Outer space is increasingly seen as a full-fledged theater of military operations. After the unification of the Air Force (VVS) and the Aerospace Defense Forces, the Aerospace Forces (VKS) were formed in Russia. A new type of Armed Forces has appeared in the United States as well. However, so far we are talking more about missile defense, striking from space and destroying enemy spacecraft from the surface or from the atmosphere. But sooner or later, weapons may appear on board orbiting spaceships. Just imagine the manned Soyuz or the revived American Shuttle carrying lasers or cannons. Such ideas have long lived in the minds of the military and scientists. In addition, science fiction and not quite science fiction warms them up periodically. Let us look for viable starting points from which a new space arms race can begin.
With a cannon on board
And let cannons and machine guns - the last thing we think about when imagining a combat collision of spaceships in orbit, probably in this century everything will begin with them. In fact, a cannon on board a spacecraft is simple, understandable and relatively cheap, and there are already examples of the use of such weapons in space.
In the early 70s, the USSR began to seriously fear for the safety of the vehicles sent to the sky. And it was because of what, because at the dawn of the space age, the United States began to develop survey satellites and interceptor satellites. Such work is being carried out now - both here and on the other side of the ocean.
Inspector satellites are designed to inspect other people's spacecraft. Maneuvering in orbit, they approach the target and do their job: they photograph the target satellite and listen to its radio traffic. You don't have to go far for examples. Launched in 2009, the American PAN electronic reconnaissance apparatus, moving in geostationary orbit, "sneaks up" on other satellites and eavesdrops on the radio traffic of the target satellite with ground control points. Often, the small size of such devices makes them stealthy, so they are often mistaken from Earth for space debris.
In addition, in the 70s, the United States announced the start of work on the Space Shuttle reusable transport spacecraft. The shuttle had a large cargo compartment and could both deliver into orbit and return from it to Earth spacecraft of large mass. In the future, NASA will launch the Hubble telescope and several modules of the International Space Station into orbit in the cargo bays of shuttles. In 1993, the space shuttle Endeavor grabbed a 4, 5-ton scientific satellite EURECA with its manipulator arm, put it in the cargo hold and returned it to Earth. Therefore, the fears that this could happen to the Soviet satellites or the Salyut orbital station - and it could well fit into the shuttle's "body" - were not in vain.
The Salyut-3 station, which was sent into orbit on June 26, 1974, became the first and so far the last manned orbital vehicle with weapons on board. The military station Almaz-2 was hiding under the civil name "Salyut". The favorable position in orbit with an altitude of 270 kilometers gave a good view and turned the station into an ideal observation point. The station stayed in orbit for 213 days, 13 of which it worked with the crew.
Then, few people imagined how space battles would take place. They were looking for examples in something more understandable - primarily in aviation. She, however, and so served as a donor for space technology.
At that time, they could not come up with any better solution, except how to place an aircraft cannon on board. Its creation was taken up by OKB-16 under the leadership of Alexander Nudelman. The design bureau was marked by many breakthrough developments during the Great Patriotic War.
"Under the belly" of the station, a 23-millimeter automatic cannon was installed, created on the basis of an aviation rapid-fire cannon designed by Nudelman - Richter R-23 (NR-23). It was adopted in 1950 and installed on the Soviet La-15, MiG-17, MiG-19 fighters, Il-10M attack aircraft, An-12 military transport aircraft and other vehicles. HP-23 was also produced under license in China.
The gun was fixed rigidly parallel to the longitudinal axis of the station. It was possible to aim it at the desired point on the target only by turning the entire station. Moreover, this could be done both manually, through the sight, and remotely - from the ground.
The calculation of the direction and power of the salvo required for guaranteed destruction of the target was carried out by the Program Control Device (PCA), which controlled the firing. The rate of fire of the gun was up to 950 rounds per minute.
A projectile weighing 200 grams flew at a speed of 690 m / s. The gun could effectively hit targets at a distance of up to four kilometers. According to witnesses of the ground tests of the gun, a volley from the cannon tore in half a metal barrel of gasoline located at a distance of more than a kilometer.
When fired in space, its recoil was equivalent to a thrust of 218.5 kgf. But it was easily compensated by the propulsion system. The station was stabilized by two propulsion engines with a thrust of 400 kgf each or rigid stabilization engines with a thrust of 40 kgf.
The station was armed exclusively for defensive action. An attempt to steal it from orbit or even inspect it by an inspector satellite could end in disaster for the enemy vehicle. At the same time, it was senseless and, in fact, impossible to use the 20-ton Almaz-2, stuffed with sophisticated equipment for the purposeful destruction of objects in space.
The station could defend itself from an attack, that is, from an enemy who independently approached it. For maneuvers in orbit, which would allow approaching targets at an accurate shot distance, the Almaz simply would not have enough fuel. And the purpose of finding him was different - photographic reconnaissance. In fact, the main "weapon" of the station was the gigantic long-focus mirror-lens telescope-camera "Agat-1".
During the station's watch in orbit, no real opponents have yet been created. Still, the gun on board was used for its intended purpose. The developers needed to know how firing a cannon would affect the dynamics and vibration stability of the station. But for this it was necessary to wait for the station to operate in unmanned mode.
Ground tests of the gun showed that firing from the gun was accompanied by a strong roar, so there were concerns that testing the gun in the presence of astronauts could negatively affect their health.
The firing was carried out on January 24, 1975 by remote control from the Earth just before the station left orbit. The crew had already left the station by this time. The firing was carried out without a target, shells fired against the orbital velocity vector entered the atmosphere and burned up even before the station itself. The station did not collapse, but the recoil from the salvo was significant, even though the engines were turned on at that moment to stabilize. If the crew were at the station at that moment, he would have felt it.
On the next stations of the series - in particular, "Almaz-3", which flew under the name "Salyut-5" - they were going to install missile weapons: two missiles of the "space-to-space" class with an estimated range of more than 100 kilometers. Then, however, this idea was abandoned.
Military "Union": guns and missiles
The development of the Almaz project was preceded by the Zvezda program. In the period from 1963 to 1968, Sergey Korolev's OKB-1 was engaged in the development of the multi-seat military research manned spacecraft 7K-VI, which would be a military modification of the Soyuz (7K). Yes, that same manned spacecraft that is still in operation and remains the only means of delivering crews to the International Space Station.
Military "Unions" were intended for different purposes, and, accordingly, the designers provided for a different set of equipment on board, including weapons.
"Soyuz P" (7K-P), which began to develop in 1964, was to become the first manned orbital interceptor in history. However, no weapons were envisaged on board, the crew of the ship, having examined the enemy satellite, had to go into open space and disable the enemy satellite, so to speak, manually. Or, if necessary, by placing the device in a special container, send it to Earth.
But this decision was abandoned. Fearing similar actions on the part of the Americans, we equipped our spacecraft with a self-detonation system. It is quite possible that the United States would have followed the same path. Even here they did not want to risk the lives of the astronauts. The Soyuz-PPK project, which replaced the Soyuz-P, already assumed the creation of a full-fledged combat ship. It could eliminate satellites thanks to eight small space-to-space missiles located in the bow. The interceptor crew consisted of two cosmonauts. There was no need for him to leave the ship now. Having examined the object visually or by examining it with the help of on-board equipment, the crew made a decision on the need to destroy it. If it was accepted, the ship would move a kilometer away from the target and shoot it with onboard missiles.
The missiles for the interceptor were supposed to be made by the Arkady Shipunov weapons design bureau. They were a modification of a radio-controlled anti-tank projectile going to the target on a powerful sustainer engine. Maneuvering in space was carried out by igniting small powder bills, which were densely dotted with its warhead. When approaching the target, the warhead was undermined - and its fragments at great speed hit the target, destroying it.
In 1965, OKB-1 was instructed to create an orbital reconnaissance aircraft called Soyuz-VI, which meant High-Altitude Explorer. The project is also known under the designations 7K-VI and Zvezda. "Soyuz-VI" was supposed to conduct visual observation, photographic reconnaissance, make maneuvers for rapprochement, and, if necessary, could destroy an enemy ship. To do this, the already familiar HP-23 aircraft cannon was installed on the ship's descent vehicle. Apparently, it was from this project that she then migrated to the project of the Almaz-2 station. Here it was possible to direct the cannon only by controlling the entire ship.
