their ASAT and ABM test moratorium, develop new nuclear weapons, space-based combat systems, regenerative lasers, and nuclear laser pumping devices.

Within the 12th Five Year Plan the Ministry of General Machine-Building (MOM) took the initiative in forcing the start of trials of Buran and completion of new concepts for third generation military space systems. A crash program had been initiated to test in space a range of laser and rocket interceptor prototypes on the massive Polyus test bed, to be launched on the first test of the Energia launch vehicle. An exposition for the Soviet leadership of impressive models and drawings of existing systems and proposed third generation systems was prepared at Baikonur in 1986. Gorbachev finally visited the cosmodrome on 11-13 May 1987. He reviewed the exposition, then proceeded to observe satellites in preparation at the Proton MIK-KA on the left flank of the cosmodrome. He also viewed the launch preparations for the Buran, Energia, and Polyus Skif-DM systems. The exposition did not have the desired effect and Polyus failed to achieve orbit in the first launch of the Energia booster just two days later.

As platforms for operational weapons NPO Energia designed a USB Universal Service Block, based on the Salyut DOS-7K space station. The USB was equipped with common service systems and rocket engines. In comparison to the DOS the USB had much larger propellant tanks to allow substantial orbital manoeuvring. The USB would be equipped with either a laser payload or a weapons bay consisting of ten miniature rocket homing vehicles. The Proton launch vehicle would be used to launch a 20 tonne version of the USB for experimental flight tests. Operational 30 tonne vehicles would be delivered to orbit by the Buran space shuttle. Buran would also bring crews for on-orbit servicing of the USB. For this purpose the USB had a life support capability of two crew for seven days.

The mass of the military payload depended on the amount of propellant loaded. The laser payload was heavy, with a resulting lower fuel fraction, and was limited to use against low earth orbit targets. The USB with the rocket homing vehicles had more propellant and could be used for attack of geostationary orbit targets.

A competing design by Chelomei used his TKS as a starting point. The Spektr - Original design was to be armed with Oktava interceptor rockets built by NPO Kometa. It had Lira sensors to identify and Buton sensors to track ballistic missile re-entry vehicles. Pion-K sensors would discriminate decoys from true weapons. A prototype of the Spektr would be docked with the Mir space station for systems tests.

To co-ordinate the actions of the multiple space combat units, NPO Energia proposed a KS space station. This would consist of a core built of targeting and base modules based on the USB, a command module based on the TKS, and a Zarya ballistic shuttle for crew rotation. Docked to the core would be military free-flying autonomous modules which would dispense nuclear warheads in re-entry vehicles of both ballistic and gliding types. The structure and various systems of these wingless autonomous modules would be based on the Buran space shuttle. Prototypes would be built from the various developmental Buran airframes. On command the military modules would separate from station and manoeuvre extensively before positioning themselves for attack of enemy targets on the ground or in space. On special command from the national authorities the enemy targets would be engaged with nuclear weapons.

For interception of enemy ICBM's during boost phase NPO Energia developed a space based rocket interceptor (RP) similar to American 'Brilliant Pebble' systems. This had a mass of only 10 kg and was powered by small but high energy rocket engines that gave the vehicle the same characteristic velocity as boosters that put payloads into orbit. The miniature vehicles used advanced technology and new scientific solutions. Non-traditional non-cryogenic propellants powered the engines. High strength materials were used for the propellant tanks.

In April 1987 Secretary of State Shultz went to Moscow to discuss reductions in offensive strategic forces. On 8 December 1987 the US and USSR signed a treaty to eliminate short and medium range nuclear forces.

UNKS was internally reorganised, with the three main KIK Control and Tracking Centres (Yevpatoriya, Yeniseisk, Ula-Ude) designated Central Command Control and Tracking Centres. Five separate trials centres were established (4 at Baikonur and 1 at Plesetsk). Under project 'Rokot' primary and reserve Command Points were established at Golitsino-2 and Znamenka in Tambovsk Oblast. By the end of 1988 the reorganisation was completed.

