Looking at the shooting star, do not rush to make a wish. Human whims are not always good. Yes, and shooting stars also do not always bring joy: many of them do not know how to fulfill desires, but they can at once let go of all sins.
At midnight, a new Star of Bethlehem flashed in the sky from 6 on 7 on January 1978. The whole world froze in agonizing anticipation. Is the end of the world near? But what exactly is this bright spot rushing fast across the sky?
Despite the super secrecy, information about the true origin of the Bethlehem Star and the threat it poses to the whole world has leaked to the Western media. On that Christmas night of 1978, the Cosmos-954 spacecraft was depressurized. A satellite in low Earth orbit has finally gone out of the control of terrestrial services. Now nothing could prevent him from falling to Earth.
Cases of malfunctioning and uncontrolled descent of spacecraft from orbit are not uncommon, but most of the debris burns in the upper atmosphere, and those of the structural elements that still reach the surface do not pose a great danger to the inhabitants of the Earth. The chance of falling under the falling fragments of a spacecraft is small, while the fragments themselves are of modest size and are not capable of causing significant damage. But at that time everything turned out differently: unlike some innocuous Phobos-Grunt station, Cosmos-954, an infernal unit filled with 30 in kilograms of highly enriched uranium, got out of control.
Behind the inconspicuous government index "Cosmos-954" was a massive 4-ton station with a nuclear power plant on board - a space reconnaissance complex, passing according to NATO documents as the RORSAT (Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite).
Uncontrollable device quickly lost speed and height. The fall of "Cosmos-954" to the Earth was becoming inevitable ... Everything should happen in the near future. But who will get the main prize?
The prospect of playing “Russian roulette” with a nuclear accent has alarmed the whole world. With bated breath, everyone peered into the night mist ... Somewhere, among a placer of twinkling stars, a real “Death Star” rushed, threatening to incinerate any city that its fragments would collapse on.
Maritime Space Intelligence and Targeting System
But for what purposes did the Soviet Union need such a dangerous apparatus?
Nuclear reactor in space? What didn’t suit domestic specialists the standard solar panels or, in extreme cases, compact radioisotope generators? All answers lie in the field of destination of the satellite.
The Cosmos-954 spacecraft belonged to the US-A satellite series (Managed Satellite Active), a key element of the global system of maritime space intelligence and target designation (MKRTS) Legend.
The meaning of the work of the MKRTS was to deploy in a near-earth orbit a group of satellites intended for tracking the sea surface and determining the situation in any region of the World Ocean. Having received such a system, Soviet naval sailors could, with one click of their fingers, request and receive information about the current position of the ships in a given square, determine their number and direction of movement, and thereby reveal all the plans and plans of the “likely enemy”.
Global "Legend" threatened to become the "all-seeing eye" of the Navy Fleet - extremely sharp-sighted, reliable and practically invulnerable system of naval intelligence. However, a beautiful theory in practice resulted in a complex of intractable problems of a technical nature: a complex system of heterogeneous technical complexes, united by a single functioning algorithm.
A lot of branch research centers and design teams were involved in the creation of the MKRTS, in particular, the Physics and Energy Institute, the Institute of Atomic Energy. I.V. Kurchatov, the Leningrad plant "Arsenal" them. Mv Frunze. The working group headed by Academician M.V. Keldysh. The same team calculated the parameters of the orbits and the optimal mutual arrangement of the spacecraft during the operation of the system. The head organization responsible for the creation of the Legend was NPO Mashinostroenie, under the direction of V.N. Chalomeya.
The basic principle of the MKRTS was the active method of conducting reconnaissance using radar. The orbital constellation of satellites should have been led by the US-A series vehicles - unique satellites equipped with a two-sided side-looking radar of the Chaika system. The equipment of these stations provided round-the-clock all-weather detection of objects on the sea surface and the issuance of intelligence and target designation on board warships of the Soviet Navy in real time.
It is easy to imagine how inconceivable cosmic power the Soviet Union possessed!
However, when implementing the idea of a “radar satellite”, the creators of the MKRTS came across a number of mutually exclusive paragraphs.
So, for the radar to work effectively, it should be placed as close as possible to the Earth's surface: the US-A orbits should be at altitudes of 250-280 km (for comparison, the altitude of the ISS orbit is over 400 km). On the other hand, the radar was extremely demanding in terms of power consumption. But where to get in space sufficiently powerful and compact source of electrical energy?
Solar panels large area?
But a low orbit with short-term stability (several months) makes it difficult to use solar batteries: due to the decelerating effect of the atmosphere, the device will quickly lose speed and descend from orbit prematurely. In addition, the spacecraft spends part of the time in the shadow of the Earth: solar batteries will not be able to continuously provide electricity to a powerful radar installation.
Remote methods of transmitting energy from the Earth to a satellite using high-power lasers or microwave radiation? Sci-fi, unreachable for the technology of the end of 1960's.
Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs)?
Red-hot plutonium tablet + thermocouple. What could be easier? Such power plants have found the widest application on spacecraft - a reliable and compact anaerobic source of electricity that can operate continuously for a couple of decades. Alas, their electrical power was completely inadequate - even for the best samples of RTGs it does not exceed 300 ... 400 W. This is enough to power the scientific equipment and communication systems of ordinary satellites, but the power consumption of the US-A systems was about 3000 W!
There was only one way out - a full-fledged nuclear reactor with control rods and cooling circuits.
At the same time, in view of the severe restrictions imposed by rocket and space technology when launching cargo into orbit, the installation should have a maximum compactness and relatively small mass. Every extra kilogram cost tens of thousands of full-fledged Soviet rubles. The specialists were faced with the nontrivial task of creating a nuclear mini-reactor — a lightweight, powerful, but reliable enough to survive the overloads when placed into orbit and two months of continuous work in open space. What is the problem of spacecraft cooling and the discharge of excess heat in airless space?
Nuclear reactor for TES-5 "Topaz" spacecraft
And yet such a reactor was created! Soviet engineers have created a small man-made miracle - BES-5 "Buk". Fast neutron reactor with a liquid metal coolant, specially created as a means for the energy supply of spacecraft.
The core was a combination of 37 fuel assemblies with a total heat output of 100 kW. As fuel was used weapons uranium with a degree of enrichment of up to 90%! Outside, the reactor vessel was surrounded by a 100 mm thick beryllium reflector. The core was controlled by six movable beryllium rods parallel to each other. The temperature of the primary circuit of the reactor is 700 ° C. The temperature of the secondary circuit is 350 ° C. The electric power of the BES-5 thermocouple was 3 kilowatts. The weight of the entire installation is about 900 kg. The resource of the reactor is 120 ... 130 days.
In view of the complete uninhabitability of the apparatus and its location outside the human habitat, no specialized biological protection was provided. The US-A design provided for only local radiation protection of the reactor by the radar.
However, a serious problem arises ... After a few months, the device will inevitably come out of orbit and collapse in the atmosphere of the Earth. How to avoid radiation contamination of the planet? How to safely "get rid" of the terrible fingering "Buk"?
The only right decision is to separate the stage with the reactor and “preserve” it in high orbit (750 ... 1000 km), where, according to calculations, it will be stored for 250 and more than years. Well, and then our advanced descendants will definitely come up with something ...
In addition to the unique US-A radar satellite, which received the nickname “Long” for its appearance, the Legend information center included several US-P radio intelligence satellites (“Managed Passive Satellite”, naval nickname - “Flat”). Compared with the “long” satellites, the “flat” satellites were much more primitive satellites - conventional reconnaissance satellites, which were guided to the position of enemy shipborne radars, radio stations and any other sources of radio emission. Weight US-P - 3,3 tons. The height of the working orbit - 400 + km. The source of energy is solar panels.
In the period from 1970 to 1988 of the year, the Soviet Union launched a satellite BUC-32 Buk into the 5 orbit. In addition, two more launched vehicles (Cosmos-1818 and Cosmos-1867) carried on board a new advanced installation of the TPP-5 Topaz. New technologies allowed to increase the energy release to 6,6 kW: it was possible to raise the height of the orbit, as a result of which the service life of the new satellite was increased to six months.
Ten of the 32 US-A launches with the BES-5 “Buk” nuclear installation had some serious malfunctions: some satellites were taken early to the “burial orbit” due to the melting of the core or the failure of other reactor systems. For the three vehicles, the matter ended even more seriously: they lost control and collapsed in the upper atmosphere without separating and “preserving” their reactor facilities:
- 1973 year, due to a crash of a launch vehicle, the US-A satellite was not placed in low near-earth orbit and collapsed in the North Pacific;
- 1982 year - another uncontrolled descent from orbit. The wreckage of the satellite "Cosmos-1402" disappeared into the raging waves of the Atlantic.
And, of course, the main incident in stories MKRTS - the fall of the satellite "Cosmos-954".
The Cosmos-954 spacecraft was launched from Baikonur 18 on September 1977, together with its twin colleague, Cosmos-952. Spacecraft orbit parameters: perigee - 259 km, apogee - 277 km. The orbit inclination is 65 °.
A month later, on October 28, MCC specialists unexpectedly lost control of the satellite. According to calculations, at that moment, Cosmos-954 was located above the Woomera test site (Australia), which suggested that the Soviet satellite fell under the influence of an unknown weapon (a powerful American laser or a radar installation). Whether this was so in reality, or the reason was the usual equipment failure, but the spacecraft stopped responding to the MCC requests and refused to transfer its nuclear installation to a higher "burial orbit". On January 6 of 1978, the instrument compartment was depressurized - the emergency Cosmos-954 finally turned into a pile of dead metal with a high radiation background, and every day it was getting closer to Earth.
Operation "Morning Light"
... The spacecraft flew rapidly downward, tumbling in a raging cloud of plasma. Closer, closer to the surface ...
Finally, Cosmos-954 went beyond the review of Soviet tracking stations and disappeared on the other side of the globe. The curve on the computer screen jerked and straightened, indicating the location of the likely fall of the satellite. Computers accurately calculated the place of the fall of 954-th - somewhere in the middle of the snow-covered expanses of northern Canada.
