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First Generation Space Systems

The Soviet military realised that having the Chief Designers define space systems was a 'bottom up' approach that did not address the country's real needs. They were faced with an immense American build-up of ballistic missiles which they could not hope to match if resources were squandered on grandiose space projects. Therefore measures were taken to obtain control of the situation.

A July 1960 declaration defined the military systems to be developed in 1966 to 1970. Military research programs of 1962 to 1964 code-named Shchit (space systems), Osnova (space equipment), and Ediniy KIK (ground systems) defined the first generation of Soviet operational space systems, deployed in 1966-1975. First generation systems were often developed by Korolev, then spun off to other design bureaux for production. At the beginning of the 1960's an unwieldy total of thirty space systems were in development.

In the early 1960's Russian strategic nuclear forces on land, sea, and air were already in place. The military wished to integrate military space forces with these in a systematic manner as soon as possible. These requirements resulted in definition of an SKV - Space Military System. The SKV would exploit the global range of orbital systems; determine the precise location of mobile and fixed targets for strike by strategic forces, precisely hit such targets, and quickly and securely transmit targeting information.

A hallmark of the early 1960's was militarisation of space under the shadow of Kennedy's policy of massive retaliation. Both the US and USSR deployed unmanned and developed manned systems to identify, track, and destroy the enemy's satellites. ABM systems could also be used to hit satellites in orbits up to 200 km. This process of militarisation of space was only averted, in the Soviet view, by actions taken by Nixon in the 1970's (the SALT-I treaty, the ABM treaty, and secret understandings to stop development of anti-satellite systems).

TKS Manned FerryTKS Manned Ferry - TKS manned space station ferry.

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The period 1966-1970 featured the first practical use of space systems of the first generation. In 1971-1976 trials of all first generation systems were completed and the phase of implementation and full utilisation of these systems began. Of the 30 systems authorised for draft project stage, only 14 systems entered service. Those eliminated included almost all of the elaborate manned military and space exploration designs of Korolev and Chelomei. By the end of the 1970's space systems were in place that were integrated into the country's military doctrine and plans, fully supported Soviet strategic communications, and provided command and control of continental and oceanic military forces.

First generation satellites were very unreliable. One problem was unrealistic specifications, another a lack of proven space-worthy components. The first solution was redundant systems, and these were tried on an experimental basis in Meteor, Strela, and Tsiklon satellites. Flight demonstrations proved use of better construction methods would allow guaranteed satellite lifetimes of two to three years. Meanwhile the operational situation reached a crisis point. The USA had faced the same problem, and developed a strong reliable component basis for spacecraft. This had increased individual American satellite lifetimes to 3 to 5 years and system operational lives to 5 to 7 years (through use of on-orbit reserve spacecraft). But in the Soviet Union, due to the urgency to deploy, there was no time to develop such a technical basis for first generation systems. Only in the 1970's were reliability problems solved through use of qualified standard components, standard means of documentation, and quality assurance.


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While the reliability of first generation systems was poor, they still met the needs of the Rocket Forces and General Staff. Quick reaction (10 to 12 day) launch times were achieved, and the new systems allowed precise targeting of long range rockets and naval forces. The Korund space communications system provided reliable command and control of the strategic forces.

Military space operations began in 1961 with the 'Provisional Rocket-Engineering Auxiliary' VNIRS-61. This initially developed military operational plans for launch sites and command and control activities, including regularly schedule maintenance operations. This first phase, which prepared the military to execute space operations and conduct trials of systems, was completed by 1965. The first military space operations plans were prepared for the Zenit system in 1964 to 1965, and subsequently used by the General Staff in the operation of these systems.


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The following lists the missions identified in Shchit/Osnova and the subsequent history of first-generation systems used to fulfil these missions.

Target Identification and Location

Support Systems

Monitoring/ Characterisation of Near-Earth Space: Two Energia spacecraft, adapted from the Zenit reconnaissance satellite, were launched in the late 1960's to study high-energy cosmic rays. These were followed by the Lavochkin Prognoz series, launched in 1972 to 1976, for study of geomagnetic fields, radiation, and solar physics. They continued the work of the Elektron-A and Elektron-B spacecraft of 1964.


