The Aelita infrared astronomical telescope spacecraft was derived from the Soyuz manned spacecraft and had an unusually long gestation. The basic design was first conceived in 1965 as part of a 'Cloud Space Station' - a primary space station from which a number of man-tended, free-flying spacecraft would operated. This evolved by the early 1970's into the MKBS/MOK space station complex. Various spacecraft with specialised laboratories or instrument sets would fly autonomously away from the huge N1-launched main station. Aelita was originally to be a free-flyer of this complex. The Soyuz propulsion system was used, but the descent and orbital modules were replaced by a large pressurised cylinder containing the scientific instruments.
Work on the instrument payload began in 1972. However that same year the N1 launch vehicle, and the MKBS space station, were cancelled.
The Soviet space program was completely reformulated in a resolution of February 1976, which included authorisation to develop the free flyer in conjunction with the DOS-7/DOS-8 space station (which would eventually evolve into Mir). The draft project for Aelita was completed in 1978, and production was authorised together with Mir on 16 February 1979. At this point Aelita may still have included a passive docking port so that the spacecraft could be serviced by Soyuz manned spacecraft. It was planned that at six and twelve months into its one year mission Gamma would be visited by a two-crew Soyuz, who would replace film cassettes and repair or replace instruments. The spacecraft was cancelled in 1982. It's sister spacecraft, the Gamma, continued due to French involvement in the project, and finally flew in 1990.
Total Mass: 7,350 kg.
The Soviet space program was completely reformulated in a resolution of February 1976, which included authorisation to develop the free flyer in conjunction with the DOS-7/DOS-8 space station (which would eventually evolve into Mir).
Production of the Mir space station and Aelita free-flyer was authorised together.