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ASAT Launch Complex
ASAT Launch Complex - ASAT Launch Complex at Baikonuar - US Department of Defense drawing

37,293 bytes. 299 x 271 pixels.



Program: ASAT. Objective: Military. Type: ASAT.

The USA began the space weapons race with their first anti-satellite (ASAT) projects at the end of the 1950’s. These limited-budget efforts were intended not to create just an anti-satellite system, but eventually to defend the entire North American continent from attack from space. Such efforts culminated in the Strategic Defence Initiative of the 1980’s. On 19 June 1959 the first trial of the Bold Orion rocket, air-launched from a B-58, attempted to destroy the satellite Explorer 4, but missed it by six kilometres. Subsequent launches were not noticeably more effective. The equivalent Navy projects Caleb, Hi-Hoe were not any more effective, and further work on an air-launched ASAT was abandoned until the 1980’s.

The Soviet Union began work on its anti-satellite system at the beginning of the 1960’s. By then it had become clear that not only rockets from space presented a threat to the nation’s security. On-orbit intelligence, communications, navigation, and meteorological satellites of the enemy would have to be destroyed at the beginning of military operations.

A wide range of alternative projects were considered before a single approach was selected. The fundamental task was for the system to enter an orbit intercepting or coinciding with the enemy spacecraft, and then to destroy it. To meet this objective the following proposals were made:

The chosen approach, the single-launch kamikaze, offered the earliest possible deployment date while being the cheapest to develop. As proposed by Vladimir Chelomei’s OKB-52, this was designated the IS (IS, ‘Istrebitel Sputnikov’, fighter satellite). The orbital parameters of the target satellite would already be known before launch, and the interceptor would be pre-programmed with those parameters. After being placed into an initial parking orbit by the launch vehicle, the interceptor’s engine would make a number of manoeuvres to intercept with the target, and at the appropriate moment, blow itself up together with the target. The interception was intended to take place on the first to third orbit, although it would be possible to make repeated attempts in case the target was missed.

The Istrebitel Sputnikov was approximately spherical in form and had a total mass of 1,400 kg. It consisted of two sections: the main section, which contained the guidance and targeting, computational and optical homing systems, and the 300 kg explosive charge; and the engine section. The body of the interceptor was designed so that after the explosion it would fragment into 12 groups of shrapnel. The specified radius of guaranteed target destruction was 1 km. However in a head-on intercept, only 400 m radius was guaranteed, while in a chase intercept, a 2 km radius of destruction could be achieved. The engine was capable of numerous quick starts and restarts, with a total operating time of 300 seconds.

During the course of its operational life the spacecraft was considerably modernised, and beginning in 1976 what can be considered the ‘second generation’ of ASAT’s was launched.


ASAT I2PASAT I2P

Credit: Videokosmos. 15,467 bytes. 352 x 267 pixels.


Development work on the Istrebitel Sputnik began in 1961 in the construction bureau of V N Chelomei. It was intended that Chelomei would provide not only the satellite but the UR-200 launch vehicle as well. However development of the UR-200 was slower than expected, and it was decided to launch test versions of the satellite on S P Korolev’s R-7 rocket. These launches received the official designation ‘Polyot’ (‘Flight’). The first was launched on 1 November 1963. Two test trials of the Polyot were successfully completed, and it was planned that a longer series of tests would be carried out. However in October 1964 Khrushchev was ousted from power, and Chelomei lost his main patron in the hierarchy. Further work on the Istrebitel Sputnikov was to be transferred to Korolev’s OKB, the UR-200 rocket was cancelled, and M K Yangel’s R-36 ICBM was selected as the launch vehicle to replace it. These machinations resulted in a four year delay before tests of the system were resumed, and a five year delay in the operational date. The I2P that was finally flown in the first test series in 1968-1972 (variously attributed to the Lavochkin, Chelomei and Yangel OKB’s) was substantially different from the original Chelomei design. Two different targets were used in the tests. At first an R-36-launched I2M target was used (evidently a derivative of the ASAT itself). This was replaced in 1971 by the lighter, cheaper DS-P1-M target designed by Yangel and launched by the smaller Kosmos 11K65M launch vehicle. In 1972 the USSR and USA signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. In connection with this the trials of the Istrebitel Sputnik were discontinued, although the system was adopted as armament of the Red Army. See the chronology below for a flight-by-flight account of the test series.

