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Soviet Future Plans

By Marcia S. Smith,Formerly with the, Science Policy Research Division of the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service


Soviet Manned Space Programs: 1957-80


The following section examines what the Soviets revealed about their plans for the future during the period 1976-80. There have been significant developments since 1980 both in the area of permanent, modular space stations, and in Soviet development of a reusable space vehicle. These recent achievements are discussed in the 1981-83 supplement which appears as chapter 2 of this volume.


With the advent of Salyut 6 and its two docking ports, the Soviets had created the opportunity to permanently occupy orbiting space stations. For whatever reasons, they have never exercised this option, even though they have publicly stated that this is a goal of their manned program. Part of the reason could be the small size of Salyut, which leads to the discussion of larger Soviet space stations.


Even before Salyut 6 was orbited, Soviet space officials were talking confidently of larger space stations. Some of the discussion was focussed on docking two Salyuts together,207 but most of the talk has been of a core with multiple docking ports. In September 1978, Cosmonaut Konstantin Feoktistov explained that it would be "expedient" to have an orbiting Salyut laboratory with a "minimum of seven or eight docking units." 208 Modules for carrying out "specialized research—technological, astronomical and geophysical—could dock with the station," he added.

This theme has been echoed ever since. In December 1980, for example, Valdimir Shatalov, head of cosmonaut training, repeated the fact that space designers were working on orbital stations of the future with Salyut as a base to which modules would be linked for performing various scientific functions such as meteorology, geology, and astronomy.209

207. See, for example, summary of "Outlines of the Future in Space" by V. P. Denisov, V. I. Alimov, AAA. Zhurenko and V.A. Misharin in Aerospace Daily, Nov. 1, 1976, p. 5. Also: Radio Sophia, 16 Jan. 1979, 1942 GMT reported that "a large space installation with a capacity for 8 persons aboard will be created on the basis of two stations of the Salyut type."



The first step toward building modular space stations occurred on July 17, 1977, with the launch of an unusual spacecraft, Kosmos 929. Once in orbit, the spacecraft conducted extensive orbital maneuvers, and on August 16, 1977, a portion of the spacecraft reentered. The main part of the spacecraft reentered on February 2, 1978 after 200 days in orbit.

The purpose of this spacecraft remained obscure until the 1981 flight of Kosmos 1267, which followed a similar mission profile, and the 1983 Kosmos 1443 mission during which the Soviets identified Kosmos 929 as having been the first of the series. The 1981 and 1983 missions are described in chapter 2. This series of flights involves development of a combination space tug, cargo craft, and space station module which could be outfitted for particular tasks, such as materials processing, and either remain attached to a space station, or fly independently. The separation of a section of the spacecraft is useful for returning the results of scientific experiments to Earth, as was finally accomplished with Kosmos 1443.


The Soviets are attempting to determine the relative roles of man versus machine in space, just as other countries are. In April 1978, cosmonaut Feoktistov conceded that the topic was very controversial, with some specialists believing that space is "above all a

sphere for the operation of machines," and others pointing out that "it is still people who have to elaborate the methods for this research and correlate the degree to which the information obtained by machine corresponds with the real picture." (210)

As detailed in the earlier sections of this chapter, the Soviets have developed considerable experience with crews as repairmen in orbit. Discussing the design of future space stations, engineer Oleg Tsygankov explained that this experience has led engineers to design stations so that crew members can have easy access to any particular component or system so that they can be replaced by new ones. He added that these repair methods will also be useful for flights to the planets. (211)


Speculation that the Soviets are developing a reusable space vehicle along the same lines as the U.S. space shuttle has been wide-spread for many years. By the end of 1980, it appeared that any plans the Soviets might have had in the 1970's had been put on hold for economic reasons, but as detailed in chapter 2, (p. 465), 3 years later there had been flight tests which may be associated with developing such a capability.


In 1976, Maarten Houtman, a Dutchman interested in Soviet space activities, published an article in his magazine, Spaceview, called "Albatros, the Soviet Shuttle." (212) According to Houtman, the Soviets were pursuing development of a reusable space system called Kosmoljot. He called the orbiter associated with the system Albatros. According to Houtman, rumors associated with development of the system had first seeped into the West as early as 1964.

Houtman described two different reusable systems on which the Soviets were allegedly working at the time the article was published. The first was based on vertical takeoff, while the second would use a horizontal takeoff approach. This latter vehicle, Kosmoljot, was the focus of the research effort because it would be fully reusable, while the former would be only partially reusable, according to Houtman.

Houtman described the exterior appearance of the booster as similar to a Tu-144, with widened wings and without the tail section, thus looking like a triangle. The booster would be piloted by two to three people to an altitude of 30 kilometers, after which it would separate from the orbiter and return to Earth, landing like an airplane.

The orbiter, Albatros, would look like a mini-Tu-144 with thickened delta wings bent upward, resembling an arrowhead. Houtman stated that the orbiter would be approximately 25 meters in length, carry two to three persons, use ion engines, and be capable of multiple plane changes and other orbital maneuvers enabling a single crew to complete three or four separate tasks before returning. Among the missions Houtman envisioned for Albatros was deployment and retrieval of satellites, and retrieval of "space junk."

Houtman predicted that an orbital launch of Kosmoljot would take place by 1977. This did not occur.

KOSMOS PAIRS: 881/822, 997/998, 1100/1101

Although there were no flights that could be definitively associated with a space shuttle in the 1970's, there were three launches whose missions remain obscure but are often categorized in the West as possible reentry tests of a new manned space system.

In each case, two spacecraft were launched on one booster (a D-1) from Tyuratam into a 51.6° orbit, and both would reenter after less than one orbit. The first launch, of Kosmos 881 and 882, occurred on December 15, 1976. Kosmos 997 and 998 followed 15

months later on March 30, 1978, and Kosmos 1100 and 1101 on May 22, 1979, 14 months after the previous flight.

Kosmos 881/882 had an apogee of 248 km and periree of 202 km, and a period of 88.8 minutes. Kosmos 997/998 had an apogee of 230 km and perigee of 200 km, with a period of 88.7 minutes. Kosmos 1100/1101 were in a 230x199 km orbit, with a period of 88.6 minutes.

U.S. Government sources were quoted at the time as saying that 881/882 were "definitely man-related", (213) although specifics were not forthcoming. Analysis by other observers suggested that the mission profile would fit with a maneuverable vehicle, possibly the long awaited reusable vehicle. (214)



By 1978, the rumors of the appearance of a Soviet reusable vehicle were still just that, rumors. In October 1978, however, in response to a question from a listener. Radio Moscow released details of a reusable plane under development. The announcer stated that the vehicle would resemble an airplane with delta wings, and would have three powerful rockets in the rear. Overall length of the vehicle would be 200 feet (including the launch vehicle) with a diameter of 26 feet (compared to the 78-foot wingspan of the U.S. shuttle). (215)

At the same time, the U.S. weekly Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that drop tests of a delta-winged reusable spacecraft (similar to those conducted with the U.S. space shuttle orbiter in 1977) had taken place from a Tu-95 Bear bomber for aerodynamic testing as early as 1975.216 The magazine reported that the vehicle was very similar in appearance to the U.S. X-20 Dyna Soar which had been planned for development in the early 1960's (the program was canceled before any flight models were built).

By this time, another designation for the Soviet shuttle effort had appeared: "raketoplan" or rocket plane, a term reportedly used as early as 1927 by Soviet rocket designed Sergei Korolev. At the same time, rumors began to appear that a runway for the new vehicle was under construction at Tyuratam.217 Further information on the possible location of the shuttle runway at Tyuratam is discussed in chapter 1 of this study.