New political reforms were introduced on 1 July 1988 at the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. These included decisions on a peace platform, withdrawal from Afghanistan, and rapprochement with the USA. The American reply came within weeks. In October 1988 a revised three-phase SDI program was announced. Phase 1 would involve kinetic kill vehicles ('Brilliant Pebbles'), geosynchronous tracking satellites, and suborbital systems to observe ICBM trajectories. It was to be completed by the year 2000 at a cost of $100 billion. Phase 2 involved space-based platforms with hundreds of kinetic interceptor weapons. Exotic lasers and beam weapons had been relegated to a murky Phase 3.

From 1984 to 1989 $ 25.15 billion was spent on the American SDI, with military space expenditures exceeding those of NASA by 100% in 1988. Funding was reduced after 1988 as the technical difficulty and cost of actually fielding a system was realised. In 1988 only $3.9 billion in funds were received versus $ 5.7 billion requested.

Although in May 1989 work began on 'Phase Zero' of SDI, the US was finding its SDI to be neither technically or economically practical. Even with intercept ranges of 3000 to 5000 km thousands of interceptors would be required. The more modest Brilliant Pebbles system did not come close to meeting the original stated requirements. Soviet studies reached the same conclusion - space was suited for command and control of military forces, but not as an arena for combat.

To support launch of anticipated Soviet anti-ballistic missile forces the MOM Ministry of Medium Machine-Building pushed development of the super-heavy Buran, Buran-T, and Vulkan boosters without proper cause. Needed light and middle class boosters were delayed. The Soviet SDI program, which would have been the only source for payloads for these large boosters, was not financially feasible. This emphasis on these large systems also delayed work on third generation launch systems, which had begun in the 11th Five Year Plan (1981-1985).

1989 was the peak year for Soviet space, with 20% of the state scientific research budget devoted to space technology. In that year the civilian space program of the USA was $29.6 billion versus 6.9 billion roubles in the USSR. The American military space effort was costing $22.8 billion versus 3.9 billion roubles in the USSR, almost 6 times as much. Space economic and scientific programmes were budgeted at $ 3 billion in the US versus 1.7 billion in the USSR. Reusable space systems cost $ 3.8 billion in the US versus 1.3 billion roubles in the USSR.

Partly due to the cost of trying to match the American Star Wars program, the Soviet Union disintegrated. Ironically, underground nuclear tests of the x-ray laser in Nevada showed that the concept would not work. Other parts of the colossal Strategic Defence Initiative ran into similar technical and cost barriers.

In 1992, as directed by the new Russian state's military and political leadership, all work on SDI projects was discontinued. The Spektr module was converted into a civilian platform. Its completion and docking with Mir was partially funded by the United States. The Buran shuttle, Mir-2 station, the space combat units - all were cancelled.

The Soviet balance sheet showed that conventional space systems had provided real benefits. Space amounted to 1.5% of the Soviet state budget. It was estimated that use of military satellites increased the effectiveness of military forces by 50% to 100%. In the 30 years since Sputnik the Soviet Union had spent 5.9 billion roubles on civilian space projects, with an estimated economic benefit of 12.6 billion roubles. The Moskva and Ekran television systems reached 93% of the USSR, with an economic benefit of 540 million roubles in 1988. Meteor-2 weather satellites were estimated to have an economic benefit of 500 to 700 million roubles per year. In 1989 it was anticipated that by the year 2000 commercial manufacture of medical and other materials in orbit would reach 20 billion roubles. The Tsikada system provided navigation to 4,500 ships while the Nadezhda COSPAS-SARSAT system had assisted in the saving of over 2,000 lives.

In developing Buran, 100 new materials, 24 new technical processes, 130 novel types of equipment, and 60 novel material types were developed with civilian applications. While the shuttle continued in use in America, in the Soviet Union it was considered part of the answer to SDI, and more a system for the 21st Century.

The US and USSR had achieved a balance of forces in the late 1970's and early 1980's, but then US military circled insisted on development of SDI. But in the Soviet analysis the USSR could have easily prevailed over any ABM system by using from 50% to 100% more missiles than the US.

