The Almaz (Russian: Алмаз - "Diamond") program was a series of military space stations (or "Orbital Piloted Station" - OPS) launched by the Soviet Union under cover of the civilian Salyut DOS-17K (Durable Orbital Station) program after 1971.
Salyut 2 failed shortly after achieving orbit, but Salyut 3 and Salyut 5 both conducted successful manned testing. Following Salyut 5, the Soviet Ministry of Defence judged in 1978 that the time consumed by station maintenance outweighed the benefits relative to automatic reconnaissance satellites.
Almaz was promoted by Vladimir Chelomei as a response to the USAF's MOL project. Like its counterpart, the Almaz OPS would be launched with its initial crew atop Chelomei's UR-500 Proton rocket. After an extended stay of 30 to 60 days of military observation and photography the crew would return to Earth by way of a reusable Return Vehicle (VA).
Unlike the American MOL design the Almaz was equipped with a docking port for subsequent crews. These crews would arrive in manned TKS, also launched by the UR-500. And just like Almaz OPS, the TKS was equipped with its own return vehicle.
Orbital Piloted Stations (OPS)
The OPS basic design features are 4.15 meters in diameter and a weight of 20 tonnes. From 1965 to 1970, eight test models and two flight ready spaceframes were built. Five missions were executed with two considered a success. Total time spent in space in the program was 81 days.
OPS-1 (Salyut 2)
The first Almaz station (OPS-1 or Almaz 101.1), announced as Salyut 2, it was launched on April 3, 1973. For purposes of military secrecy, it was publicly designated Salyut 2 upon reaching orbit. A crew was prepared to fly to the station but an accident days after the launch left OPS-1 disabled and depressurized.
OPS-2 (Salyut 3)
OPS-2 (or Almaz 101.2), announced as Salyut 3, was launched on June 25, 1974. The crew of the Soyuz 14 spacecraft spent 15 days aboard the station in July 1974. A second expedition was launched toward OPS-2 in August 1974, but failed to reach the station. The station successfully remotely test-fired an onboard aircraft cannon at a target satellite while the station was unmanned. Salyut-3 was deorbited in January 1975.
OPS-3 (Salyut 5)
OPS-3 (or Almaz 103), announced after launch as Salyut 5, entered orbit on June 22, 1976. It was visited by two crews in the summer of 1976 and winter of 1977.
The next Almaz station, OPS-4, was to be the first station launched with a three panel Mech-A Synthetic Aperture Radar and a manned reusable Return Vehicle VA, however the VA was replaced by a second TKS docking port. This station's Shchit-1 23 mm defense cannon was also to be replaced with an advanced Shchit-2 space-to-space cannon. The Shchit-2 was reported to be a two projectile system, although no photographs of it have ever been published and it does not appear that this system was ever installed on the station. OPS-4 was grounded when the Almaz manned program was cancelled.
In addition to reconnaissance equipment, Almaz was equipped with a 23mm Nudelman rapid-fire cannon mounted on the forward belly of the station.[Need quotation to verify] This self-lubricating cannon was modified from the tail-gun of the Tu-22 bomber and was capable of firing 950 rounds per minute. Each 200 gram projectile flew at a speed of 690 m/s relative to the station.[Need quotation to verify] To aim the cannon, which was in a fixed mounting, the entire station would be turned to face the threat.
Salyut 3/OPS-2 conducted a successful test firing on a target satellite remotely with the station unmanned due to concerns over excessive vibration and noise.
OPS-4 was to have featured two unguided missiles instead of the aircraft cannon, but this system has not been shown publicly and may have never been fully manufactured.
Following cancellation of the program, the Almaz station was reconfigured as an unmanned heavy radar-carrying reconnaissance satellite. Three such satellites were launched, two of which functioned successfully in orbit.
- Almaz-T - The first Almaz-T blasted off from Baikonur on October 29, 1986. It did not reach orbit due to the failure of the first and second stages of the Proton launcher to separate. The safety system then destroyed the vehicle.
- Kosmos 1870 - On July 25, 1987, the second Almaz-T spacecraft successfully reached orbit with an inclination 71.92 degrees toward the Equator and it was officially identified as Cosmos-1870. The spacecraft functioned for two years, providing radar imagery with a resolution down to 25 meters, until it was deorbited on July 30, 1989.
- Almaz-1 - The third Almaz-T spacecraft was launched on March 31, 1991 under the name Almaz-1. After the launch a failure of the communications antenna designed to downlink the imagery via the Luch relay satellite was noted. Also one of the solar panels failed to deploy completely, leaving the main radar panel of the spacecraft partially blocked. After 18 months of successful work the Almaz-1 was deorbited on October 17, 1992 over the Pacific Ocean.
- Almaz-2 (Almaz-1V) - Not flown. It had a new radar which would have provided a resolution of 5 to 7 meters. In addition, an optical-electronic payload on the station would have been capable of producing imagery with a resolution of 2.5 – 4 meters.
Currently, the private spaceflight company Excalibur Almaz has four space capsules derived from the TKS Return capsule, one will be used in support of space tourism while the other three capsules will be reserved for scientific and commercial payloads.
Notes and references
- The Almaz Space Station Program
- Mir Hardware Heritage
- Almaz on Encyclopedia Astronautica
- Nova "Astrospies". Chapter 5 features Almaz Program
Almaz program Manned stations Unmanned satellitesAlmaz-T · Kosmos 1870 · Almaz 1 · Almaz 2 (not flown) Salyut program Salyut stations (DOS) Almaz stations (OPS) Successors TKS spacecraft Support craftSoyuz · Progress ListsExpeditions · Spaceflights (manned · unmanned) · Visitors · Spacewalks Soviet and Russian government manned space programs Active Past Cancelled Space stations and habitats Active DefunctSoviet Union
and RussiaUnited States
Cancelled ISS-incorporated DevelopmentalChinaSpace Complex Alpha · Space Complex BravoRussiaOPSEK · LOS Proposed1 Never inhabited 2 Failed launch 3 Part of the Almaz military program
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