However, not a single launch of the military Soyuz was made. In January 1968, work on the 7K-VI military research ship was discontinued, and the unfinished ship was dismantled. The reason for this is internal squabbles and cost savings. In addition, it was obvious that all the tasks of this kind of ships could be entrusted either to ordinary civilian Soyuz or to the Almaz military orbital station. But the experience gained was not in vain. OKB-1 used it to develop new types of spacecraft.
One platform - different weapons
In the 70s, tasks were already set more broadly.Now it was about the creation of space vehicles capable of destroying ballistic missiles in flight, especially important air, orbital, sea and ground targets. The work was entrusted to NPO Energia under the leadership of Valentin Glushko. A special decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR, which formalized the leading role of "Energia" in this project, was called: "On the study of the possibility of creating weapons for warfare in space and from space."
The long-term orbital station "Salyut" (17K) was chosen as a basis. By this time, there was already a lot of experience in operating devices of this class. Having chosen it as the base platform, the designers of NPO Energia began to develop two combat systems: one for use with laser weapons, the other with missile weapons.
The first one was called "Skif". The dynamic model of the orbital laser - the Skif-DM spacecraft - will be launched in 1987. And the system with missile weapons was named "Cascade".
"Cascade" favorably differed from the laser "brother". She had a smaller mass, which means that she could be filled with a large supply of fuel, which allowed her to "feel more free in orbit" and to carry out maneuvers. Although for that and the other complex, it was assumed the possibility of refueling in orbit. These were unmanned stations, but the possibility of a two-man crew visiting them for up to one week on the Soyuz spacecraft was also envisaged.
In general, the constellation of laser and missile orbital complexes, supplemented by guidance systems, was to become part of the Soviet anti-missile defense system - "anti-SDI". At the same time, a clear "division of labor" was assumed. Rocket "Cascade" was supposed to work on targets located in medium-altitude and geostationary orbits. "Skif" - for low-orbit objects.
Separately, it is worth considering the interceptor missiles themselves, which were supposed to be used as part of the Kaskad combat complex. They were developed, again, at NPO Energia. Such missiles do not quite fit the usual understanding of missiles. Do not forget that they were used outside the atmosphere at all stages; aerodynamics could not be taken into account. Rather, they were similar to modern upper stages used to bring satellites into their calculated orbits.
The rocket was very small, but it had enough power. With a launch mass of only a few tens of kilograms, it had a characteristic speed margin comparable to the characteristic speed of rockets that put spacecraft into orbit as a payload. The unique propulsion system used in the interceptor missile used unconventional, non-cryogenic fuels and heavy-duty composite materials.
Abroad and on the verge of fantasy
The United States also had plans to build warships. So, in December 1963, the public announced a program to create a manned orbiting laboratory MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory). The station was to be delivered into orbit by a Titan IIIC launch vehicle along with the Gemini B spacecraft, which was to carry a crew of two military astronauts. They were supposed to spend up to 40 days in orbit and return on the Gemini spacecraft. The station's purpose was similar to our "Almazy": it was to be used for photographic reconnaissance. However, the possibility of "inspection" of enemy satellites was also offered. Moreover, the astronauts had to go into outer space and approach enemy vehicles using the so-called Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU) - a jetpack designed for use on MOL. But the installation of weapons at the station was not intended. The MOL was never in space, but in November 1966 its mock-up was launched in tandem with the Gemini spacecraft. In 1969, the project was closed.
There were also plans for the creation and military modification of the Apollo. He could be engaged in the inspection of satellites and - if necessary - their destruction. This ship was also not supposed to have any weapons. Curiously, it was proposed to use a manipulator arm for destruction, and not cannons or missiles.
But perhaps the most fantastic can be called the project of the nuclear-impulse ship "Orion", proposed by the "General Atomics" company in 1958. It is worth mentioning here that this was a time when the first man had not yet flown into space, but the first satellite did take place. The ideas about the ways of conquering outer space were different. Edward Teller, a nuclear physicist, "father of the hydrogen bomb" and one of the founders of the atomic bomb, was one of the founders of this company.
