The Soviet Union was involved in another round of the arms race in space. In response, the USSR worked on the creation of various orbital means that could be launched into space with the help of a new launch vehicle of the super-heavy class “Energy”, as well as the reusable spacecraft “Buran”. Among the new developments were various combat orbital vehicles, called Cascade, Bolid, but today we will talk about another spacecraft — the Skif combat orbital laser.
As soon as mankind discovered the cosmos, the military raised their eyes to the stars. Moreover, the most obvious and the first task, which was solved by practical cosmonautics, was the possibility of using outer space for various military purposes. Corresponding projects existed and were considered both in the USA and in the Soviet Union already in the 1950-s. The visible result of such projects was anti-satellite. weapon, only in the USSR in the 1960-80-s conducted dozens of tests of anti-satellite weapons, including fighter satellites. The first maneuvering satellite in the Soviet Union, called the “Flight-1”, turned out to be 1 in November, 1963, and “Flight-1” was a prototype of the interceptor satellite.
The last launch of such a device was successfully carried out on 18 on June 1982 of the year as part of large-scale exercises of the strategic nuclear forces of the Soviet Union, in the West these exercises were included history under the name "Seven-hour nuclear war." During the USSR exercise, it launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, both sea-based and land-based, launched interceptor missiles and launched military satellites, including the satellite fighter. The American leadership was greatly impressed by the teachings of the Soviet nuclear forces. A month after the completion of the exercise, Reagan made a statement about the deployment of the American anti-satellite system, and in March of the following year he publicly announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SOI), which quickly received the unofficial and spectacular name "Star Wars", of course, the name was directly connected with the popular artistic the movie.
But do not think that the US military and engineers began working on the SDI program after the president’s statement. In the United States, such research and research and development activities were developed already in the early 1970-s. At the same time, American designers considered a large number of projects, among which there were also exotic ones, but the main ones involved the deployment of laser, kinetic and beam weapons in space. In our country, research work in this direction also began in the middle of the 1970-s, employees of the Scientific-Production Association Energia were working on creating variants of impact space weapons. The tasks that the leadership of the Soviet Union set for the specialists of NPO Energia resembled the same tasks that Ronald Reagan voiced in March of 1983. The main goal of the Soviet Star Wars was to create space assets that would destroy military spacecraft of a potential enemy, an ICBM during the flight and hit ground, sea and air objects of special importance.
Work on the creation of the Soviet PIO was mainly to consider different scenarios of combat operations in Earth orbit, scientific research, theoretical calculations, determining the advantages of certain types of weapons that can be placed on board the spacecraft. At the same time, in the specialized literature it is noted that over the entire period of development in the USSR of spacecraft necessary for the confrontation of the American PIO, such work has never been so well coordinated, not so targeted, and did not have such funding as in the United States.
As a means of destroying space stations and military equipment, a single space platform was considered, which would be equipped with a different set of airborne weapons: rockets and a laser installation. Two new combat spacecraft were created by engineers of NPO Energia. As a base platform, Soviet engineers chose the well-known orbital station 17K DOS, moreover, the research and production association had extensive experience in operating spacecraft of this type. On the basis of a single platform, two combat complexes were developed, designated 17F111 "Cascade" with missile weapons and 17F19 "Skiff" with laser weapons.
Combat Orbital Skif Laser
Quite quickly in the Soviet Union found the fight against intercontinental ballistic missiles difficult task. For this reason, the main customer of the project of the USSR Ministry of Defense decided to focus on creating effective models of anti-satellite weapons. This is a pragmatic and understandable decision, given that it is more difficult to detect and then destroy the ICBM or the warhead separated from the missile than to disable the enemy’s satellite or space station. In fact, in the USSR they worked on the “anti-SDI” program. The main emphasis was placed on the destruction of American military spacecraft, their decommissioning was to deprive the states of protection against Soviet ICBMs. Such a decision was fully consistent with the Soviet military doctrine, according to which the American stations and the PIO devices were originally to be destroyed, which would allow launching ballistic missiles at targets located in the enemy’s territory.
On the new spacecraft was planned to install an existing laser. The benefit of a suitable sample of a megawatt laser in the USSR at that time was. Naturally, the laser still needed to be tested in space. The creation of an airborne laser installation in our country was carried out by specialists from one of the branches of the Institute of Atomic Energy named after Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov. The engineers of the institute created a working gas-dynamic laser. A developed laser facility designed to be placed on board an IL-76MD aircraft and operating on carbon dioxide has already passed flight tests by the year of the 1983. The possibility of placing such a laser in the earth's orbit appeared thanks to the creation of the Energia launch vehicle, which had a suitable payload removal rate.
The first orbital laser received the designation "Skif-D", the letter "D" in the name meant a demonstration. It was primarily an experimental spacecraft, on which the Soviet military expected to test not only the laser itself, but also a specific list of standard systems (motion control, power supply, separation and orientation) intended for installation on other satellites, which were also developed as part of the Soviet analogue of "Star Wars".
The first unit "Skif-D" had the following design features. The orbital laser station consisted of two modules: the CM — the target module and the FSB — a functional service module. Between themselves, they are connected tight coupling. The FSB module was used for additional acceleration of the spacecraft after separation from the launch vehicle. To reach the reference low Earth orbit, the module added the necessary speed 60 m / s. In addition to the pre-overclocking function, the FSB also served as a repository for all major spacecraft service systems. To provide the ship's systems with electrical energy, solar modules were placed on the module, the same ones were used on the Supply Ship Ship (TKS). In fact, the FSB itself was a ship of supply for orbital stations of the Salyut type, well mastered by the Soviet industry.
Unlike the module described above, the target module of the combat orbital laser had no prototypes. The CM consisted of three compartments for different purposes: ORT — a compartment of working bodies; OE - energy compartment and OCA - special equipment compartment. In the first, the designers placed the cylinders filled with CO2, the main purpose - the power supply of the laser system. In the energy compartment it was planned to install two electric turbogenerators with a total capacity of 2,4 MW at once. As you might guess, in the last remaining compartment there was a combat laser, here was the place to place the SNU, the guidance and restraint system. The head of the OCA module was made rotatable relative to the rest of the spacecraft, as the Soviet designers took care of facilitating the guidance of the laser system at the target.
A great deal of work was done in the Soviet design offices, one of the developments was a round head fairing that protected the functional unit. For the first time in the Soviet Union metal was not used for the production of the head fairing, it was carbon-fiber. The first Skif-DM, the demo model, was distinguished by the same overall weight characteristics that a combat orbital laser would have received. The maximum diameter of the device was 4,1 meters, length - 37 meters, weight - about 80 tons. It was Skif-DM that turned out to be the only spacecraft launched into space that was developed in the Soviet Union under the program to create a Skif combat orbital laser, the same event was the first launch of an energy-carrying super-heavy launch vehicle.
The first launch of "Energy"
The rocket "Energy" became the personification of the power and achievements of the Soviet space program. It remained forever the most powerful in the line of Soviet launch vehicles, and in the Russian Federation there was not a single launch of the rocket that could come close in its capabilities to Energia, which could bring low-Earth orbit to 100 tons of payload. Neither before nor after it have the superheavy class missiles been built in the USSR and Russia yet.
15 May 1987, the extra-heavy rocket Energia, broke away from the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome. It is worth noting that just two launches were made. The second became much more famous as it was carried out as part of the tests of the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The successful launch into space of the Soviet launch vehicle of a super-heavy class for world cosmonautics was sensational, the appearance of such a rocket opened up attractive prospects not only for the Soviet Union, but also for the whole world. In the first flight, the rocket launched the Polyus apparatus into space, as it was called in the media. In reality, the Pole was a dynamic mock-up of the Skif military orbital platform (17Ф119). The payload was impressive, the dynamic layout of the future orbital laser weighed more than 80 tons.
The overall weight model of the future station launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome fully corresponded in mass and size to the orbital laser being created. Initially, Energia with a payload in the form of a Skif-DM mockup was going to be sent into space back in September of 1986, but the launch was postponed several times. As a result, the Skif-DM complex was docked with the rocket and fully prepared for launch only in April of the following year. As a result, an important for the history of the national cosmonautics event occurred 15 May 1987, the delay on the launch day was 5 hours. In flight, two stages of the extra-heavy launch vehicle Energia worked in normal mode, the Skif-DM dimensional weight model successfully separated from the launch vehicle 460 seconds after launch, this happened at an altitude of 110 km. But then the problems started. Due to the switching error of the electrical circuit, the reversal of the dynamic layout of the combat laser station after separation from the rocket lasted longer than the scheduled time. As a result, the dynamic model did not reach the specified near-earth orbit and fell along the ballistic trajectory to the surface of the Earth in the Pacific Ocean. Despite the failure, the report, which was compiled after the launch, said that 80 percent of the planned experiments were successfully completed. It is known that the flight program of the Skif-DM apparatus provided for the conduct of six geophysical and four applied experiments.
There was no launch of a full-fledged combat station with a laser on board into Earth orbit. Even Energia itself managed to make only two flights. In the midst of perestroika, the collapse of the country and the collapse of the economy was not up to "Star Wars." In 1991, the program, which was a response to the US Strategic Defense Initiative, was completely discontinued. Overseas, work within the framework of the PIO project was finally stopped by the 1993 year, and the efforts of American designers and engineers also did not lead to the creation of space-based laser or beam weapons.