Long duration orbital stations Salyut

Since 1970 the development of orbital stations was one of the main directions of TsKBEV (today it is RSC Energia) work. The results of this work are recognized by the world public as one of the most priority achievements of Russia in the field of manned cosmonautics.

The Salyut station was the first in the world orbital station; work on its development began in late 1969. TsKBEM at that time was the recognized leader in the field of the manned space program implementation in the USSR. The team of the Central Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau (TsKBM, Reutov) headed by General Designer V.N. Chelomei was involved in the development of manned vehicles in the interests of the Ministry of Defence of the USSR. TsKBM developed the Almaz manned orbital complex which should become a counterbalance to the U.S. MOL project (manned orbital station for military use for reconnaissance and control of the ground military objectives from orbit).

The USA actively worked on the creation of the Skylab orbital station using a tank of the Saturn-5 launch vehicle stage III as its pressurized body. The date of this station launch – mid-1972 had already been determined. Our country evidently missed the priority direction of work. The spirit of rivalry between two leading space powers was in a sense a strong stimulus to the development of space technology in them including the creation of orbital stations.

Taking into account that work in this direction had already been performed at TsKBEM and knowing about the actual state of work on the Almaz OS, the group of TsKBEM experts (K.D. Bushuev, S.O. Okhapkin, B.E. Chertok, S.S. Kryukov, K.P. Feoktistov, B.V. Rauschenbach) addressed to secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union D.F. Ustinov with a proposal to develop an orbital station for solving scientific and national economic tasks as soon as possible. The essence of the proposal consisted in the development of the orbital station structure using the existing hardware of the orbital module of the Almaz station and the installation of the onboard systems of the Soyuz vehicle in it. The Soyuz vehicle itself (7K-T modification) was proposed to be used for the crew delivery to the station.

Despite the unique experience gained by TsKBEM in the field of manned cosmonauts the development of orbital stations required the solution of many new technical problems and organizational questions. In December 1969 this work was headed by Yu.P. Semenov as the leading designer.

So the subject of the development which within the next years was one of the main directions of work at TsKBEM was initiated.

In February 1970 the project of long duration orbital station (LDOS) which further was called Salyut was issued. In early March 1970 the first meeting of TsKBEM and TsKBM (F) specialists was held, who at a later time had to solve many technical and organizational problems and also uphold this direction of work in their organizations. Then, in March 1970, Yu.P. Semenov met with V.N. Chelomei for the first time. During this meeting it was possible to co-ordinate the transfer of four bodies of the Almaz station for work on long duration orbital station (LDOS). These four bodies were upgraded and for the development of the flight article and the breadboard models to check the accepted technical decisions. This allowed to reduce significantly the development time of the first in the world orbital station called Salyut.

Its Orbital Module consisted of the transfer, working and instrument compartments, as well as of the science hardware compartment. A set of solar arrays borrowed from vehicle 7K-OK was installed on the external surface of the transfer pressurized compartment 2.1 m in diameter. The working compartment had a pressure shell consisting of two rings 2.9 and 4.1 m in diameter which were connected between themselves by means of a conic adapter. The instrument compartment made as unpressurized 2.1 m in diameter was intended for arrangement of the correcting propulsion system borrowed from vehicle 7K-OK. On its external surface there was a system of two-component attitude-control engines newly developed and the second set of solar arrays also borrowed from vehicle 7K-OK was installed too. The station science hardware of a mass of 1.5 t included a solar telescope, X-ray telescope (RT-4), infrared telescope-spectrometer (IRTS); sight 60x (OD-4) and other equipment.

The station was created in the shortest time. The task of the station development and preparation for launch within a year was set at political level. It is necessary to note great enthusiasm with which participants of this unique project developed, manufactured and tested the first orbital station. Work went on round the clock without days off.

The second feature was that the station development was provided simultaneously at TsKBEM and TsKBM (F) but its manufacture – at the Khrunichev Plant and Experimental Machine-Building Plant (ZEM). The project and practically all basic systems of the station were developed at TsKBEM, manufacture of the main systems and delivery of component parts were provided at ZEM, design documentation for the body was issued at TsKBM (F), manufacture of the pressurized body, primary structure, basic structural elements, general assembly of the station were provided at the Khrunichev Plant. Integrated tests of the station after its assembly were carried out at TsKBEM.

