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Soyuz 1-9, 7K-OK Series

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




When expectations of continuance of the Voskhod program were not fulfilled, Western observers debated whether the Soviet Union had abandoned manned flight or whether they had paused in order to make much more fundamental changes in their systems. The pause was fairly long, almost 22 months, but at last on November 28,1966 came a routinely announced Kosmos flight, 133, which had the telltale signs of low perigee, fairly circular orbit, a radio beacon frequency usually reserved for manned flights, and recovery after only two days of flight instead of the eight typical of military recoverable's.

Kosmos 140 was put into a similar orbit on February 7, 1967 , and again stayed up only two days. Then rumors began to build that a manned flight was coming.


1. Soyuz 1

In April 1967, after a period of two years in which the Russians did not fly any manned missions and the Americans were establishing one record after another in their Gemini program, rumors of the most ambitious and spectacular manned flight operation became very strong in Moscow . Thus on April 23, 1967 , Col. Vladimir Komarov, the first Russian to make a second trip into orbit, was launched into space by an A-2 vehicle in a payload which probably weighed about 6,570 kg.

Soviet reports indicated that all was going according to plan, their standard description, but one could infer the opposite when his ship was ordered to land after only one day in orbit with nothing spectacular to show for the flight. It is possible that another craft was supposed to be launched and a link-up obtained, although the precursor flights, Kosmos 133 and 140, were only two day flights and a longer flight would probably have been in order if docking was the goal. The rumors of a spectacular flight could have alluded to the entire Soyuz program, not this particular mission.

Komarov accomplished retrofire on his 18th orbit, an unusual step since when recovery is planned after one day it normally occurs after 16 or 17 orbits in order to bring the ship down in the prime recovery area in Kazakhstan . However, the 51.8° inclination of the flight also brought the 18th orbit to the regular recovery area. One gathers that to this point the pilot was in no immediate danger, since Soviet spacecraft are equipped with backup safety features. (Data made available during ASTP raises some safety questions.) Retrofire and passage through the upper atmosphere where radio blackout occurs is said to have passed routinely. But what happened after that is still unclear, for in the last few kilometers of descent, the parachute system which should have given Komarov a steady ride down to the surface for a final rocket soft landing failed, remaining furled and twisted with its lines so that the ship, and pilot, were destroyed in the hard impact.

Speculation as to what happened has included whether the aero-dynamics of the flight had not been tested enough, since Soyuz was a different shape from its predecessors, to the rumor that while the ship was on the pad water seeped into the parachute compartment, interfering with the system's effectiveness. This seems unlikely, since all manned payloads have a shroud until they are outside most of the atmosphere, a protective environmental blanket while on the pad, and a large escape rocket assembly on top of the Soyuz class ships which should cover the parachute compartment.

Komarov's death was, of course, a great shock to the Russians, especially since only three months earlier the United States had lost the crew of Apollo 1 in a pad fire as they were running tests a few days prior to launch. Although the Soviet Union sent a message of sympathy, it was coupled with claims that the U.S. accident was a direct outgrowth of a reckless race to be first on the Moon and the greed of U.S. private enterprise willing to cut comers in safety and quality, even for manned flights. The statements implied that such considerations were nonexistent in the Soviet Union .

Although the frailty of human planning was revealed in the Apollo fire, which only in retrospect became so clearly deficient in design, the Soyuz 1 accident showed that accidents are not tied to economic or political systems, but to design, quality control, and sometimes simply lack of knowledge or human error.

Just as the American manned space effort was delayed for almost two years for investigations into the Apollo fire, the Russian manned program waited for 18 months before seeing another launch.

2. Kosmos 186 arid 188

Just in time to highlight the 50th anniversary of the Soviet State in early November 1967, the Soviet Union conducted a double space operation with unmanned Soyuz prototypes. On October 27, 1967 Kosmos186 was put into a low circular orbit for a period of four days. While Kosmos 186 waited in orbit, Kosmos 188 was launched on October 30 for a three-day flight. This was a direct ascent, first orbit rendezvous launch, which brought it within about 24 km of Kosmos 186. At this point the ships were programmed to conduct a completely automatic close rendezvous and docking on the side of the world away from Soviet territory, later passing over the U.S.S.R. in docked configuration.

When the seeking devices on both ships found each other, they were oriented into a head-on position and Kosmos 186 became the active vessel, moving in until its docking probe was inserted into the receptacle of the other ship. Further automatic devices then completed a tight lock and made electrical connections so the two ships could operate as a single unit. They remained docked for 3.5 hours and after 2.5 orbits accomplished an equally automatic undocking over Soviet territory and resumed separate flights. A day later Kosmos 186 made a soft landing in the usual recovery zone and two days after that Kosmos 188 was recovered in a similar fashion.

This successful operation showed that modifications had been made in Soyuz and drawings were finally released to the public showing the approximate appearance of the two ships as they approached each other. (One must say approximately because it later developed that some essential elements of the design had been airbrushed out, and it was many months before the actual shapes became apparent.) The first drawings showed a cigar-shaped craft with docking collar and probe or receptacle at the forward end, and a propulsion unit at the other. Special acquisition and distance-measuring radars extended out from the ships on hinged lattice-structure arms. Most distinctive were the solar panels which unfold after orbit is attained and look like rectangular gull wings. The Russians developed these as a source of electricity as opposed to the American fuel cells.

3. Kosmos 212 and 213

On April 14 and 15, 1968, Kosmos 212 and 213 respectively were placed in a low circular orbit, each remaining for five days. Prior to the second launch, Kosmos 212 made slight orbital corrections which brought it very nearly over the launch site to simplify rendezvous. At the time the carrier rocket was separated from the Kosmos 213 payload, the controllers on Earth had accomplished a first orbit, direct ascent rendezvous which brought Kosmos 213 to within 5 km of Kosmos 212, and the velocity difference was only about 108 km per hour. After mutual radar search and lock-on, Kosmos 212 became the active partner and completed the exercise. Main propulsion which could be turned on and off was used for most of the closing, but when the ships were within a few hundred meters of each other, low thrust propulsion was employed, and the difference in their relative speed was between 0.5 and 1 km per hour. This time, by Soviet claim, docking was conducted over the Soviet Union (this is hard to reconcile with other Soviet data), but the follow-up rigid mechanical lock and the inter-linking of electrical connections occurred some minutes later over the Pacific Ocean, 47 minutes after launch. On the next pass over the Soviet Union external television cameras on the ships showed how they looked.

The ships remained linked together for 3 hours 50 minutes, and then undocked on radio command over Soviet territory. Each ship then made further maneuvers repeatedly to continue group flight, but at a distance sufficient to avoid mutual interference.

4. Kosmos 238

On August 28, 1968 , still another flight was made which had the orbital path and radio frequency characteristics of a manned precursor. It was never commented on by the Russians after the initial launch announcement under the Kosmos cover name, but after four days in orbit it was called down. Apparently it represented a final check of on-board systems as a step in man-rating.

5. Soyuz 2

Soyuz 2 was launched without any immediate announcement on October 25, 1968 and was placed in the typical low parking orbit of the other Kosmos precursor flights. It remained in orbit for three days and was the target for the manned flight which followed. Despite its unmanned status, the mission was given a Soyuz name instead of the Kosmos designation for unknown reasons.

6. Soyuz 3

On October 26, 1968 , 18 months after the ill-fated flight of Komarov, the Soviet Union launched Soyuz 3 carrying Colonel Georgiy Beregovoy. After achieving a co-orbit with Soyuz 2, the ship made an automatic approach to within 200 meters. After that, the pilot took over manual controls and made repeated approaches toward Soyuz 2, coming very close and reducing the differences in velocity to less than one kilometer per hour. For some unknown reason he was unable to accomplish actual docking although this was clearly his objective. (1) Television coverage of these operations was provided by external cameras.

