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Russia and Space Science 1971-1987

Plans for the International Geophysical Year

After the exciting but perhaps premature plans for manned Moon rockets and Earth orbital stations, revealed in Colliers and elsewhere in the early 1950's. U.S. thinking on space retreated to some fairly modest proposals for launching small unmanned satellites for scientific purposes. Agreement was won in 1955 that the Federal Government would support the IGY by funding a non-military launch vehicle to put up a few pounds of instrumentation. Although the Redstone military rocket built by the von Braun Redstone Arsenal team and carrying experiments of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Iowa was a possibility, President Eisenhower was advised and agreed to support a new effort by civilian scientists of the Naval Research Laboratory and an industry team to build Vanguard. The President announced the IGY satellite program on July 29, 1955 . A day later, the Soviet Union announced that it, too, planned to launch scientific satellites during the IGY period, although the specifics were not then made available.

With the advantage of hindsight, it is possible to see that by 1957, the Russians were telling the world that its satellites might be somewhat larger than the 9 kilogram planned payload of Vanguard, and as early as June 1957, that the radio frequencies to be used by their

craft would not be those which were recommended for IGY purposes, but in a high frequency range readily receivable by radio amateurs.


1. Sputnik 1

Rumors of an impending launch, perhaps in time to celebrate Tsiolkovskiy's birthday on September 17, 1957 , began to circulate in Moscow . Although this did not happen, the rumors grew more positive in the first week of October. Even so, the Sputnik shock of October 4 has become a classic case. Not only laymen, but many technical people were caught by surprise with the Soviet announcement of the first satellite. Launched from an unspecified point, it circled the Earth every 96 minutes at an inclination of 65 degrees to the Equator, which meant it passed overhead of most of the inhabited world. It broadcast on two harmonic frequencies close to 20 and 40 megahertz. Battery powered, variations of its cricket-like beeping signal both revealed characteristics of the ionosphere and told of its own temperature changes. Its variations in orbit and eventual decay revealed something of atmospheric density. But its announced weight of 83.6 kilograms, an order of magnitude greater than the planned American satellite, suggested to a number of scientists that a decimal place had been in error. There were still others who could not accept the notion the Soviet Union could be first in a field of advanced technology and they invented elaborate schemes for explaining Soviet trickery to simulate a satellite which they felt did not exist in fact. It also became popular to believe there were constant Soviet attempts to launch which generally failed, and that whatever had been put up was necessarily crude and only for propaganda purposes, and in any case was built by Germans or stolen from the United States. The assessments were wide of the mark.

2. Sputnik 2

While the first Soviet satellite was a bad shock, its simple structure, limited battery power, and lack of instrumentation, other than its beacons, could be contrasted with the more elaborate, miniaturized instrumentation promised for Vanguard. However, on November 3, 1957 , the second Soviet payload placed in orbit was announced as weighing 508.3 kilograms, and it carried a respectable range of geophysical instrumentation. Also, it contained a life support system and returned biomedical data for a week from the dog, Layka. This supplied basic data for planned manned flights. The life support system showed it could function remotely. Data were returned on the effects of weightlessness and G load during launch, on radiation, and on temperature changes. Sensors measured some kinds of radiation and micrometeorite impacts. Also, the Russians revealed what was evident to visual observers: The payload remained attached to a much larger spent rocket casing, so that the total weight was probably on the order of 6.5 metric tons.

3. Sputnik 3

In the months which followed, the United States faced the frustrations of launch delays and launch failures, including the explosion of a Vanguard test vehicle on December 17, 1957 , with the world press to witness the ball of fire at the launch pad. However, the revived Red- stone Project Orbiter, which might have been launched even before Sputnik 1, met with success on January 31, 1958 (local time) to put up 14.5 kilograms of payload and rocket casing for Explorer 1. Also, Vanguard was later (March 17, 1958) successful in putting up a 1.4-kilogram test vehicle and a 23-kilogram rocket casing.

On May 15, 1958 , the Soviet Union put up Sputnik 3, and it was by far the most formidable challenge to the U.S. program. It was a 1,327-kilogram orbiting geophysical observatory of considerable sophistication. Unlike the two battery-powered previous flights, this vehicle was equipped with solar cell panels, elaborate louvers for heat control, and an array of instrumentation which matched all the experiments planned for the U.S. IGY series of flights and also those planned for the immediate post-IGY period. Although this ship carried heavy, off-the-shelf conventional electronic equipment such as vacuum tubes, it also contained thousands of solid state devices. It was in effect the early equivalent of the American OGO flights of 1964 on, although with a lower data rate of return. It is to Soviet credit that the ship continued to operate electronically until the moments of its reentry and burning in the atmosphere two years after launch.

All three Soviet Sputniks placed their instruments in sealed containers which were maintained at normal Earth surface pressures and contained gas constituents of normal atmosphere. Although only Sputnik 2 had its carrier rocket final stage left attached to the payload, all three were put up by the same original ICBM system. The whole core vehicle was in orbit, with its weight of about 6 metric tons, measuring 28 meters long, slowly tumbling end over end, almost the size of a railway Pullman sleeper. It was this big rocket which was most easily identified on its passage across the night sky by observers in every continent.


Previous editions of this report have been self-contained, with each new version repeating all the historical information from past editions. For this report, however, only new material is presented in detail. This historical overview covering the years 1957-1983 therefore is provided to create a context for what appears in the following chapters. For more details on historical Soviet space sci­ ence, space applications, and military space programs, consult Soviet Space Programs 1976-1980 (with supplementary data through 1983), written for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transporta­ tion Committee and published by the Government Printing Office in 1985. 1

space science

The Soviet Union has engaged in a modest program of space sci­ ence activities throughout the history of its space program. These activities have included scientific satellites in Earth orbit for study­ ing the atmosphere and Sun/Earth interactions, orbiting spacecraft for astronomical observations, lunar probes, and planetary missions to Venus and Mars.



The Soviets use both free-flying spacecraft and space station crews to conduct space science activities. Historical information on the use of space stations for space science is contained in Part 1 of this report. 2

Free-flying spacecraft for space science activities have been launched since 1957. The world's first satellite, Sputnik 1, is usual­ ly categorized as a space science satellite since observations of its beeping noise provided data on atmospheric density.

Many Soviet space science probes during the first two decades of the space program were given the generic designation "Cosmos" and little is known about them or the results achieved. There have been other scientific satellites as parts of series which the Soviets have openly discussed. Almost all of them have been for studies of solar-terrestrial interactions in the upper atmosphere and Magne tosphere, and include the Proton and Elektron satellites in the mid-1960s, three Soviet/French satellites called Aureole (or Arcad) launched between 1971 and 1981, and the on-going Interkosmos and Prognoz series. Through the end of 1983, there had been 22 In­ terkosmos and 9 Prognoz satellites. The ninth Prognoz, and one satellite called Astron that apparently is not part of a series, have been for astronomical observations. Two of the Interkosmos satel­lites were for oceanographic studies.

Interkosmos Satellites

In 1967, the Soviet Union opened its space program to interna­tional cooperation through the creation of the Interkosmos Council in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. There are 10 members of Inter­ kosmos, 3 and they participate in the development of scientific spacecraft and analysis of resulting data. Satellites developed coop­ eratively by the members of Interkosmos are often given the Inter­ kosmos designation.

Twenty-two Interkosmos satellites were launched from 1969 to 1983. They are single-purpose spacecraft somewhat similar to the U.S. Explorer program. With only two exceptions, they were de­ signed to study solar-terrestrial interactions in the Earth's upper atmosphere and magnetosphere. Beginning in 1976 with the launch of Interkosmos 15 in 1976, a new spacecraft design was used which provided greater volume and weight for scientific instruments.

Some of the more interesting missions were Interkosmos 18, launched in 1978, which involved the use of a sub-satellite devel­ oped by Czechoslovakia called Magion. Magion was separated from the main spacecraft after it attained orbit, and followed a trajecto­ ry close to the mother craft, providing a second set of data that al­lowed scientists to separate temporal factors from spatial factors in their analysis. Interkosmos 20 and 21, launched in 1979 and 1981 respectively, were a departure from previous missions because they focused on oceanographic studies. Interkosmos 20 also was used to relay data from ocean buoys and platforms to the ground control center. The 1981 launch of Interkosmos 22 returned the program to studies of solar-terrestrial physics. This satellite was also called Bulgaria-1300 to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the founding of Bulgaria and involved a number of Bulgarian experiments.


Between 1972 and 1983, nine Prognoz satellites were orbited. The first eight Prognoz satellites, like most of the Interkosmos satel­ lites, were related to solar-terrestrial research, including measure­ments of the interplanetary medium. The satellites were all placed in highly elliptical orbits, and weighed approximately 1 metric ton. Many carried experiments from other countries (notably France, Sweden and the Interkosmos countries). Among the uses of the Prognoz data have been studies of how cosmic rays penetrate spaceship cabins and forecasting favorable times for launching spacecraft.

Prognoz 9 was used for radio astronomy studies of the universe and was launched in 1983 into an orbit with an apogee of 720,000 km, well past the orbit of the Moon. In an experiment called "Relikt," the spacecraft searched for radiation surviving from the time the universe formed and the Soviets reported in 1984 that data from the Relikt experiment did not contradict contemporary theories of cosmology, but did differ substantially from a model map that had been compiled based on other data. Specifically, the Soviets reported that their data showed the intensity of radiation in the central part of the new map, on both sides of the vertical axis of symmetry, to be 10 times higher than anticipated. 4


In 1983, the Soviets launched the Astron satellite for x-ray and ultraviolet astronomy studies. It was launched the same year as Prognoz 9, which gave the Soviets two astronomical satellites si­ multaneously, though they studied the universe in different wave­ lengths. Astron was still operating in 1988 even though it had only a one year design life, and articles describing the satellite appeared regularly in the Soviet press throughout its five years of operation. It is in a highly elliptical orbit with an apogee of 200,000 km.

Astron was used to study over 400 galaxies, stars, nebulae, pul­ sars, quasars and other objects of astronomical interest. According to a 1985 report, ultraviolet data from Astron had led to "radical changes" in previous ideas about the structure of the outer layers of stars. 5 Because of the satellite's long lifetime, astronomers were able to make repeated observations of the same objects to deter­mine how they change over time. 6

Among the objects of special interest were observations of Comet Halley in late 1985 and early 1986, which supplemented data from the VEGA probes (see chapter 2). As Astron began its fourth year of operation in March 1987, the supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud was discovered. Supernovas emit strong x-ray radiation, and Astron was the only x-ray satellite in orbit at the time. It was re-programmed and reoriented to make observations. 7

The satellite was still operating in March 1988, 8 but the Soviets had indicated that they expected it to end its useful lifetime soon. No further reports were found through the end of the year.


Between 1984 and 1987, the Soviet Union launched two more probes to Venus, VEGA 1 and 2, which then went on to encounter Comet Halley. Two more earth-orbiting spacecraft were launched for solar-terrestrial studies of the magnetosphere and ionosphere, Prognoz 10-Interkosmos and Cosmos 1809. No probes were launched to Mars, although two Phobos spacecraft, to study Mars' moon by that name, were launched in the summer of 1988 and will be included here for completeness even though the launches oc­ curred beyond the time frame of this report.

The VEGA probes not only provided a wealth of information about Comet Halley and Venus, but also gave the Soviets their first major public relations coup in solar system exploration activities. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the total Soviet space sci­ ence program, however, was the movement toward more interna­ tional participation in these projects, and the increasingly open dis­ cussion of Soviet proposals for the future.

This chapter reviews Soviet space science activities other than those conducted as part of, or in support of, the Soviet piloted space program, since they have already been covered in Part 1 of this study. 1 Thus, missions carrying animals (the biosatellite missions) and experiments conducted on Soviet space stations are not includ­ ed.

analyses of soviet space science program

In January 1986, a group of American scientists convened under the auspices of the Foreign Applied Sciences Assessment Center (FASAC), published an analysis of Soviet space science activities. 2 The group made several observations about the scientific quality of Soviet space science efforts and the availability of information about these activities in the West. While some of these observa­ tions might have changed in the intervening three years, they nev­ertheless provide a valuable assessment of Soviet space science through the end of 1985.

In solar-terrestrial research, the group noted that the Soviets successively build upon previous programs, starting with rather simple instrumentation for cosmic ray research which was upgrad­ ed and augmented considerably over the years by sophisticated plasma instrumentation to provide data on the space plasma envi­ ronment. The FASAC group concluded that the driving force for most of the Soviet solar-terrestrial research is obtaining data rela­tive to human habitation in space. As far as results are concerned, the scientists stated that "the United States has been the leader and principal contributor to advances in solar-terrestrial physics and, with a few important exceptions, has dominated the field." They stated that the Soviet program was "impressive in terms of numbers, not so impressive in terms of scientific yield," and that "research areas seem to be pursued well after the cream of the sci­ entific yield has been skimmed." They listed as the most impres­sive areas of the Soviet program: solar event forecasting and solar particle research; active experiments in magnetospheric and iono­spheric physics; and ionospheric radio physics.

In the field of planetary exploration, the group concluded that Soviet planetary exploration had arrived at a point where research excellence in the exploration of Venus and research thrusts in the area of comets led those of the United States. They called the Venus exploration program "outstanding" and lauded the Soviets for providing key data for understanding the evolution of the planet and instrumentation that performed "exceptionally well" in the planet's harsh environment.

The Soviets have contributed relatively little in experimental space astronomy and astrophysics, according to the FASAC report, with the possible exception of gamma ray bursts. This is despite Soviet eminence in theoretical work in these areas.

Overall, the FASAC report noted that the Soviet space science program apparently is consciously pursued as a scientific enterprise, an activity which proceeds in a systematic fashion, building upon cur­rent understanding of a phenomenon or a process to probe more deeply with the next mission into the fundamental underlying . . . processes.

They contrasted this approach with that of the United States and Europe where specific individual missions are the "essence" of the program. They said the reasons for the Soviet approach were un­clear, but could be the result of the intrinsic nature of the Soviet science system "where considerable built-in inertia exists." They added, however, that "if the inertia factor has any role to play in the systematics of Soviet space research ... it has operated largely to the benefit of Soviet space science" allowing "more systematic planning of both space and ground-based experimentation in order to achieve scientific objectives."

The FASAC report noted the problems encountered in the West when trying to gain access to results of Soviet space science pro­ grams, especially the fact that it takes much longer for Soviet re­sults to be published, so that Soviet works are not often cited in Western literature. They also observed that Soviet scientists often report orally on results of science missions at international confer­ences, but many of the projects and results discussed never seem to appear in published Soviet literature. They added that many re­ sults ultimately appear in Western journals in articles co-authored by Western scientists.

In the spring of 1988, Dr. Roald Sagdeyev, who headed the Soviet Institute for Space Research (IKI) from 1973 until November 1988, issued a scathing attack on Soviet science in general. Although it was not specifically aimed at space science, as part of the overall Soviet science effort, it can be assumed that his comments included space science activities, too. Sagdeyev's comments were originally published in the April 28 edition of Izvestiya, and then were adapt­ed for the summer 1988 edition of Issues in Science and Technolo­ gy, a journal published by the U.S. National Academy of Science. Among the observations, Sagdeyev said:

Soviet science can be justly proud of its contribution to the discovery of the laser, and Soviet technology exhibited its prowess with the launching of Sputnik and with subse­ quent space achievements. But such flashes of brilliance are rare. The shortcomings of Soviet science are apparent from the subatomic world of physics to the boundless world of astronomy. Of the dozen fundamental elementary particles discovered by our generation Soviet physics con­ tributed none. Of the hundreds of other subatomic parti­ cles and resonances considered derivatives of the main particles, we can claim to have contributed to the discov­ ery of perhaps one or two percent. As astronomy has opened new windows on our understanding of the origin and development of the universe, Soviet scientists have added little of value. In the biological sciences, the endur­ ing influence of Trofim Lysenko's stubborn rejection of mainstream science severely damaged Soviet life science, and the consequences are felt even now.

For too long, Soviet science has hidden its inadequacies behind official panegyrics to its success. In academic and political forums alike, exaggerated claims have been made for the achievements of Soviet science. Science has its own criteria for success, however, and Soviet achievements have not measured up to them. 3

He went to extol the virtues of international cooperation in sci­ ence, and as can be seen by projects like VEGA and Phobos, he has made a personal commitment to increasing cooperation in the space science area.



A. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1981-87, SPACE SCIENCE, SPACE APPLICATIONS, MILITARY SPACE PROGRAMS, ADMINISTRATION, RESOURCE BURDEN, AND MASTER LOG OF SPACEFLIGHTS, Part 2, April 1989, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 1989, Committee print 1981-87- part-2

1 The previous editions of this report are: Soviet Space Programs 1976-1980 (with supplementary data through 1983) Parts 1-3; Soviet Space Programs 1971-1975 (2 volumes); Soviet Space, Programs 1966-1970; Soviet Space Programs 1962-1965; and Soviet Space Programs 1962. All were written for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, or its predeces­sor (in terms of jurisdiction over space matters), the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sci­ences, and published by the Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.

2 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Soviet Space Programs 1981-1987. Part 1. Committee Print. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1988.

3 In addition to the Soviet Union, the members are: Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Ger­ many, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam. Other countries cooperate with the Soviets on some space projects, often through the Interkosmos Council, but they are not mem­bers of Interkosmos.

A . SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1981-87, SPACE SCIENCE, SPACE APPLICATIONS, MILITARY SPACE PROGRAMS, ADMINISTRATION, RESOURCE BURDEN, AND MASTER LOG OF SPACEFLIGHTS, Part 2, April 1989, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C. 1989, Committee print 1981-87- part-2

1. U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Soviet Space
Programs 1981-1987: Part 1. Prepared by the Congressional Research Service. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 1988.

2. Lanzerotti, L. J. et al. Soviet Space Science Research. Foreign Applied Sciences Assessment Center. McLean, VA., Science Applications International Corp., Jan. 31, 1986. FASAC-TAR- 3060. Hereinafter "The FASAC report."

3. Sagdeyev, Koald Z. Science and Perestroika: A Long Way to Go. Issues in Science and Tech­ nology, Summer 1988. p. 48-49. This article was based on an article he wrote in Izvestiya on Apr. 28, 1988.

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