By 1976 modifications of the design resulted in the substantially improved IS-A. This model was put through a new series of trial flights, which continued through 1978. A new target, the IS-P was used for these tests. These qualified the new on-board systems, including new homing systems, on new target intercept trajectories. In 1981-1982 there were some additional test flights to test the functioning of the systems after long-term storage (these initially had very disappointing results). There were no further tests after 1982 and eventually the system was retired as technically obsolete. There are some reports that an improved version, the IS-MU, was put into operation without flight tests. It is also reliably reported that operationally the R-36-launched ASAT was replaced by another, still classified system, probably air-launched (in the 1990’s satellite launch vehicles air-launched from MiG-31 fighters and Tu-160 bombers have been offered commercially; these are probably based on secret ASAT air-launched missiles).

One problem in testing the system was that it inevitably created a large amount of space debris after exploding, which presented a hazard to space operations. Tests of variations in the explosive charge and the frangibility of the spaceframe resulted in from 27 to 139 fragments being left in orbit. Once the optimum fragmentation pattern was determined, later tests did not ignite the charge in order to prevent the creation of additional space debris. It is interesting to compare the test results as now known with the results as guessed by Western observers. It is clear that some deliberate deception was going on - after successful tests the ASAT would sometimes be destroyed by its self-destruct system or deorbited, and such tests were counted as failures by Western observers.