More details about the ship itself emerged, revealing that there were two passenger compartments, a fact less clear from earlier drawings. Beregovoy slept in a separate work compartment, while piloting was done in the command module, which was also the recoverable part of the ship. The total volume of the two compartments, which were connected by an air lock, was about 9 cubic meters. The ship had a 30-day stay time capability and some versions could fly up to 1,300 km above the Earth. The descent portion had special aerodynamic qualities which permitted precise landings at pre-selected points, and the lift cut the G-load to between 3 and 4 G's compared with 8 to 10 G's for a ballistic reentry, although the latter could still be used in an emergency to save time.

Retrofire was provided from a 400-kilogram-thrust liquid rocket engine with a completely duplicate engine in reserve. If both failed, normally the residual fuel of the orientation steering rockets would be sufficient to return a ship from orbit. On reentering, a drogue parachute was deployed at 9 km, followed by the opening of the main parachute, with a second parachute in reserve. Just before final touchdown, at a height of about one meter, a gunpowder rocket was fired as a final brake to soften landing.

During his four day flight, Beregovoy monitored the flight systems, gathered geophysical data, and took pictures of the Earth's surface for resource studies. Except for the strong implication (although explicitly denied) that docking was intended and failed, the flight was a good proving effort for the Soyuz hardware. At a much later date, a specific weight of 6,575 kg was filed for the ship.

7. Soyuz 4 and 5

Soyuz 4 was launched on January 14, 1969 , a novel launch time for the Russians since until now they had avoided the winter season when either an aborted launch or off-course landing might mean a delay in crew rescue under severe weather conditions. However, not only did the ship have an enhanced water-landing capability so a sea landing in the tropics could occur if necessary, but the Russians were by now fully confident of their systems. Put into the typical low Soyuz orbit, the ship was piloted by Col. Vladimir Shatalov. The next day Soyuz 5 was launched with a three man crew: Lt. Col. Boris Volynov commander: Master of Technical Sciences Aleksey Yeliseyev, flight engineer; and Lt. Col. Yevgeniy Khrunov research engineer.

After a number of orbital corrections by both ships, the docking exercise began on Soyuz 5's 18th orbit, and Soyuz 4's 34th. The automatic system brought the ships to within 100 meters of each other whereupon Shatalov completed a manual approach. On the 35th orbit of Soyuz 5, Khrunov and Yeliseyev donned pressure suits and self-contained life support systems, entered the orbital work compartment, sealed the inner hatch, then opened their outer hatch, and transferred to Soyuz 4, floating and using handrails on the outside of the crafts for assistance. Both men were outside for about an hour, with television cameras recording the entire affair and constant radio communications maintained. Khrunov made the transfer over South America while Yeliseyev did so over the Soviet Union . In turn, the orbital work compartment of Soyuz 4 served as an airlock.

The ships remained docked for 4 hours 35 minutes. Soyuz 4 returned to Earth after three days, now carrying a crew of three instead or one, and Soyuz 5 landed after three days with only one man aboard instead of three. Soyuz 4 and 5 were later registered as weighing 6,625 kg and 6,585 kg respectively, for a total weight of 13,210 kg. As a result of maneuvers and usage of other expendables their combined mass at the time of docking is estimated as being 286 kg lighter, or 12,924 kgs.

The combined ships have always been hailed in the Soviet press as the world's first space station in which a total of four men were housed. Although the combination can be considered a station in that a fair amount of working space was provided by the orbital work compartments, the general view of a space station suggests a longer duration of usefulness and no need for EVA to go from one work compartment to another. The ships' orbit was low enough that it would have decayed in about ten days, and the main life support systems, solar panels and orbital adjustment rockets were in the after-service modules, separated from the orbital compartment by the command modules. Thus the "station" could not have been left behind in orbit for visits from other crews.

New pictures were released showing the true shape of Soyuz: a spherical work cabin at the front end separated by a hatch from a bell-shaped command module with its slightly convex reentry shield facing aft, and at the rear, the cylindrical service and propulsion module with its two solar panels.

8. Soyuz 6, 7and 8

Launched on three successive days, Soyuz 6, 7 and 8 were to perform group flight with orbital assembly the prime mission, Soyuz 7 and 8 were meant to dock with each other for joint, experiments, but Soyuz 6 was almost incidental to the mission since it could have flown any time after Soyuz 4 and 5. Reasons why the Russians might have waited include the possibility that other projects had a higher priority for the tracking system and data central during the middle months of the year. Second, putting it up in conjunction with the next two Soyuz flights would reduce the cost of maintaining ocean tracking ships on station in all parts of the world. Third, by having three manned ships up at one time, the abilities of the computers and operations people to handle a much more complex data management system was given a good test. Fourth, having seven men up at once has a certain appeal as a portent of things to come.

The flights were terminated after five days each. There were rumors in the West that other ships were to have been launched and that the flight was to have run much longer. But it should be noted that before the first launch occurred, Moscow unofficial reports said that three ships would be involved with at least six cosmonauts, for a total period of one week. (2)

a. Soyuz 6. - Launched on October 11, 1969 , this flight was piloted by Lt. Col. Georgiy Shonin and flight engineer Valeriy Kubasov. It not only tested the Soyuz systems, but also contributed to gathering Earth resources data. Its most important and significant experiment, though, dealt with alternate methods for welding in the high vacuum and weightlessness of outer space.

The Russians consider welding as necessary in future space operations if very large permanent stations are to be assembled and if such stations are also to be used for the assembly of expeditions to visit the planets. Thus they built into the Soyuz 6 work space remote handling equipment to conduct welding experiments, after first opening the cabin to vacuum conditions. The welding unit Vulkan, was controlled remotely by electric cable. They tested three methods: a low pressure compressed arc, an electron beam, and arc welding with a consumable electrode. Only the electron beam experiment was reported as categorically successful. Soyuz-6 carried no docking equipment.

b. Soyuz 7.—This launch occurred on October 12 with a crew of Lt. Col. Anatoliy Filipchenko, Flight Engineer Vladislav Volkov, and Research Engineer Viktor Gorbatko. The ship carried docking equipment and was meant as the passive target for Soyuz 8. Aside from group flight activities, its principal task was Earth resources and related research.

c. Soyuz 8—Launched the day after Soyuz 7. The flight was commanded by Col. Vladimir Shatalov, accompanied by Flight Engineer Aleksey Yeliseyev, both veterans of the Soyuz 4/5 operation. Designed as the active partner in docking with the larger crew in Soyuz 7, (3) many maneuvers were made between the two ships but docking was never accomplished. Although Soviet accounts vary from outright denial of docking plans to evasion on this point, it seems likely that a pair of ships equipped with docking gear instead of other experiments are meant to dock. What is unclear is whether automatic docking routines would have been successful as in the double Kosmos missions, or whether a mechanical problem precluded either automatic or manual docking.

9. Soyuz 9

Soyuz 9 was launched on June 1, 1970 from Tyuratam with Col. Andriyan Nikolayev as pilot and Vitally Sevastyanov as flight engineer. This ship lacked rendezvous and docking systems and was sent Solo flight to test for a longer period of time than other flights, the capacity of both the hardware and the human crew. On the fifth orbit the ship was raised from its initial orbit to protect its orbital life from early decay. On the l7th orbit, the perigee was raised again to establish a still more durable circular orbit.

Medical-biological research effects of long term exposure to space conditions were probably the primary mission of this flights but it also afforded a good opportunity to enhance capabilities related to Earth resources observation. These concentrated on both visual observation and photographing geological and geographic objects, weather formations, water surfaces, snow and ice cover, and conducting other ground studies.

