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History of the Soviet Space Program
The true history of Soviet spaceflight is predominantly the story of Soviet military space. Manned or scientific space missions could often only be justified as part of larger military projects. Less than 20% of Soviet launches were for 'national prestige' purposes (civilian manned flights, scientific and planetary).
Military space projects were developed in co-ordination with Soviet five year plans. The planing process resulted in a cycle where development of new space systems was authorised in one five year plan, followed by operational use in the next five year plan. This resulted in Soviet space systems falling into three generations before the fall of the Soviet Union. Prior to these three generations a few projects were begun on the initiative of the rocket and spacecraft Chief Designers, before the military fully accepted or understood the usefulness of space systems.
The following articles provide additional historical information not included in this outline:
- Soviet Space History at a Glance - Chronological chart, with links, of Soviet/Russian spacecraft that reached flight status.
- Soviet Space History - Era of the Chief Designers (1950 to 1960) - The first concrete studies for spacecraft and launch vehicles were initiated in 1956. Three projects were authorised for development: the ISZ first earth satellite (launched as Sputnik-3); the Zenit photo-reconnaissance satellite; and the Vostok first manned spacecraft. After the propaganda success of the first Sputnik in 1957, Korolev was authorised to develop the rockets and satellites necessary for the first probes of the Moon, Mars, and Venus. At the end of this period other design bureaux emerged as competitors to Korolev in the production of space launchers and spacecraft (Yangel, Chelomei). Their collective ambitious plans - for manned expeditions to the moon and Mars, for space battle stations and combat spacecraft in earth orbit, for a huge array of launch vehicles and satellites - were authorised on a study basis in 1960. At the beginning of the 1960's an unwieldy total of thirty space systems were in development. But the military soon asserted control to the situation and only a fraction of these projects reached the hardware stage.
- Soviet Space History - Generation 1 - (1960 to 1975) - 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 new design bureaux for production.
- Soviet Space History - Generation 2 - (1970 to 1985) A Defence Ministry directive of 6 November 1968 laid out the actions to be taken in the late 1960's and early 1970's for unit programming for military utilisation (Plans Mars, Osnova, Orion). The objective was to integrate space forces into overall military planning, taking into account the most cost-effective use of resources. Methodical operations planning was completed in 1970 with Plans Prognoz and Sirius Phase I. Development of the first nine systems of the second generation was completed in 1974-1975 and flight trials were conducted in the second half of the 1970's. The second group of second generation systems were developed in the second half of the 1970's and deployed in the first half of the 1980's. From 1971-1976 14 new space systems entered military service, and 16 were in operation.
- Soviet Space History - Generation 3 - (1975 to 1990) In April 1972 work began to draft a five year plan for satellites to be used in the 1985-1990 period. These included Plans Sirius Phase 2, Dal', Gamma, Zamysel, Fon, etc. The final result was two plans: "Program for Military Space Units for 1976 to 1985" and "Basis or Direction of Development of Space Units through 1990". These documents defined the Soviet Union's third generation space systems. These plans, after evaluation by the Ministry of Defence, were approved by the Central Committee and Soviet Ministers on 27 February 1976. There was considerable controversy as the 'Young Turks' took on the conservatives. The controversy mirrored the 'star wars' arguments of the following decade in the United States - conventional space objectives versus exotic technologies and possibilities.
- Post-Soviet Space - After 1991 - the break-up of the Soviet Union resulted in the launch site for the largest launch vehicles and the main planned launch vehicle producer being outside of Russia. The sudden collapse of the launch rate meant that sufficient launch vehicles and spacecraft had been built to continue operations at a much-reduced level. By the year 2000 work had begun on the new Angara launch vehicle that would allow operations from Russian territory and using only Russian suppliers..
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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .