DOS Salyut Kosmos 577
PROGRAM DETAILS OF MAN-RELATED FLIGHTS
By Marcia S. Smith*
THE SPACE STATION ERA
4. Kosmos 557
On May 11, 1973 , shortly after the failure of Salyut 2, the Russians launched "Kosmos 557 into a 226 x 218 km orbit inclined at 51.6° and with a period of 89.1 minutes. Speculation abounded as to its purpose, since virtually no information was reported in the Soviet press. Its telemetry resembled Salyut 1, typical of the manned programs, rather than Salyut 2, typical of the unmanned military reconnaissance program. (It was not until a year later that the discovery was made that these military frequencies could be used for a manned station dedicated to military uses.)
Western experts thought there was a good chance that this was another Salyut, possibly of a different design, that failed so early in its mission that it was listed as a Kosmos. Tracking ships deployed for the expected manned flights to Salyut 2 were reported heading back for their home ports "before Cosmos 557 decayed" (9) during the week of May 21. Whether they realized early on that no manned missions would be sent up, or whether there was no intention of sending men to it is unclear. However, no unmanned tests of Salyut stations had been conducted previously, if for no other reason than cost, so if one assumes Kosmos 557 was a Salyut, one can conclude that manned flights to it were planned, but that the station failed.
Other theories did prevail about the nature of Kosmos 557, though Thomas O'Toole of the Washington Post reported it as an unmanned Soyuz sent to investigate and photograph the damaged Salyut 2, stating that its orbit was "almost identical to the Salyut orbit." (10) Aviation Week and Space Technology while agreeing that it was an unmanned Soyuz, said that the two craft were too far apart for it to be an inspection mission, that there was "no way of Cosmos 557 approaching Salyut 2 without major orbital change. (11) (The difference in interpretations can probably be explained by noting that the NORAD data cited by both sources did give similar orbital elements for the two craft, but they were in different planes.)
With the passage of time and the experience with 1974 Salyut flights, it is now reasonably safe to conclude Salyut 2 and Kosmos 557 were parts of parallel but different space station programs, one military and one civilian.
1. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS, 1971-75, OVERVIEW, FACILITIES AND HARDWARE MANNED AND UNMANNED FLIGHT PROGRAMS, BIOASTRONAUTICS CIVIL AND MILITARY APPLICATIONS PROJECTIONS OF FUTURE PLANS, STAFF REPORT , THE COMMITTEE ON AERONAUTICAL AND SPACE .SCIENCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, BY THE SCIENCE POLICY RESEARCH DIVISION CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, VOLUME – I, AUGUST 30, 1976, GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON : 1976.
9. Cosmos 557 decay, Aviation Week and Space Technology, May 28, 1973 ; 25.
10. O'Toole, Thomas. Craft Sent to Inspect Crippled Salyut. Washington Post May 15, 1973-A16 .
11. Soviets Try to Salvage Salyut Mission with Unmanned Vehicle. Aviation Week and Space Technology, May 21. 1973: 16.
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