Statements by Soviet officials at the 1979 International Astronautical Federation conference in Munich further added to expectations that a Soviet shuttle was in development, but left doubt as to when it might be introduced. Cosmonaut Georgiy Beregovoy called a Soviet shuttle a "logical next step" and his colleague Anatoliy Filipchenko added that "We are trying to build a vehicle that we don't have to throw away." 218 These statements were tempered, however, by reference to trying to accomplish manned space goals in an "economic" manner. (219)

In June 1980, cosmonaut Shatalov commented that "Soviet specialists have also investigated the possibility of producing spacecrafts [sic] which can be used more than once. In the given stage, however, they consider that the employment of these spacecrafts

[sic] is not justified because the present tasks can be solved with the well-tested methods in an economic way." (220)

Thus, at the end of 1980, the status of the Soviet reusable space vehicle program was ambiguous at best. Evidence suggested that some developmental work had occurred during the last part of the 1970's, but the program may have encountered budgetary difficulties similar to the U.S. space shuttle, or technical problems, thus delaying its appearance.

As discussed in chapter 2, the smaller reusable vehicle suggested by the 1978 Radio Moscow report and/or a larger vehicle similar to the U.S. shuttle, may be launched in the mid-1980's.


The Soviet Union has always exhibited an interest in the very long term aspects of space flight, in fact, they speak more often of their far range plans than what might develop in the next 5 to 10 years.

This is the case with the possibility of sending people to other planets in the solar system, notably Mars. As early as 1976, cosmonaut Georgiy Beregovoy commented that some day there would be "bases and camps on the Moon. And in the more distant future there will be expeditions, first to Mars and then to other planets." (221)

In 1978, an interesting aspect of this long-range plan developed with the linking of Mars flights to the Salyut space station program. During a discussion of the 96 day flight to Salyut 6 (Soyuz 29/31), a Radio Moscow commentary stated that the need to extend manned stays in space was "dictated to a greater extent by the future tasks of space exploration than by the present ones . . . For example, a manned flight to our nearest neighbor, the planet Mars, will require 1.5 years in weightlessness, under the most favorable conditions." (222)

Thus the Soviets showed that they have more than a passing interest in such flights, and they are actually performing the requisite physiological and psychological research to make such a mission possible. Viewed together other developments, it would appear that the Soviets are paving the way for manned missions to the planets. For example, Soviet engineer Oleg Tsygankov commented in 1980 that the methods of repairing Salyut 6 "may also prove useful for long-distance flights." (223) Coupled with closed-cycle research onboard the Salyut space stations to make the stations self-sufficient in terms of food and water, and the development of more capable launch vehicles, such flights may be a reality in this century.



208. Tass, 0533 GMT, 16 Sept. 78.

209. Tass, 1132 GMT, 11 Dec. 80.

210. Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya, 12 Apr 78, p. 3.

211. Tass, 1406 GMT, 5 Dec 80.

212. "Houtman, Maarten. Albatros, the Soviet Shuttle. Spaceview, May/June 1976m pp. 24-31.

213. Aerospace Daily, Dec. 23, 1976, p. 262.

214. See for example: Gregg, Rachan. Winged Spacecraft. Letter to Aviation Week and Space Technology. June 2, 1980.

215. Soviets confirm Shuttle Vehicle Effort. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Oct. 16, 1978: 25.

214. Covault, Craig. Soviets Build Reusable Shuttle. Aviation Week and Space Technology, March 20, 1978: 14-16.

216. Covault, Craig. Soviets Developing Fly-Back Launcher. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Nov. 6, 1978: 19-20.

217. Shuttle Runway. Aviation Week and Space Technology, Jan. 8, 1979: 11.

218. Quoted in: Spaceflight, v. 21, Dec. 1979: 481.

219. Spaceflight, v. 22, March 1980: 136.

220. Budapest MTI, 1100 GMT, 5 June 80.

221. Tass, 0835, GMT, 10 Apr 76.

222. Moscow Domestic Service, 0001 GMT, 19 Sep 78.

223. Tass, 1406 GMT, 5 Dec 80.

Page last modified: 10-04-2016 22:14:54 ZULU