Actual Istrebitel Sputnik Test Results vs Earlier Western Assessment
LaunchActual ResultEarlier Western Assessment
DateNameS/FSummaryS/FSummary
11-1-63Polyot 1--ASAT interceptor control and propulsion test. Launched by Korolev R-7 because Chelomei's own UR-200 was not yet available. Flight was considered a great success. Micro-engine fired 350 times and main stabilizing engine fired 300 times. --ASAT interceptor control and propulsion test.
4-12-64Polyot 2--ASAT interceptor control and propulsion test.--ASAT interceptor control and propulsion test.
10-27-67Cosmos 185--First test of Istrebitel Sputnik. Only tested engine; no target launched. First launch of Tsyklon 2 launch vehicle.--Possible technical test of ASAT interceptor, without accompanying target.
4-24-68Cosmos 217--Unsuccessful launch of ASAT target. Satellite did not separate from last rocket stage. Planned launch of interceptor cancelled.--Not noted as ASAT-associated launch.
10-19-68Cosmos 248--ASAT target. Intercepted repeatedly by Cosmos 249 on 20 October; destroyed by Cosmos 252 on 1 November.--ASAT target.
10-20-68Cosmos 249SASAT interceptor. Intercepted Cosmos 248 target on second orbit. Repeatedly approached Cosmos 248, verifying primary and reserve homing and guidance systems. Destroyed itself in test of on-board destruct system.FASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
11-1-68Cosmos 252SASAT interceptor. Intercepted and destroyed Cosmos 248 target satellite within one day of launch. Left 139 fragments in orbit, the largest of any ASAT test.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
8-6-69Cosmos 291--ASAT target. Did not enter intended target orbit due to failure of on-board engine. Launch of ASAT interceptor planned for the next day was cancelled.--Not noted as ASAT-associated launch.
10-20-70Cosmos 373--ASAT target. Manoeuvred twice to provide target for Cosmos 374 and 375 interceptors.--ASAT target.
10-22-70Cosmos 374SASAT interceptor. Intercepted Cosmos 374 on second orbit. Blown up on instructions from ground.FASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
10-30-70Cosmos 375SASAT interceptor. Intercept on second orbit. Blown up on instructions from ground. Dual launch of interceptors was intended to help ground staff perfect computational methods for quick-response launches.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
2-9-71Cosmos 394--ASAT target. First test using Yangel-designed lighter, cheaper target launched by Kosmos 11K65M booster from Plesetsk.--ASAT target.
2-25-71Cosmos 397SASAT interceptor. Intercept and destruction of target successful on second orbit.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
3-19-71Cosmos 400--ASAT target for Cosmos 404 interceptor.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
4-4-71Cosmos 404SASAT interceptor. Conducted an extended test flight to shake out homing system and engine function. Tested new redundant ranging systems. Tested effectiveness of new approach trajectory to target, (target was approached from above rather than below).SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
11-30-71Cosmos 459--ASAT target for Cosmos 462 interceptor.--ASAT target.
12-3-71Cosmos 462SASAT interceptor. Successfully intercepted and destroyed Cosmos 459 target. This completed state trials test series and in 1972 the Istrebitel Sputnik was adopted as armament for the Soviet Army. Produced the lowest number of fragments (27) of any test.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
9-29-72Cosmos 521--ASAT target launched to test modifications to ASAT interceptor. Interceptor launch cancelled due to technical failure in target telemetry system. Signature of SALT treaty in May 1972 resulted in military being ordered to discontinue further ASAT tests.--Not noted as ASAT-associated launch.
2-12-76Cosmos 803--ASAT target. Beginning of test of second generation ASAT interceptor. Objective was to complete test series by 1978 ABM treaty date.--ASAT target.
2-16-76Cosmos 804SASAT interceptor. After intercept with target deorbited using on-board engine.FASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
4-13-76Cosmos 814SASAT interceptor. After intercept with target deorbited using on-board engine.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
7-9-76Cosmos 839--ASAT target for Cosmos 843 interceptor.--Not noted as ASAT-associated launch.
7-21-76Cosmos 843SASAT interceptor. Intercepted Cosmos 839. Deorbited after test.FASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
11-26-76Cosmos 868--Not associated with ASAT project.--ASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
12-9-76Cosmos 880--ASAT target for Cosmos 886 interceptor.--ASAT target.
12-28-76Cosmos 886SASAT interceptor. Intercepted and destroyed Cosmos 880 target.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
5-19-77Cosmos 909--ASAT target.--ASAT target.
5-23-77Cosmos 910FASAT interceptor. Failed to intercept Cosmos 909. Deorbited using on-board engine.FASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept failed.
6-17-77Cosmos 918FASAT interceptor. Failed to intercept Cosmos 909. Deorbited using on-board engine.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
10-21-77Cosmos 959--ASAT target for Cosmos 961.--ASAT target.
10-26-77Cosmos 961SASAT interceptor. Succeeded in intercept of Cosmos 959. Deorbited using on-board engine.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
12-13-77Cosmos 967--ASAT target for Cosmos 970.--ASAT target.
12-21-77Cosmos 970SASAT interceptor. Intercepted Cosmos 970 target. Ordered to self-destruct following interception.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
5-19-78Cosmos 1009SASAT interceptor. Succeeded in intercept of Cosmos 970. Deorbited using on-board engine.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
4-3-80Cosmos 1171--ASAT target for Cosmos 1174 interceptor. First in a series of tests to validate functioning of system after extended storage.--ASAT target.
4-18-80Cosmos 1174FASAT interceptor. First test of ASAT after extended storage. Missed Cosmos 1171 target by a large distance; over the two following days two more attempts were made with the backup engine, but all failed. On 20 April the satellite was self-destructed.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
1-21-81Cosmos 1241--ASAT target for Cosmos 1243 and Cosmos 1258.--ASAT target.
2-2-81Cosmos 1243FASAT interceptor. Approached within 50 m of target, but explosive charge did not go off as planned. Deorbited to destructive re-entry in the atmosphere.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
3-14-81Cosmos 1258FASAT interceptor. Failed to intercept Cosmos 1241 target. Deorbited to destructive re-entry in the atmosphere.SASAT interceptor. Radar guidance; intercept succeeded.
6-6-82Cosmos 1375--ASAT target.--ASAT target.
6-18-82Cosmos 1379SASAT interceptor. Succeeded in intercept of Cosmos 1375 target. Deorbited using on-board engine. Final test of series.FASAT interceptor. Optical guidance; intercept failed.
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Last update 12 March 2001.
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