The tight schedule dictated a special working procedure. Documentation preparation procedures were significantly simplified. The parts building was often provided according to the designer sketches. Simplification of the decision-making procedures did not lead to the quality degradation as the operational-technical management constantly and immediately accepted technical decisions.

In this case there was an interesting situation: Chief Designer and Head of TsKBEM V.P. Mishin did not participate in the proposal generation in the initial phase and was opposed to the activities with regard to the orbital station but General Designer and Head of TsKBM V.N. Chelomei was a strong opponent to this work transfer to TsKBEM. These managers could not stop work on the station as it was supported by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but nevertheless the presence of such opposition created additional difficulties for work participants. In 1972 V.P. Mishin and V.N. Chelomei even sent the joint letter to Minister of General Machine-Building S.A. Afanasiev with the proposal to terminate work on the Salyut stations at TsKBEM as V.P. Mishin considered that the Moon development should be the main direction of work. However the hardware already existing and enthusiasm of the participants did not allow to terminate this work.

In December 1970 the orbital module of the station was assembled at the Khrunichev Plant and transferred to ZEM for carrying out tests after the termination of which in March 1971 it was delivered to the launch site. Work at the cosmodrome (on the workstation newly created) was performed within 40 days. From the beginning of the project development to the station launch into orbit less than 16 months passed. Never before such complex space vehicles were developed as soon as possible. It goes without saying that when developing the station structure and systems great experience of work participants and the technology advance with regard to the systems already developed was used. But the essential factors which allowed to do it were: enthusiasm and a high responsibility “reigning” in all the teams, the efficient work management, support of higher authorities such as the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Ministry of General Machine-Building (MGMB), the corresponding documentation maintenance procedure, the hardware development, manufacture and test.

On April 19, 1971 the Proton launch vehicle with LDOS No. 1 called Salyut was launched. This name remained for all the subsequent series of orbital stations. Only several people know that in fact the station name was Zarya. It was the word which was written in capital letters on the station body; it was the name of the first orbital station launched. But just before its launch the station was urgently renamed as it turned out that the Chinese space vehicle already had this name.

First Orbital Station Salyut on the assembly trolley at the Baikonur Cosmodrome
First Orbital Station Salyut on the assembly trolley at the Baikonur Cosmodrome

The delivery of the first in the world orbital station to orbit opened a new epoch in space exploration by man. The great number of organizations took part in its creation but the TsKBEM (RSC Energia) role in this work is, of course, decisive. It was the prime organization engaged in the subject, which provided the development of the station project and systems and also the manned vehicles for the crew delivery to it.

The first expedition to the station (cosmonauts V.A. Shatalov, A.S. Eliseev and N.N. Rukavishnikov) on the Soyuz-10 vehicle was lunched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 23, 1971. The station mechanical capture was provided using the docking mechanism of the Soyuz-10 vehicle but because of the malfunctions occurred during retraction the normal docking did not occur and the crew had to return to Earth.

The second expedition was launched into orbit on June 6, 1971 by the Soyuz-11 vehicle. The docking and the crew transfer to the station passed normally. The cosmonauts worked in orbit for about 23 days having established an absolute record of the man stay in space. The crew implemented the program of scientific, technical and medical experiments. The mapping of the star sky was provided using ultraviolet telescope Orion (such observations cannot be made on Earth because of the radiation absorption by the atmosphere in the ultraviolet spectrum); exploration of the water area of the World Ocean in the interests of fishery; a great program of medical experiments.

Soyuz-11 with the crew undocked from the station and made a landing to Earth on June 30, 1971. The landing had a tragic end: cosmonauts G.T. Dobrovolsky, V.N. Volkov and V.I. Patsaev died because of the descent vehicle depressurization. In connection with this failure the crew flights to the station were not performed further and the station operated in orbit in the unmanned mode. On October 11, 1971 on command from Earth the station entered the dense atmospheric layers over the water area of the Pacific Ocean and ceased to exist.

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