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Russian and Soviet Space Agencies

For nearly 30 years the USSR was the most prolific builder and launcher of artificial satellites in the world, accounting for 68% of the 3,400 international space missions conducted from 1957 to its dissolution at the end of 1991. The sheer magnitude of this effort led to a highly structured, albeit Byzantine, system of space program development, resource allocation during the Soviet era and funding today, and implementation. Early plans to transform the Soviet space infrastructure into a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) family of space programs failed to mature, and the Russian Federation, via the Russian Space Agency (RKA) and the Russian Military Space Forces (VKS), which were both founded in 1992, inherited the responsibility for maintaining a diverse constellation of approximately 170 operational spacecraft and the industry behind it. A CIS Interstate Space Council still exists and sets budget allocations and priorities but in practice it is subservient to the Russian space program. Today the Russian, Federal Space Agency controls much of the space effort along with the Russian Space Forces.

A government mandate ordered the Russian Space Agency to incorporate the aviation industry within its framework in 1999. It was renamed the Rosaviakosmos. During the administrative reforms of 2004 responsibility for the aviation industry was transferred to the Federal Agency on Industry (Rosprom). The newly-named Federal Space Agency Roscosmos) was dedicated solely to space activities and operations. Anatoly Perminov was appointed head of the agency.


By Charles S. Sheldon II[1917-1981], was Chief of the Science Policy Research Division of the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service


1. Early Interest

Other sources have traced the evolution over the centuries of man's interest in the universe beyond his Earth and his gradual recognition of the nature of the problems to be overcome in entering this 1arger environment and how this might be accomplished within the bounds of human science and engineering. (1)

A quasi-scientific description of solutions was provided by such writers of a century ago as Jules Verne in France (2) and Edward Everett Hale in the United States, (3) using the medium of fiction. In the first quarter of the present century, three outstanding scholars analyzed and experimented with rockets and space techniques to merit the labels of fathers of modern space programs. These were Robert H. Goddard in the United States , Hermann Oberth of Germany and central Europe , and Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy of Russia .

Of these three, Tsiolkovskiy was probably the first to receive widespread and official recognition for this genius, and chronologically, his work predates that of the other two men, although language and cultural barriers meant the writer of Tsiolkovskiy had little Impact outside what is now the Soviet Union . Today he continues to be a national hero in his home country. The Tsiolkovskiy medal is awarded for outstanding contributions to space progress, and the home town of Kaluga where Tsiolkovskiy lived and worked has a space museum.

By the 1930’s, private societies in a number of countries, especially in the U. S. S. R. (GIRD-Gruppa Isutchemya Reaktivnovo Dvisheniya) Germany (VfR-verein fur Raumschiffahrt), Britain (BIS- British Interplanetary Society), and the United States

*Dr. Sheldon is chief of the Science Policy Research Division, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

(ARS—American Rocket Society) were experimenting with rockets, and writing papers on space travel. The most aggressive support and conversion of rocket work to meet practical applications came m Germany where the Army appointed Captain Dr. (and later Major General) Walter Dornberger to head this effort. From the VfR, he drew interested technical support, and his young chief engineer was Dr. Wernher von Braun (4) It was this team which eventually produced the V-2 rocket of World War II, the vehicle which also became the first significant tool for exoatmospheric research in the United States , the Soviet Union , France , and the United Kingdom . Modifications of the V-2 especially were important to early Soviet military missilery, while several U. S. rocket systems clearly show the same ancestry.

Dr. Dornberger, Dr. von Braun, and several hundred of the top rocket engineers of the German program came voluntarily to the advancing U.S. forces in Europe , or were acquired at the end of the war under Operation Paper Clip. Soviet forces, meanwhile, overran the principal test station on the Baltic at Peenemiinde, and later, underground factories in Silesia . They picked up more hardware and test equipment, and some technicians, but fewer of the top group of engineers. The Western allies also acquired in territories they overran, near the English Channel , complete and partially assembled V-2's which they stockpiled for experimental use. Apparently the Soviet Union in the postwar years resumed serial production of the V-2.

It should be emphasized that the Soviet Union had a strong rocket program of its own well before any technology was picked up from Germany No nation made more effective use of tactical rockets in combat during World War II than the U.S.S.R. Also, there is an extensive technical literature throughout the 1930's largely coming from the Gas Dynamics Laboratory in Leningrad in support of understanding rocketry.