Onboard television cameras gave the ground controllers and Soviet public live coverage of activities on the ship during some orbital passes. The crew found the ship comfortable, and slept for eight hours at a stretch on couches in the work compartment using sleeping bags. A stove provided hot meals of a wide range of conventional foods, and shaving was accomplished with both the shaving cream method and a dry electric razor. Lacking a shower they resorted to twice-daily rubdowns. A vacuum cleaner was used to maximize the cleanliness of their living spaces.

As far as the ship itself was concerned, the Russians claimed that the 14 square meters of solar panels with chemical buffer batteries were more reliable than the American fuel cells used in Gemini and Apollo. They also felt that their use of two cabins made it possible to provide a work and sleep area with no threat of clutter and interference to the flight and recovery operations conducted in the command module. Also, the pilot would have no need to put on a pressure suit if his companion(s) conducted EVA exercises through a hatch from the work module.

On the 14th day of flight, the orbit was lowered as a precaution for later recovery, particularly if retrofire should not be successful. But retrofire occurred as expected, and the command module separated from the work and service compartments, for landing on June 19 in Kazakhstan . The crew was immediately picked up and although they were in good condition, after 18 days in space they had a harder time adjusting to full Earth weight than American crews who had stayed up for 14 days. The men were taken to a new quarantine laboratory whose description sounded very much like the Houston lunar receiving laboratory. In the later Moscow celebrations, Nikolayev was promoted to Major General.

The following experiments were conducted:

Medical.- The crew made measurements of their condition before and after exercise, noting arterial pressure, pulse and respiration. They checked the contrast sensitivity of their eyes and made many tests of their vestibulary sensitivity in weightlessness. Samples of air breathed before and after exercising were collected in plastic bags for analysis on Earth, with expectations that the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen would give a measure of energy expenditure. The dynamics of pain sensitivity were checked and maximum hand strength tested with a dynamometer.

During the 13th day of flight, a test of Sevastyanov's mental capabilities was made by exposing him to a simulated set of commands which had been preprogrammed into the on-board computer, as a comparison with his corresponding capabilities earlier in the flight.

Other Biological .—Experiments were performed relating to the micro and macro genesis of flowering plants, the division of cells of chlorella, the propagation of bacterial cultures in liquid media, and the propagation and development of insects.

Earth Resources .—On the fifth day the crew watched a large tropical storm in the Indian Ocean and observed surf on a continental shore. The next day they observed forest fires in Africa near Lake Chad .

They used both black and white and multi spectral color film to photograph the Earth's surface which was expected to throw light on problems of identification of different kinds of Earth rock and soil, the moisture content of glaciers, the location of schools of fish, and estimation of timber reserves.

The crew also made studies of aerosol particles in the atmosphere by observing twilight glow.

Navigation .—Astronavigation was practiced by locking onto Vega or Canopus and then using a sextant to measure its relation to the Earth horizon. Spectrographic measurements of the horizon were taken to define it better for navigation purposes. Arcturus and Deneb were later added as sighting targets for navigation tests.

On the 4th day, using on-board navigation and measuring equipment, the orbital elements were refined to three decimal places—that is, to an exact number of meters for apogee and perigee, to an exact number of thousandths of a minute for period, and to the exact number of thousands of a degree in inclination.

Astrophysical.—In addition to observing celestial bodies, the cosmonauts made photographic studies of the Moon.




1. Moscow Radio October 28, 1968 , 0200 GMT.

2. First reported by Paris AFP on Oct. 9, 1969 , naming three ships and docking; then reported on Oct. 10 by Moscow UPI as Imminent; then stated on Oct. 13 by the Yugoslav agency Tanyug as being for one week. All these rumors were confirmed by events.

3. TASS, October 15, 1969 , 1846 GMT.

•Ms. Smith was an analyst in science and technology. Science Policy Research Division, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress.

Page last modified: 10-04-2016 22:15:05 ZULU