Encyclopedia Astronautica

Almaz History
The changing configurations of the Almaz military space station throughout its long year history. The planned TKS ferry was replaced by the Soyuz from 1966 to 1970. From 1970 on Soyuz would be used for Phase 1 flights while the TKS would be used for Phase 2 flights.
Credit: © Mark Wade
Russian manned space station. 3 launches, 1973.04.03 (Salyut 2) to 1976.06.22 (Salyut 5). Chelomei's Almaz space station was designed to conduct orbital research into the usefulness of manned observation of the earth.

It was to be dedicated to detailed high-resolution study of specific targets. Accordingly it was equipped with a very high resolution optical camera, infrared sensor, and optical sight for use by the cosmonauts aboard.

To determine the usefulness of manned military space flight, two projects were pursued in the second half of the 1960's. Chelomei's Almaz was to conduct orbital research into the usefulness of manned observation of the earth, while TsKBEM MOM's Soyuz VI would conduct military research. The first Almaz concept was a Proton-launched reconnaissance station. It was to be dedicated to detailed high-resolution study of specific targets. Accordingly it was equipped with a very high resolution optical camera, infrared sensor, and optical sight for use by the cosmonauts aboard. The flight trials were intended to prove the effectiveness of manned orbital reconnaissance operations. Considerable preliminary research was done on the Almaz on complex apparatus for operational earth observation and transmission of data to earth by radio. By the beginning of the 1970's, a draft project was developed for an orbital station with man-tended on-board equipment, as well as a transport craft for resupply an return of material.

In December 1962 Sergei Korolev released his draft project for a versatile manned spacecraft, the Soyuz. Korolev understood very well that financing of the scale required could only come from the Ministry of Defense. Therefore his draft project proposed two additional modifications of the Soyuz: the Soyuz P (Perekhvatchik, Interceptor) space interceptor and the Soyuz R (Razvedki, intelligence) command-reconnaissance spacecraft. The VVS and the Strategic Rocket Forces supported these variants of the Soyuz. They were fully aware that the US Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory was in the advance concept stage (it would be approved for development on December 10, 1963). But Korolev had no time to work on what were to him Soyuz 'side-lines'. In 1963 his OKB-1 was fully occupied with work on the Voskhod and N1 projects.

Therefore he decided that while OKB-1 Kaliningrad would concentrate on development of the Soyuz-A circumlunar spacecraft, the military projects Soyuz-P and Soyuz-R would be 'subcontracted' to OKB-1 filial number 3, based in Samara (then Kuibishev), headed by Chief Designer Dmitri Ilyich Kozlov.

The Soyuz-R system consisted of two separately launched spacecraft derived from the Soyuz design, with the docked complex having a total mass of 13 metric tons. The small orbital station 11F71 would be equipped with photo-reconnaissance and ELINT equipment. To dock with the 11F71 station Samara developed the transport spacecraft 11F72 Soyuz 7K-TK. Soyuz-R was included by the Defense Ministry in the 1964-1969 five-year space reconnaissance plan, issued on 18 June 1964.

Vladimir Nikolaevich Chelomei headed a competing space design bureau OKB-52 and was Korolev's arch-rival. He had prospered in the early 1960's when he was backed by Khrushchev. On 12 October 1964, only two days before the overthrow of his patron, Chelomei obtained permission to begin development of a larger military space station, the Almaz. This 20 metric ton station would take three cosmonauts to orbit in a single launch of his UR-500K Proton rocket. Therefore in 1965 there were two competing projects in development for the same mission - Almaz and Soyuz-R.

Military project manager for the Almaz was Colonel Ye S Shchapov. The Soyuz-R reconnaissance program began in 1974. The advanced project was completed by Kozlov, but it was cancelled when the spacecraft became too heavy for the planned launch vehicle. In 1964-1965 Chelomei was promoting his competing concept. G A Yefremov brought the Soyuz-R material from Kuibyshev to TsKBM in an effort to show what a complex development it was.

In June 1965 Gemini 4 conducted the first American manned military experiments. At the same time the US Air Force's Manned Orbital Laboratory was on the verge of being given its final go-ahead. These events caused a bit of a panic among the Soviet military, where the Soyuz-R and Almaz projects were in the very earliest stages of design and would not fly until 1968 at the earliest.

On 24 August 1965 urgent measures were ordered to test manned military techniques in orbit at the earliest possible date. Kozlov was to fly by 1967 a military research variant of the Soyuz. The new spacecraft was designated the 7K-VI by Kozlov and had the project code name 'Zvezda'.

In January 1966 Korolev died unexpectedly and OKB-1 was leaderless. Chelomei obtained a decision that the Kozlov's Soyuz-R space station would be cancelled and the Almaz would take its place. The reason officially given was that the spacecraft had become too heavy for the planned launch vehicle. Almaz was assigned the 11F71 index number previously allocated to the Soyuz-R station, and Kozlov was ordered to hand over to Chelomei all of the work completed to that date. G A Yefremov brought the Soyuz-R material from Kuibyshev to TsKBM. The documents showed what a complex development was required. However at the same time the leadership directed that Kozlov's Soyuz-R 7K-TK ferry continue in development to transport crews to the Almaz. In Samara, work continued with release of the technical documentation of the 7K-TK. However due to delays in the Almaz all work on further development of the 7K-TK was suspended on 28 December 1966. In 1967 it was foreseen that the Almaz/Soyuz 7K-TK system would be tested in 1968 and enter service in 1969.

Following numerous problems in the first flight tests of the Soyuz 7K-OK, Kozlov ordered a complete redesign of the 7K-VI. The new spacecraft, with a crew of two, would have a total mass of 6.6 metric tons and could operate for a month in orbit. The project as reformulated was approved by the central committee on 21 July 1967 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with first flight to be in 1968 and operations to begin in 1969. The Soyuz VI was to include a recoilless gun for self-defense developed by the well known Soviet designer A E Nudelman. The final layout of the 7K-VI was very similar to that of the American MOL. Like the MOL, it featured the return capsule at the front, with a hatch in the heat shield leading to the orbital compartment, followed by the equipment-engine module. By the middle of 1967 the mock-up and dynamic stand for testing of the Nudelman gun were completed. All materials for the approval of the draft project by the expert commission were completed, and drawings were released for both the Zvezda and the Soyuz-M launch vehicle. But the head of OKB-1, Mishin, resented Kozlov's independence. Mishin proposed his own project for an orbital station 11F730 Soyuz VI. Through various complex machinations Mishin seized control of the project on 8 December 1967. OKB-1 would pursue it at a desultory pace until it was finally cancelled in 1969.

Chelomei meanwhile continued to eradicate any OKB-1 content from the Almaz. His draft project of 21 June 1967 showed the 11F71 Almaz station to consist of an 11F75 orbital block and an 11F74 VA landing apparatus (derived from the Apollo-type capsule he had designed for his LK-1 circumlunar spacecraft). The revised Almaz design would eliminate the need for the Soyuz 7K-TK. The Almaz also incorporated the Nudelman gun, the basic layout, and other equipment from Kozlov's cancelled Soyuz VI. By 1969, although the Almaz still had not flown, Chelomei went a step further and proposed replacement of the 11F72 Soyuz 7K-TK with his own transport-supply spacecraft 11F72 (transportniy korabl snabzheniya - TKS). This would consist of the 11F74 VA landing capsule and a new 11F77 Functional-Cargo Block (funktsionalno-gruzovoy blok, FGB). On 16 June 1970 Kozlov's Soyuz-R was finally cancelled and replaced by the TKS as the re-supply craft for Almaz under Central Party decree 437-160.

In its final form the 20-metric ton Almaz was to operate for two to three years at a time and take reconnaissance photographs during that entire period. Three-man crews would be rotated every 90 days by TKS transport-supply spacecraft. The TKS VA reusable crew capsules could be launched and reused up to ten times. Chelomei however continued to have difficulty maintaining top-level support for Almaz as the project met delay after delay. While Khrushchev was in power, Chelomei was ascendant - Sergei Nikitovich, the Secretary General's son, worked at his firm. But Chelomei was not an experienced politician and belittled Council of Ministers Deputy Chairman Dmitri Ustinov. When Brezhnev took power, Ustinov became the Communist Party Central Committee Secretary for Defense. Chelomei's influence waned, and the project was badly behind schedule by the time the competing American MOL was cancelled in July 1969.

Having lost the moon race, but seeing a chance to beat the Americans in the space station race, Brezhnev ordered Mishin's OKB-1 to produce a space station in the shortest possible time using the Almaz structural vessel but grafting into it proven Soyuz systems. Eight completed Almaz spaceframes were handed over to Mishin, and installation of Soyuz systems was made at Chelomei's Khrunichev factory.

Following the death of the crew of Mishin's Salyut 1 on their return to earth in 1971, and the failure to reach orbit of the second Salyut in 1972, Brezhnev finally gave Chelomei the nod to launch the Almaz in order to beat the American Skylab. Under the cover name Salyut 2 it reached orbit in April 1973. A crew was preparing to launch but the station depressurized on the 13th day of the mission. Either a fragment of the exploded Proton booster's third stage penetrated the skin or an on-board electrical short started a fire. Almaz was finally successfully launched into space as Salyut 3 in June 1974. The one meter diameter telescope could photograph airfields and missile complexes. An optical sight gave the cosmonaut the illusion of coming to a standstill over a facility. The cosmonaut could see the numbers on the decks of ships and the types of aircraft on aircraft carriers. There were also infrared and topographical cameras. The Nudelman cannon inherited from the Soyuz VI was retained as an active defense system in the event of an attack by an Apollo spacecraft. The cannon was supplemented with space-to-space missiles.

Thirty military personnel were trained to work on Almaz. Aside from pilots there were seamen, missilemen, and communications specialists. Each would conduct intelligence operations in his area of expertise - for example Submariner Valeri Rozhdestvenskiy was to develop methods for conducting surveillance of enemy navies and submarines.

The results of the flights showed that manned reconnaissance was not worth the expense. There was minimal time to operate the equipment after the crew took the necessary time for maintenance of station housekeeping and environmental control systems.

The experiments themselves showed good results and especially the value of reconnaissance of the same location in many different spectral bands and parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Therefore the program was not cancelled, but to be followed by the Almaz-T system, which was to be a multi-satellite multi-spectral system for sustained reconnaissance.

The Almaz manned effort was abandoned, and it was decided that Salyut alone would be used for international co-operation in space. The USSR could not afford two simultaneous manned stations. Further manned tests of military equipment would be made aboard Salyut. These experiments were developed by the various scientific institutes of the Ministry of Defense, supervised by Minobshchenash under the direction of the general staff.

Chelomei was told to scrap his unflown Almaz stations but instead hid them in a corner of his vast factory. The TKS was finally flown several times in conjunction with civilian Salyut stations., but never with its intended manned crew.

Military experiments planned for Almaz were moved to Salyut and Mir. The TKS design was adapted for use as Mir modules. Most notably the Spektr module was originally designed to test reconnaissance and anti-satellite systems.

Almaz continued in one form. As a counterpoint to the American Lacrosse satellite, a version of Almaz with an enormous side-looking radar was designed. The first such Almaz-T was to be launched in 1981. However, an order arrived from Moscow ten days prior to the launch - terminate the Almaz Program as a result of work on Buran. Ustinov had decided to deal the finishing blow to Chelomei. Only after the deaths of Chelomei and Ustinov (they died the same year two weeks apart) did new Chief Designer Gerbert Yefremov manage to convince Minister of Defense Sokolov that the program needed to be continued. They authorized him to prepare for launch the station that had collected dust for six years at the Baikonur test range. To the designers' surprise, the Almaz was in decent condition (in contrast to its fairing, which had been used as a toilet). It had only been saved by its external placards - 'Warning - Don't Enter - Self-Destruct Charges on Board'. This much-suffering Almaz was launched on November 29, 1986. But the second stage did not separate for the first time in many years and the same self-destruct charges destroyed the Almaz.

The next Almaz-T was erected on the launch pad on June 25, 1987. The Proton launch vehicle normally cannot be kept fuelled, on hold, for more than four days. An order once again arrived at Baikonur - delay the launch and remove the rocket from the launch pad. The order was ignored, with extraordinary measures being taken to keep the station inside the shroud at normal temperatures despite hot summer days of 42 degrees C. Learning that Minister of General Machine Building Baklanov was at Baikonur, and he finally agreed to allow launch of the spacecraft. It received the name Cosmos 1870 and provided radar imagery to scientific and commercial customers for two years. A second Almaz-T was flown in 1991 as Almaz-1. This spacecraft was instrumental in the rescue of the expedition lost on the ice of Antarctica in the ship Mikhail Somov. No other sensor could locate the ship in the perpetual polar night.

In 1992, the Machine Building NPO began to develop a new Almaz-T, with three radars and an optical telescope. But financing was not forthcoming. The Almaz and TKS designs, however, live on into the 21st century - the Almaz as the International Space station base block, and the TKS as the International Space Station Zarya Functional Cargo Block.


Crew Size: 2. Orbital Storage: 410 days. Habitable Volume: 100.00 m3. Spacecraft delta v: 300 m/s (980 ft/sec). Electric System: 3.12 average kW.

AKA: 11F71; Mech.
Gross mass: 17,800 kg (39,200 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 16,000 kg (35,000 lb).
Payload: 5,000 kg (11,000 lb).
Height: 14.55 m (47.73 ft).
Span: 17.00 m (55.00 ft).
Thrust: 7.84 kN (1,763 lbf).
Specific impulse: 291 s.
First Launch: 1973.04.03.
Last Launch: 1976.06.22.
Number: 3 .

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
Associated Engines
  • RD-0225 Kosberg N2O4/UDMH rocket engine. 3.923 kN. Almaz space station orbital maneuvering. Hardware. Originally designed for UR-100 follow-ons spaceships. Two engines used on Almaz space station for orbital maneuvering, Pressure fed. Isp=287s. First flight 1974. More...

See also
Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Proton The Proton launch vehicle has been the medium-lift workhorse of the Soviet and Russian space programs for over forty years. Although constantly criticized within Russia for its use of toxic and ecologically-damaging storable liquid propellants, it has out-lasted all challengers, and no replacement is in sight. Development of the Proton began in 1962 as a two-stage vehicle that could be used to launch large military payloads or act as a ballistic missile with a 100 megaton nuclear warhead. The ICBM was cancelled in 1965, but development of a three-stage version for the crash program to send a Soviet man around the moon began in 1964. The hurried development caused severe reliability problems in early production. But these were eventually solved, and from the 1970's the Proton was used to launch all Russian space stations, medium- and geosynchronous orbit satellites, and lunar and planetary probes. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Chelomei Russian manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Chelomei Design Bureau, Reutov, Russia. More...
  • MOM Russian agency overseeing development of spacecraft. Ministry of General Machine Building (Moskva, Russia), Moscow, Russia. More...

Associated Propellants
  • N2O4/UDMH Nitrogen tetroxide became the storable liquid propellant of choice from the late 1950's. Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine ((CH3)2NNH2) became the storable liquid fuel of choice by the mid-1950's. Development of UDMH in the Soviet Union began in 1949. It is used in virtually all storable liquid rocket engines except for some orbital manoeuvring engines in the United States, where MMH has been preferred due to a slightly higher density and performance. More...

  • Pauw, H, "New Facts About Soviet Space Stations", Spaceflight, 1994, Volume 36, page 89.
  • Haeseler, Dietrich, "Original Almaz Space Station", Spaceflight, 1994, Volume 35, page 342.
  • Kidger, Neville, "Almaz - A Diamond Out of Darkness", Spaceflight, 1994, Volume 36, page 86.
  • Chugunova, Nina, "Kosmonavti Chelomeya", Ogonyok, January 1993, No. 4-5, page 24.
  • Afanasyev, I B, Neizvestnie korabli, Kosmonavtika, Astronomiya, Znanie, 12-91..
  • Melnik, T G, Voenno-Kosmicheskiy Siliy, Nauka, Moscow, 1997..

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