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Soyuz T14, Soyuz T15 with Salyut-7 Series

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


Salyut-7, 1986 activities

1986 activities Salyut-7, SoyuzT-14 and T-15

1986 activities

It was not clear at the end of the Soyuz T-14 mission in Novem­ ber 1985 whether Salyut 7 would be occupied again or not. Rumors had been rampant since early 1985 that another Salyut was almost ready for launch, and with the multitude of repairs that had to be performed to keep Salvut 7 operational, it seemed possible that the Soviets would replace it. Nevertheless, the T-14 crew had been unable to fully utilize all the equipment brought by Cosmos 1686, and the module itself was still docked with the space station.

The question appeared to be answered in February 1986 when a new space station, Mir, was launched. While there was some specu­ lation in the West that the Salyut 7/Cosmos 1686 complex would dock with Mir, this seemed less and less likely as time went by and Soyuz T-15 was launched to dock with Mir in March. The Soviets were still full of surprises though, for Soyuz T-15 turned out to be the first crew to occupy two space stations, Mir and Salyut 7. Mir activities are discussed in the next chapter. This section will de­ scribe only those Soyuz T-15 activities that were conducted on Salyut 7. Details on experiments can be found in the section enti­ tled "Experiments." Following the departure of the crew, the Sovi­ ets announced that Salyut 7 would be placed into a higher orbit where they would monitor deterioration of its systems. This was ac­ complished, using Cosmos 1686, in August 1986. At the end of 1987, Salyut 7 and Cosmos 1686 remained docked together in this orbit.


On May 3, the Soviets announced that the Soyuz T-15 crew that had docked with Mir in March would transfer to Salyut 7. 198 Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyev comprised the crew; they had been two of the three members of the 237 day mission on Salyut 7 in 1984. The T-15 spacecraft had been outfitted with a laser range- finder to permit accurate acquisition of Salyut 7 from a distance of 5 km, and an optical sight and night vision instrument—in effect, what the T-13 crew had installed for the manual docking with Salyut 7 in 1985. Whether this indicated continued problems with the Salyut docking systems is unclear. At the time of the transfer, it was noted that while Salyut 7 was unoccupied, Cosmos 1686 had been performing atmospheric observations in an automated mode, as well as cosmic ray studies. 199

To accomplish the transfer, Mir's orbit was lowered using the Progress 26 engines. 200 The crew then undocked from Mir at 16:12 MT on May 5, using springs to separate from the station rather than engines to prevent the solar panels from becoming contami­nated with engine exhaust. 201 The space stations were 3,000 km apart when the crew left Mir. After four orbits, the T-15 engines were fired to place the spacecraft into a lower orbit where it would fly faster than Salyut 7 to catch up with it. Then its engines were fired again to go into a higher orbit than Salyut 7, 202 until they were within a few kilometers of each other. Cosmos 1686 was used to rotate Salyut 7 on command from the ground so that the for­ward docking port would be pointed toward the arriving spacecraft. The docking was done manually from a distance of 5 km, 203 and was achieved on May 6 at 20:58 MT. Orbital parameters for the Salyut 7/Soyuz T-15/Cosmos 1686 complex were 360 x 336 kilome­ ters, 91.2 minutes on May 9.

The Soviets had stated that the crew was taking 500 kg of mate­ rial to Salyut 7 which had been brought up by Progress 26, but no details were provided on what experiments they were. 204 Once on board, they reactivated the space station and resumed use of ex­ periments that had been used by previous space station crews. Among the first were remote sensing observations and atmospheric studies using ASTRA. Once again, however, they were sidetracked by operational matters. This time it was two EVAs to experiment with the extension of a lattice work girder in a test related to building large space facilities.

Two EVAs for Space Construction and a New Laser Communica­ tions Device

The crew performed a 3 hour 50 minute EVA on May 28. This was their seventh EVA together, having performed six in 1984. The hatch was opened at 09:43 MT, and the first task was retrieval of specimens left by previous crews, including Meduza and the Soviet/ French comet dust collection experiment. Live television pictures of the EVA were broadcast on Soviet television beginning 1 hour and 46 minutes into the spacewalk. 205 This demonstrated the ever growing confidence the Soviets have in their cosmonauts and the programs they are asked to perform.

The crew's main task was deployment of a hinged metal lattice­ work girder (called Ferma-Postroitel for Constructor-Girder), devel­ oped by V. Lapchinsky, developer of Isparitel and the URI tool used by Savitskaya and Dzhanibekov in 1984. First the crew in­stalled a platform next to the hatch. Then they moved the large cylindrical drum that contained the girder out of the station and onto the platform. The girder was folded up inside a 1 meter high by 1 meter in diameter cylinder, the total weight of which was 150 kg (the girder alone weighed 20 kg). 206 They unfolded the 12-meter long girder, 207 then folded it back up again. The test was both of the mechanism for folding and unfolding (called URS), and the principle of erecting structures in space. Lapchinsky commented:

We are at the threshold of the era of space construction— various telescope mir­rors, gigantic solar panels, hangers, and so forth. The length of our girder is still comparatively short. But the mechanism of a girder-assembly aggregate will make it possible, by loading it with more and more folded cassettes, to build a 'mast' a kilo­ meter long and even more. In addition, it is important for us to know how such a hinged lattice-work structure behaves in zero gravity. 208

The Soviets also reported that the crew installed on one of Sal yut's windows "a new instrument which is intended for experi­ ments for perfecting a future system for transmitting telemetry in­ formation in the optical band of wavelengths." 209 Called BOSS, it was developed by Professor B. V. Batalov to enable transmission of data from instruments on the girder to the space station and then to the ground with a minimum number of wires. Signals received by the optical device on the window were converted into digital form and then transmitted via a low power (3 milliwatt) laser through the glass where they struck the BOSS receiving unit locat­ ed inside the station. There the light pulses were converted back into electric signals for digital transmission to Earth. The unit had triple redundancy in its main assemblies to improve reliability. 210

A second spacewalk commenced at 08:57 MT on May 31 and lasted five hours. It also was broadcast live on television. The girder was again erected and two instruments mounted on it: the Ton" (Background) instrument for measuring the atmosphere around the structure, and a device to monitor the vibrations of the frame. The crew had some difficulty extending the frame on the second EVA, but ultimately succeeded. Kizim ' climbed" the frame like a stepladder, commenting that it rocked, but was firm. 211 They then refolded the girder, with the experiments remaining in place.

Next, the crew used an improved version of the URI instrument tested by Savitskaya and Dzhanibekov in 1984 to weld lattice and pin structures (they were separate from the girder, since this was just for experimental purposes). It was noted that the URI device had been modified based on Dzhanibekov's and Savitskaya's experi­ ence and was now easier to operate. 212 The cosmonauts also in­ stalled a "microdeformator" to operate "permanently there in space with samples which it will stretch, squeeze, and so on; in other words it will test the properties of the metal, its strength characteristics. And via the cable laid across the surface—that was done during the previous spacewalk—all this will be transmitted to the station, and then to Earth. What we are really doing now is rehearsing the rudiments of future construction in space. We are mastering it." 213 At the end of these two EVAs, Kizim and Solo- vyev had each spent 31 hours and 40 minutes performing spacewalks together.

Experiments Resume Inside the Station

Following their two spacewalks, the cosmonauts settled down to working with experiments inside the space station again, as well as some they left on the outside. On June 6, it was reported that they were conducting remote sensing observations, atmospheric studies, and the experiments with the microdeformator on the outside of the station. Biogravistat experiments with lettuce seeds resumed, as well as the Mariya experiment related to measuring cosmic rays in the space station. They also worked with the kristallizator materials processing device brought to Salyut 7 by Cosmos 1686. Few details were provided of these experiments.

Although the Soviets soon indicated that Salyut 7 would not be occupied again, the crew performed repair work on the station, servicing the thermal regulation system on June 20, for example.

The Return to Mir and the Future of Salyut 7

On June 23, the Soviets announced that Kizim and Solovyev would leave Salyut 7 on June 25, taking with them some of the sci­ entific equipment as well as the results of the experiments they had performed. A total of 400 kg of equipment and instruments 214 were transferred to Mir (100 kg less than they had taken to Salyut 7). Included were the KATE-140 camera, the EFU-Robot electro- phoresis experiment, the ultrasonic cardiograph, the French PSN astrophysics and atmospheric device, and the Pion-M heat transfer experiment. 215

Soyuz T-15 undocked at 18:58 MT on June 25. The stations were still 3,000 km apart, but Mir was now 25-30 km above Salyut 7. At that point, Soyuz T-15 had 420 kg of fuel remaining, of which 250 kg were needed for returning to Earth, so the orbit chosen for re­ turning to Mir was designed for economical fuel consumption, rather than the shortest route. 216

On June 21, an orbital correction had been made for Mir using Progress 26, and on June 23 Progress 26 undocked from Mir, leav­ ing all of Mir's ports free. It was announced that when Soyuz T-15 was within 100 meters of Mir, the space station would be rotated so that the front docking port would be in position for docking, but that the crew would have to assume manual control for docking at 50 meters because the "Igla" system "with which the ship will interact, is not located on the docking port of the station where Soyuz T-15 will dock." 217 Docking was achieved at 23:46 MT on June 26.

Cosmonaut Kubasov commented on the importance of inter-orbit operations, especially the fact that they were made almost entirely automatically.

In principle, however, [Soyuz T-15's] entire flight could have been made in the automatic mode. You can imagine how important it will be to have such an auto­ matic ferry for future space complexes. These transport ferries could fly, for exam­ ple, between residential and industrial zones of a space colony, or between various modules and extraterrestrial observatories. Moreover, a ferry could, if necessary, be sent from one space base to another as a means of rescuing cosmonauts if their spaceship broke down. . . . 21S

TASS reported on August 16 that Salyut 7's "work in the manned regime was fulfilled." 219

On August 23, the space station was moved into a 492 x 474 km orbit using Cosmos 1686. 220 Two weeks later, an article by space station designer Yu. Semenov reviewed what had been accom­ plished on Salyut 7, noting that its role as a base for crew activities was over, but left open the possibility that it might be visited again some years in the future to retrieve samples of materials on the station. He said that a "rendezvous" was possible, but did not spe­ cifically say a docking. In the meantime, its telemetry would be monitored to study its systems and how they deteriorated over time, including the "reliability of design solutions relative to the airtight-sealing of living compartments, tanks and lines that carry fluids and air.' The dynamics of its orbital decay pattern were also of interest. Semenov added that its lifetime would be "at least eight years" although it was not clear if that included the five years it had already spent in orbit, or was an additional eight years. He concluded:

It is possible that after several years, an inspection expedition may be sent up to the complex to rendezvous with it. The expedition will make studies of the condition of the structure and equipment of the complex, and it will dismantle separate frag­ ments of structures, cables and solar panels, as well as some of the instruments, and bring them to Earth.

As a result it will be possible to gather data on the meteor situation, the condition of photocells of solar panels, the sturdiness of structural materials, processes in non- metallic materials, and other things.

With the completion of the research program, the return of the station to a desig­ nated region on Earth will be organized. 221



197 Izvestiya, November 24, 1985, p. 3.

198 Moscow Television Service, 1700 GMT, May 3, 1986.

199 Izvestiya, May 7, 1986, p. 2.

200 Cosmonauts Complete Flight from Mir to Salyut. Aerospace Daily, May 7, 1986, p. 211.

201 According to Western analyst Nicholas Johnson, all spacecraft departing from Mir use springs to push away before firing their engines in order to reduce contamination of windows, solar panels, and other exterior devices. (Johnson, N. Soviet Year in Space—1986. Colorado
Springs, Colorado, Teledyne Brown Engineering, 1986. p. 59.

202 Trud, May 7, 1986, p. 4.

203 Gudok, May 8, 1986, p. 1.

204 Moscow Television Service, 1700 GMT, May 3, 1986.

205 Soviet TV Carries Space Project Live. Washington Post, May 29, 1986, p. A27.

206 Trud, May 29, 1986, p. 3; Moscow Television Service, 0730 GMT, May 28, 1986.

207 There is conflicting information from the Soviets about the length of the extended girder. On May 31 (1359 GMT), TASS stated that it was 12 meters long. Earlier, however, Moscow Tele­ vision Service (0730 GMT, May 28, 1986) and TASS itself (0730 GMT on May 28, 1986) reported that the girder was 15 meters long. In a paper for the 1987 International Astronautical Federa­tion conference, Solovyev himself said it was 12 meters long (IAF paper 87-77, p. 4). Since he actually deployed the girder, his statement is used here.

208 Pravda, May 29, 1986, p. 1.

209 Pravda, May 29, 1986, p. 1.

210 Trud, June 1, 1986, p. 2; Pravda, June 1,1986, p. 6.

211 Moscow Domestic Service, 0800 GMT, May 31,1986.

212 Pravda, August 16, 1986, p. 3.

213 Moscow Domestic Service, 0800 GMT, May 31,1986.

214 Komsomolskaya Pravda, June 28, 1986, p. 4.

215 Pravda, June 28, 1986, p. 6.

216 Komsomolskaya Pravda, June 28, 1986, p. 4.

217 Izvestiya, June 27, 1986.