Third Generation Launch Systems

The aborted third generation systems would finally have replaced the remaining ICBM-derived boosters (Kosmos, Tsiklon, Soyuz, Proton). They would use Lox-Kerosene or Lox-LH2 non-toxic, environmentally 'friendly' propellants to power a modular family of launch vehicles with payload capabilities of from 5 to 100 tonnes to orbit. Three common engines would be used in the all of the stages of all of these designs. It was intended that the lower stages would be evolved into recoverable and reusable versions after initial development. These launch vehicles were:

  • Kvant; Four RD-120 engines (from second stage of Zenit) modified for sea level use, Block DM upper stage as designed for Zenit-3. Payload 5 tonnes to low earth orbit
  • Zenit-2: One Energia strap-on as the lower stage. RD-120 powered upper stage, 10-12 tonnes to low earth orbit
  • Energia-M: Two Energia strap-ons plus reduced Energia core with one RD-0120 engine: 20-30 tonnes to low earth orbit
  • Groza: Two Energia strap-ons plus full Energia core with four RD-0120 engines: 40-50 tonnes to low earth orbit
  • Energia: Four Energia strap-ons plus full Energia core with four RD-0120 engines: 80-100 tonnes to low earth orbit

Manned systems: Buran had the same characteristics as the US Shuttle, and the same disadvantages - low economy, and mainly designed by construction bureaux for scientific and technical development and human space travel. Therefore design work continued on smaller spaceplanes as a replacement for the Soyuz manned ferry. Numerous trade studies of Russian Spaceplanes in the early 1980's (Bizan, System 49, System 49-M, OK-M, OK-M1, OK-M2) would finally result in the optimised MAKS design. This was approved for full development in 1988.

Super heavy lift systems: To support launch of anticipated Soviet anti-ballistic missile forces the MOM in the late 1980's pushed development of the super-heavy Buran, Buran-T, and Vulkan boosters. These would have come on-line in the mid-1990's.

Single stage to orbit: In response to US technology initiatives, work on a Soviet counterpart to the American X-30 National Aerospaceplane was started in 1988. Following evaluation of various competing proposals (VKS, Yakovlev MVKS) the Tu-2000 scramjet vehicle was selected for development.

Third Generation Conventional Systems

Continuous Observation Operational Space System

The long term objective of the Soviet Union was to match the capabilities of the American KH-11 digital imaging satellite. The characteristics of this satellite were well known since spy William Kampiles provided the operating manual to the Russians in 1978. Soviet attempts to develop such a system were thwarted by an inadequate technical base. The first attempt was the TGR television satellite of the 1960's. This was succeeded by the Yantar-6KS, cancelled in May 1977 when the draft project indicated that the weight had grown beyond the payload capabilities of the Soyuz booster. A less-capable spacecraft based on the Yantar-4K bus was designed. The first phase spacecraft, the Yantar-4KS1, would begin flight trials in 1979, with the more capable Yantar-4KS2, launched by Zenit, to begin flight trials in 1983.

Development was slow because of the state of Soviet digital electronics technology. Yantar-4KS1 flight trials did not begin until the end of 1982. It proved impossible for the Yantar-4KS2 to match the performance of the KH-11. Therefore a 'clean sheet of paper' approach was taken.

Ustinov consolidated all optical reconnaissance work at TsSKB in 1981-1983, cutting across six ministries (the Ministries of Defence, Medium Machine Building (nuclear weapons), General Machine Building (rocketry), Electronics Industry, Radio Industry, Industry of Communications Means).

Studies were begun in 1980 and in June 1983 a decree was issued for a constellation of new-design third generation electro-optical military reconnaissance satellites. In July 1983 Kozlov was made Chief and General Constructor of the enlarged TsSKB Central Special Design Bureau. Under his leadership a multi-element reconnaissance satellite system was to be developed in 1981-1990 and deployed by 2000. These would be orbited in two groups of ten satellites at varying altitudes. This swarm would provide almost complete coverage of the earth's surface at a range of photographic resolutions.