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Biological studies on the effects of radiation: Bion was developed for this purpose, based on the Zenit reconnaissance satellite. Launches began in 1973 with primary emphasis on the problems of radiation effects on human beings. Bions were launched from 1973 to 1996. Small related experiments were carried in Nauka modules on Zenit-2M reconnaissance spacecraft. Another Zenit adaptation, Efir, also carried scientific instruments.

Systems tests and scientific experiments: From 1968 Nauka attached containers or free-flying sub-satellites were used on Zenit reconnaissance satellites to develop methods to study radiation belts; establish radiation standards; establish the characteristics of the earth-space interface; and develop new instruments. 23 autonomous sub-satellites conducted methodical research into geophysics, meteorology, and cosmic rays. The DS series of light satellites developed by Yangel also provided platforms for a wide range of technology equipment tests and space environment monitoring. They flew under the 'Cosmos' satellite program ('Cosmos' name was also used as the cover name for any military satellite or launch failure). This program was managed by the Third Directorate of the GURVO Rocket Forces, consisting of four sections of 36 officers and 5 civilians.

Lunokhod 1 / Ye-8-LSLunokhod 1 / Ye-8-LS

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National Prestige Programs

Although they represented only 20% of launches, national prestige projects (manned and planetary missions) represented 50% of the effort of the military, which was responsible for the launch facilities and operations. This was due to their scale and use of non-standard launch vehicles and spacecraft.

Booster developments:

R-7 derivatives: The original R-7A 8K74 ICBM had been adapted on a crash basis in the late 1950's with addition of third and fourth stages. The design was productionised and standardised by Kozlov in the mid-1960's, using common elements between the configurations, resulting in the two stage Polyot 11A59, the single-engine third stage Vostok 8A92, the four-engine third stage Soyuz 11A511, and the four stage Molniya 8K78.

Light launch vehicle: To provide a more economical launcher than the R-7 , Yangel developed the Kosmos 63S1, using the R-12 IRBM as the first stage, with a 300 kg payload. It had a relatively poor record of 40 launches with 12 failures. It was replaced by the Kosmos 11K63, with a 450 kg payload. From 1966 to 1977, it had a record of 123 launches with 8 failures.

Light medium launch vehicle: In 1961 Isayev and Reshetnev developed the two stage Kosmos-1 / Kosmos 65S3 / 'Voskhod' launch system on the basis of the Yangel R-14 IRBM. Test launches were conducted from 1965 from the R-16 ICBM Launch Complex 41 at Baikonur. The serial production version was the Kosmos-3 / Kosmos 11K65, built at the Krasnoryarsk Machine Factory. After further development at NPO Polyot, work on the modified Kosmos-3M / Kosmos 11K65M began in 1967. This added a restartable second stage with an orientation system. Flight trials from the Voskhod complex at Plesetsk began in 1967 and it was accepted into military service in December 1971. This booster was launched form two Cusovaya launch complexes from Plesetsk after 1987.

Medium Launch Vehicle: Chelomei flight tested his UR-200 booster for launch of IS and US satellites, but this was cancelled in 1965. In its place Yangel began development of a launch vehicle derived from his R-36 ICBM with an upper stage. This could put a 3 tonne payload into low earth orbit and was designated Tsyklon-2. Launches began in Baikonur in 1969, and in February 1973 the Tsyklon-2 was accepted into service. Heavy Launch Vehicle: Chelomei had developed the Proton 8K82 as a super-ICBM from 1962. The three stage Proton 8K82K and four stage Proton 8K82K / 11S824 versions were developed from 1964 for the manned circumlunar flight program and for launch of heavy probes to Mars and Venus. The booster was not used by the military until 1978. Development was difficult due to the high degree of automation and numerous factory mistakes. Test launches of the boosters were used to orbit the heavy N-4 and N-6 physics satellites.

Continued in Soviet Space History - Generation 2.

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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .