Il y a 50 ans, Saliout 1, la première station orbitale de l’histoire

50 years ago, Salyut 1, the first orbital station in history

If the concept of the orbital station was drawn up by Russian precursor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (who identified in 1903 the orbital platforms that allow rockets to be launched to other planets), others take it and make it evolve such as American pioneers Goddard and German Roman Oberth, then von Braun in the 1950s Hurry famously.

From the wheel to the units

With the advent of the first Sputnik, the research offices of the United States and the USSR (re) began to study the concept of the orbital station. If the wheel-shaped structure prevailed for several decades, particularly because of the idea of ​​recreating artificial gravity, its realization nonetheless seemed complicated. The wheel concept then gave way to the simplest modular system consisting of fitting one or more units together.

In the 1960s, in the Soviet Union, two teams embarked on a project to develop an orbital station: the team of Vladimir Chilomio who proposed the Almaz military station (“Diamond”), and then the team of Vasily Mission (the former right arm of Sergey Korolev), who succeeded him in 1966 after his death ) Which studies a giant modular station. But above all, mastering the flights and various maneuvers, including mooring, was essential …

From the moon to the earth’s orbit

If between March and November 1966 the Americans carried out the first anchors (Gemini 8, 10, 11, and 12), then the Soviets on October 30, 1967 with Cosmos 186 and 188 carried out the first robotic mooring, indicating that it would have been possible to congregate in the space of a spaceship without a presence. Human. On January 16, 1969, the operation was carried out this time with the manned spacecraft Soyuz 4 and 5 which formed the embryo of an orbiting station of 12.9 tons (but there was no tunnel to pass from one ship to another). However, these steps were part of the moon landing program …

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In December 1968, the Americans carried out the first manned flight around the Moon (Apollo 8). The Soviets understand that they are unlikely to win the “race to the moon”. The success of Apollo 11 convinced the Soviet engineers who, in August 1969, proposed the construction of a “long-range orbital station” (DOS) from Almaz (whose construction had already been developed) to which a mooring collar would be added; This would make it possible to obtain a small orbital station as quickly as possible. Political leaders are enthusiastic, starting with Marshal Dmitry Ustinov, Minister of Defense and Space of the Party Central Committee, as well as Leonid Brezhnev, Secretary General of the Communist Party, who approves of it.

Salyut Properties 1

On February 9, 1970, the Ministry of General Machinery Construction officially began implementing the first DOS (first called “Zarya” (Dawn), then “Saliout” (Hello) in April 1971), under the responsibility of Mishin. Meanwhile, Soyuz’s flights continued, particularly with the Soyuz 9 which from 1 to 19 June 1970 made a standard endurance flight, paving the way for future long-term missions.

On April 19, 1971, a Proton-K bomber took off from Baikonur and successfully placed Salyut 1 in semi-circular orbit at an altitude of 220 km (inclination 51.6 °). With a total mass of 18.425 kg, the Salyut looks like a kind of cylinder with a length of 15.8 meters, a maximum diameter of 4.15 meters and a living volume of 82.5 cubic meters. Carrying 1,200 kg of scientific equipment (including OST-1 solar telescopes, UV Orion-1 and gamma Anna-3), the salyut is organized into two compact compartments with seven workstations plus the station’s central console, plus an uncompressed section for various instruments . Astronauts also have exercise equipment, sleeping bags, a toilet, water, food supplies, etc. As for energy, it is provided by four solar panels with a length of approximately 10 meters. However, the terminal has only one mooring port, located at the front, allowing only one crew at a time, with no possibility of refueling by another vessel.

Soyuz 10 and 11

A few days later, on April 23, Vladimir Shatalov, Alexei Ilysev and Nikolai Rukavishnikov set off for Salyut aboard the Soyuz 10, a new version of the Soyuz with a hatch that would allow passage from ship to station. The Soviet Union’s return to success. However, if the Soyuz 10 manages to dock with the station, the crew will not be able to open the hatch. This person is commanded to return to the ground, and it will be up to the next task to repeat the maneuver. Publicity is responsible for asserting that the Soyuz 10 flight initially consisted of an inspection visit.

The following June 6, Soyuz 11 was launched with Gueorgui Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsaïev and Vladislav Volkov. After a few hours, the crew docked and were able to enter the station. The Three Men perform about 140 scientific and medical (cardiovascular, bone density, visual acuity, etc.), biological (flies, algae, seeds, etc.), astrophysics (cosmic rays, UV rays, gamma rays, etc.), without forgetting Take pictures of the Earth. However, astronauts face some difficulties such as device malfunctions and short circuits resulting in a fire.

The End of Salyut 1

After breaking the record for longevity in space with 23 days and 18 hours, the crew returned to Earth on June 29. Unfortunately, the cabin of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft suffered from pressure drop and the three astronauts, not wearing a spacesuit, died without being able to prevent the accident. They have the right to a state funeral. Mourning is shared unanimously, including in the West, as in France where Paris Match The first page of its July 10 number is assigned to them under the heading: “The tragic death of the three astronauts in Soyuz. Space killed them.” The author of the article, Mark Heimer, ends his honor by noting this “It will not interrupt the invasion of space. On the contrary, everything indicates that it will facilitate the establishment of true cooperation between two giants in the universe (…).”

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After the Soyuz 11 tragedy, the station’s continued operation was canceled, and it was decided to take it out of orbit, to prevent it from spinning out of control. After remaining in orbit for 175 days, Salyut 1 fell again on October 11, 1971 in the dense layers of the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The Soviets would resume the occupation of low orbit in July 1974, with the launch of the Soyuz 14 mission towards Salyut 3 (meanwhile, two of the astronauts aboard the Soyuz 12 had made a flight of about two days).

Some references

– Book : Soviet satellite navigationWritten by Christian Lardier, A. Colin, Paris, 1992

– Package Soviet propaganda: Salyut orbital stations, Foreign Language Editor, Moscow, 1975

– an article On the Kosmonavtika website by Nicholas Billett, DOS – the birth of the project

Philippe Farnoteau, Ph.D. in history, specializes in the beginnings of space exploration in France and author of numerous reference books.

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