Competitive designs of the imaging satellite were undertaken by NPO Lavochkin and Kozlov's TsSKB using common universal optic systems. Flight trials were to begin by 1986-1987. The Continuous Observation Operational Space System included a SLAR-equipped radar satellite by NPO Vega, with flight trials set for 1992. The launch vehicle for the third generation satellites was to be the Proton since Zenit did not have the necessary lift and Energia development was delayed. The data would be transmitted to the ground by GKKRS relay satellites.

Work on a new optics system had already begun in 1977 at Lavochkin. Development of the optics was a very difficult task headed by A N Veikozhon at the Leningrad Optical Mechanism Enterprise.

By the beginning of 1989 it became clear that this schedule could not be held. TsSKB had a lot of work on Buran and its associated scientific payloads. The mid-1980's put huge demands on the spacecraft design bureaux. They were attempting to test and put into production third generation systems while at the same time responding to government 'star wars' crash programs. The common telescope for the new generation satellites had weight problems, delaying the start of flight trials.

A January 1989 government resolution set 1991 as the date for the start of flight trials. But this was followed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the attendant financial crisis. Trials were again delayed to 1996-1997. TsSKB finally dropped out of the competition and turned to continued production of the proven Yantar-4KS1 system.

A single example of the new Lavochkin satellite, the Arkon-1, was finally launched in 1997 into an unusually high orbit for a photo-reconnaissance satellite. This evidently was to take full advantage of the single satellite available, even at the sacrifice of ground resolution.

As a back-up improvements were made throughout the 1980's to the Yantar-4K, providing both high resolution and survey variants. The first flight trials of this new series of 4K's was to begin in 1989, but the satellites were not ready. Finally the work was abandoned.

Naval targeting satellites of the third generation had flight trials scheduled for 1990 in the 1984 plan. This was seriously delayed.

SGKRN System of Global Space Radio Observation

The Tselina-3 third generation ELINT was developed in parallel with Tselina-2. Work began in the 1970's, with research on a variety of new systems. Experimental instruments were flight-tested aboard Tselina-D missions. Two flight tests in 1986-1987 proved the effectiveness of the technical solutions. In 1985 the technical project for an operation system was begun. High orbit tests in 1988 showed the system would have to be deployed in two systems: a constellation of satellites in orbits of 800 to 2000 km altitude; and a Space System for Radio Relay and Combat, consisting of 1 to 2 satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The third generation satellites were designed by NPO Palma of Minradiopribor, with KB Yuzhnoye providing the satellite bus. The geosynchronous satellites, developed from the Luch relay satellites, were by NPO PM MOM. Flight trials of specialised relay payloads for use with the ELINT satellites of the VMF and DOS were tested during two launches in 1989.

YeSSS-3 Communications System

The third generation satellites of the YeSSS-3 communications system were developed by NPO PM. The two phase project would develop an improved version of the Raduga satellite, followed by a completely new design high elliptical orbit satellite to replace Molniya. These satellites would provide real-time operational and technical communications for the command units of the VVS Air Force and Soviet Navy, aboard aircraft, surface ships, and cruisers. The satellites would be equipped with millimetre band multibeam antennae and a greater capability for signal processing aboard the spacecraft. Capacity and survivability would be increased by doubling the number of spacecraft in each constellation.

Work on the third generation high elliptical orbit satellite was completed and the system was accepted into the military in 1987 as the Molniya-1T as part of the RVSN command and control system. The Modernised Ekran-M and Stuk-2 satellites completed flight trials at the same period.

For civilian communications modernised geosynchronous satellites were developed. The Ekspress was to replace Gorizont, and the Gals direct-broadcast satellite was introduced.

The Strela-3 had replaced both earlier models of the series for store-dump communications from the mid-1980's. Commercial versions Gonets-D1 and Gonets were launched but were not successful in attracting investors.

YeKNS Unified Space Navigation System

The modern GLONASS-Uragan system had entered operation during the late 1980's. A total of 22 spacecraft were placed in the constellation by the end of 1987, and 31 by the end of 1989.

Planeta Meteorological System

The system consisted of Meteor-3 sun synchronous satellites complemented by the geostationary Elektro satellites. Work began with a December 1972 resolution of the VPK Military Industrial Commission calling for development of a third generation Meteor satellite to start the following year. The draft project for the Planeta-S was completed in 1979, followed by the detailed design in May 1980. However it was not until 1981 that a resolution called for the Planeta-S unified meteorological system, and development of the system was only fully funded in June 1983. This system was developed at VNIIEM MEP by N N Sheremtyevskiy and Yu V Trifonov. The draft project was completed in 1984 by VNIIEM Filial Istriisk under V I Adasko. Tests of some new equipment aboard Meteor-2 flights began at the end of 1984. Flight test of the complete spacecraft from Plesetsk did not start until 1990. Elektro development also ran into enormous obstacles in the period 1983-1987, with a mock-up not begin completed until 1989. Only by then were drawings for a flight article completed.

Support Systems

Development of a Taifun-3 third generation radar calibration - ASAT target spacecraft, derived from the Taifun-2, went well. The target was also used to exercise the A-135 ABM complex of the PVO and provided a system of wide-spectrum signal impulses. KB Yuzhnoye launched the first spacecraft of the type from Plesetsk in 1988. The satellite was launched by the Tsyklon 3 launch vehicle and released 36 Romb subsatellites.

Manned Programme

The Mir-2 space station was to have utilised the capabilities of the Buran orbiter and Zarya and Progress M2 resupply spacecraft. After the decision for the crash 'star wars' programme the primary mission of the station became that of a weapons test platform. This involved competitive proposals from Chelomei Mir-2 KB Salyut and Energia (Mir-2). It would undergo many changes over the years, with only one thing remaining constant: the starting point was always the DOS-8 base block space station core module, built as a back-up to Mir's DOS-7. Eventually Mir-2 would be merged with the International Space Station, and DOS-8 was finally launched as the ISS Zvezda Module of the ISS International Space Station. The planned Mir-Buran docking module entered service on joint American-Russian missions as the Mir-Shuttle Docking Module. A variant of the TKS was purchased by the Americans and, as the ISS Zarya, became the first part of the ISS orbited.

Scientifc Satellites

  • Launch of AUOS bus scientific satellites continued. On 28 September 1989, AUOS-Z-IE Aktivniy studied the magnetosphere and electron plasma. On 18 December 1985 AUOS-Z-IE Ionozond studied electron concentrations and the ionosphere.

  • The Granat orbital X-ray - gamma-ray observatory was developed jointly by the USSR with France, Denmark and Bulgaria.

  • Planetary launches dropped off significantly with only two failed Fobos 1F missions in the last years of the Soviet Union.

  • Resurs-F satellites continued in use and comprehensively mapped Chukotka, Novaya Zemlya, the Kuriles, middle Asia, the Pamirs, and Tian-Shan. The Cosmos 2000 mission surveyed the Antarctic. The annual economic benefit in 1989 of such missions was estimated to be 30 million roubles.

  • Okean-O satellites continued to monitor the world ocean, including the polar regions. Data received by ships aided them in conducting operations. The satellites returned data on weather states, biological tracking, and temperature anomalies. They were equipped with a side-scanning radar and the SVCh scanning radiometer. The satellites also mapped the Arctic and Antarctic, and obtain data on lakes and rivers (including the Okhotsk and Amur).

  • Foton continued in use for material processing experiments that took advantage of the zero-gravity high-vacuum environment of space.

  • In 1986 TsKBM proceeded with study of the earth's surface using the Almaz-T satellite. But it was not used for military purposes since the Ministry of Defence was satisfied with the performance of its new electro-optical satellites. Finally the Academy of Sciences agreed to take it over and use it on a science mission. Cosmos 1870 was successful and functioned for two years. A commercial version with 15 m resolution was launched in March 1991.

  • In March 1988 the Soviet Union conducted its first commercial launch. An Indian earth resources satellite was placed in orbit for a fee of $ 7.5 million. This was the first of many -- commercial launch services would become a primary money-maker for the Russian Federation in the 1990's.

More... - Chronology...

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