"A Soviet satellite with a small nuclear device on board has fallen into Canada"
- urgent TASS message from 24 January 1978 of the year
Well, everything will start now ... Diplomats, military, environmentalists, UN, public organizations and annoying reporters. Statements and notes of protest, expert opinions, accusatory articles, reports from the crash site, evening TV shows with the participation of invited experts and venerable scientists, holding various rallies and protests. And laughter, and sin. The Soviets dropped an atomic satellite to North America.
However, everything is not so bad: an exceptionally low population density in those parts should help to avoid serious consequences and civilian casualties. In the end, the satellite collapsed not over densely populated Europe and certainly not over Washington.
Experts linked the last hope with the design of the device itself. The creators of US-A thought about a similar scenario: in case of loss of control over the spacecraft and the impossibility of separating the reactor facility for its subsequent transfer to the “conservation orbit”, the passive protection of the satellite was to take effect. The side beryllium reflector of the reactor consisted of several segments strapped with a steel tape — when the spacecraft entered the Earth’s atmosphere, the heat had to destroy the tape. Next, the plasma streams "gut" the reactor, scattering the uranium assembly and moderator. This will make it possible to burn most of the materials in the upper layers of the atmosphere and exclude large radioactive fragments of the apparatus on the Earth’s surface.
In reality, the epic with the fall of a nuclear satellite ended as follows.
The passive protection system was unable to prevent radiation contamination: satellite fragments were dispersed in a strip of length 800 km. However, due to the almost complete lack of human life in those areas of Canada, it was possible to avoid any serious consequences for the life and health of the civilian population.
In total, during the search operation "Morning Light" ("Cosmos-954" collapsed at dawn, tracing a bright fiery strip in the sky over North America), the Canadian military and their US counterparts managed to assemble more than 100 satellite fragments - disks, rods, reactor fittings, whose radioactive background ranged from a few micro X-rays to 200 X-rays / hour. Part of the beryllium reflector was the most valuable find for American intelligence.
Soviet intelligence seriously planned to conduct a secret operation in Canada to eliminate the wreckage of an emergency satellite, but the idea did not find support among the party leadership: if the Soviet group were found in the enemy’s rear, the unpleasant situation with a nuclear accident would have become a grandiose scandal.
Quite a few mysteries are connected with the payment of compensation: according to the 1981 report of the year, Canada estimated its costs to eliminate the satellite’s fall in 6041174,70 dollars. The USSR agreed to pay only 3 million. It is still not known for certain what compensation the Soviet side paid. In any case, the amount was purely symbolic.
A flurry of accusations of using dangerous technologies and mass protests against the launch of satellites with nuclear reactors failed to force the USSR to abandon the development of its fantastic MKRTS. However, the launches were suspended for three years. All this time, Soviet specialists have been working to improve the safety of the BES-5 “Buk” nuclear installation. Now, a gas-dynamic method for the destruction of a nuclear reactor with the forced ejection of fuel elements was introduced into the design of the satellite.
The system continued to improve continuously. The Legends high potential was demonstrated by the Falklands conflict (1982 year). The awareness of Soviet sailors about the situation in the combat zone was better than that of the direct participants in the conflict. MKRTS allowed to "open" the composition and plans of the squadron of Her Majesty, and accurately predict the time of the landing of the British landing force.
The latest launch of a naval reconnaissance satellite with a nuclear reactor took place on 14 in March 1988.
The real MKRTS "Legend" had little to do with the mythical image created on the pages of popular technical literature. The system that existed at that time was a nightmare: the principles embodied in the work of the ICRT turned out to be excessively complex for the 1960-x-1970-level technique.
As a result, the MKRTS had an exorbitant cost, extremely low reliability and severe accidents - a third of the launched devices for one reason or another could not fulfill their mission. In addition, most US-A launches were performed in test mode - as a result, the operational readiness of the system was low. However, all the accusations against the creators of the ICRC are unfair: they created a real masterpiece that was ahead of its time for many years.
The Soviet “Legend” was largely an experiment that proved the fundamental possibility of creating such systems: a small nuclear reactor, side-looking radar, a data transmission line in real time, automatic detection and selection of targets, work in the “detected-reported” mode ...
At the same time, it would be too frivolous to consider the old MKRTS only as a "demonstrator" of new technologies. Despite its many problems, the system really could work in a regular mode, which caused discomfort to the fleets of NATO countries. In addition, in the event of the start of real hostilities (Tom Clancy and Co.), the USSR had a real opportunity to launch into orbit the necessary number of such "toys" without regard for their cost and security measures - and to gain absolute control over the sea lanes.
Today, the implementation of such an idea would require much less effort and resources. The colossal progress in the field of radio electronics makes it possible today to build a global tracking system based on other principles: radio reconnaissance and specific reconnaissance using optical-electronic means that operate only in the passive mode.
PS 31 reactor still plowing the space, threatening to fall on your head one day
Search for the wreckage of "Cosmos-954"