The United States had its own rocket efforts in the Army and Navy, and later the Air Force, with such outstanding centers of effort as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake , California . The German Paper Clip scientists were first at Fort Bliss , Texas , and later at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville , Alabama . Other work was pursued in private industry under Government contract.

The full details of the corresponding Soviet effort are obscured by their penchant for secrecy, but the broad outlines have been revealed in summary histories. One can sense the barest beginnings of an international competition in the early years after World War II. From

the debriefings of Dr. Wernher von Braun, the United States was presented with fresh ideas on how rockets could be made to fly across the Atlantic Ocean carrying weapons, although Dr. Vannevar Bush was able to point out a number of reasons why the concept was impractical at that time. (5) The Germans also described permanent manned space stations in Earth orbit serving a variety of scientific and military purposes. These plans were brought to public attention in understandable form by such means as illustrated articles in Colliers

magazine in the early 1950's. By this same time, the world community of engineers interested in space had organized the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and at its meeting came the first reports that the Soviet Union was designing orbital spacecraft, and even was planning a very large ship to carry men to the Moon. In the United States by the end of the 1940's, rival projects at the study level were underway to explore construction of satellites for military purposes in all three of the armed services. These plans did not proceed beyond the study phase, and indeed, conservative elements of Government and the military greatly restricted discussion of spaceflight lest the Congress react negatively to such "foolishness". Although the Soviet Union was relatively quiet in any public statements, it seems to have accepted at a high level of Government at a much earlier stage that space could be a practical endeavor worth supporting.

Organization of the Soviet Effort for Space

Another portion of this report will treat organizational matters in greater detail. It suffices here to note how, well after the fact, it has come to Western attention that the Soviet Union in about 1953 created a permanent Commission on Interplanetary Travel, its nearest early equivalent to the United States NASA of 1958. Although the details are lacking, it seems almost certain that within a year of that organization, the broad outlines of the Soviet space program which were pursued for at least the next five to eight years were mapped out.

(CPV-That is the 5th and 6th five year plans 1951-1955 & 1956-1960 fiscal planning with special orders issued for the SS-6 ICBM, Sputnik starting in the middle of the previous five year plan [1953]. That again culminated in the middle of the next five year plan with the SS-6 ICBM introduction and Sputnik-1, Sputnik-2 and Sputnik-3’s launches and subsequent Luna’s launches.”)

("According to James T. Westwood, senior consultant at Military Science and Defense Analytics, Unionville VA, in 1978, while employed as a senior special research analyst for one of the three-letter national intelligence agencies, he discovered and soon crystallized into application a novel, original technique for interpreting and predicting all of the military and space programs of the now former Soviet Union with consistent accuracy and reliability. There came from this, numerous applications and non-surprises, e.g., that the ballistic missile programs, with their space rockets off-shoots (to coin a phrase), were arguably the most reliable and revealing among the hundreds of armor, aircraft, ship, artillery, etc. military hardware and operations programs- In a recent interview with this author, Westwood says that “ CIA failed again in a systemic and incredible manner ever to be able to reliably predict the strategic behavior of the former Soviet Union in terms of "reverse analysis," to wit, reading the tea leaves from the native, bureaucratic Soviet perspective --planning and projecting on the same basis and by same method as did the former USSR. This was, he said, the "great plan," the GOSPLAN the national planning scheme of the former Soviet model. ” - CPV )

A clear decision was made to apply military technology to the development of space.

References and Sources

Federal Space Agency (Russian)


1. Von Braun, Wernher and Ordway, Frederick I. III, History of Rocketry and Space Travel. New York ; Crowell, 1966: Ley, Willy, Rockets Missiles, and Space Travel. New York : Viking Press. 1958: Emme, Eugene M., History of Space Flight, New York : Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965.

2. Verne, Jules, From the Earth to the Moon, 1865: Round the Moon, 1870.

3. Hale, Edward Everett, The Brick Moon, Atlantic Monthly, November 1869 – February 1870.

4. Dornberger Walter, V-2. New York : Viking Press, 1954.

5. Emme Eugene M., Op. Cit, p. 108: Dr. Bush testified before Congress In about 1947 : "[An intercontinental ballistic missile] is impossible and will be impossible for many years to come. I think we can leave that out of our thinking. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking."

*Dr. Sheldon is chief of the Science Policy Research Division, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

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