The Orion spacecraft project and its military modification Orion Battleship, which appeared a year later, was a spacecraft weighing almost 10 thousand tons, propelled by a nuclear pulse engine. According to the authors of the project, it compares favorably with chemical-fueled missiles. Initially, Orion was even supposed to be launched from Earth - from the Jackess Flats nuclear test site in Nevada.
ARPA became interested in the project (DARPA it will become later) - the Agency for Advanced Research Projects of the US Department of Defense, responsible for the development of new technologies for use in the interests of the Armed Forces. Since July 1958, the Pentagon has allocated $ 1 million to finance the project.
The military was interested in the ship, which made it possible to deliver into orbit and move in space loads weighing on the order of tens of thousands of tons, carry out reconnaissance, early warning and destruction of enemy ICBMs, electronic countermeasures, as well as strikes against ground targets and targets in orbit and other celestial bodies. In July 1959, a draft was prepared for a new type of US Armed Forces: the Deep Space Bombardment Force, which can be translated as the Space Bomber Force. It envisaged the creation of two permanent operational space fleets, consisting of ships of the Orion project. The first was supposed to be on duty in low-earth orbit, the second - in reserve behind the lunar orbit.
The crews of the ships were to be replaced every six months. The service life of the Orions themselves was 25 years. As for the weapons of the Orion Battleship, they were divided into three types: main, offensive and defensive. The main ones were W56 thermonuclear warheads equivalent to one and a half megatons and up to 200 units. They were launched using solid-propellant rockets placed on the ship.
The three Kasaba double-barreled howitzers were directional nuclear warheads. The shells, leaving the gun, when detonated, were supposed to generate a narrow front of plasma moving at near-light speed, which was capable of hitting enemy spaceships at long distances.
The long-range defensive armament consisted of three 127mm Mark 42 naval artillery mounts modified for firing in space. Short-range weapons were the elongated, 20mm M61 Vulcan automatic aircraft cannons. But in the end, NASA made a strategic decision that in the near future the space program will become non-nuclear. Soon ARPA refused to support the project.
To some, guns and rockets on modern spaceships may seem like old-fashioned weapons. But what is modern? Lasers, of course. Let's talk about them.
On Earth, some samples of laser weapons have already been put into service. For example, the Peresvet laser complex, which took up experimental combat duty in December last. However, the advent of military lasers in space is still a long way off.Even in the most modest plans, the military use of such weapons is seen primarily in the field of missile defense, where the targets of orbital groupings of combat lasers will be ballistic missiles and their warheads launched from the Earth.
Although in the field of civil space, lasers open up great prospects: in particular, if they are used in laser space communication systems, including long-range ones. Several spacecraft already have laser transmitters. But as far as laser cannons are concerned, most likely the first job they will be assigned will be to “defend” the International Space Station from space debris.
It is the ISS that should become the first object in space to be armed with a laser cannon. Indeed, the station is periodically subjected to "attacks" by various kinds of space debris. To protect it from orbital debris, evasive maneuvers are required, which have to be carried out several times a year.
Compared to other objects in orbit, the speed of space debris can reach 10 kilometers per second. Even a tiny piece of debris carries enormous kinetic energy, and if it gets into a spacecraft, it will cause serious damage. If we talk about manned spacecraft or modules of orbital stations, then depressurization is also possible. In fact, it is like a projectile fired from a cannon.
Back in 2015, scientists from the Japan Institute for Physical and Chemical Research took up the laser, designed to be placed on the ISS. At that time, the idea was to modify the EUSO telescope already available at the station. The system they invented included a CAN (Coherent Amplifying Network) laser system and an Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) telescope. The telescope was entrusted with the task of detecting debris fragments, and the laser was tasked with removing them from orbit. It was assumed that in just 50 months, the laser would completely clear the 500-kilometer zone around the ISS.
A test version with a capacity of 10 watts was supposed to appear at the station last year, and already a full-fledged one in 2025. However, in May last year, it was reported that the project to create a laser installation for the ISS had become international and Russian scientists were included in it. Boris Shustov, Chairman of the Expert Group of the Council on Space Threats, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke about this at a meeting of the RAS Council on Space.
Domestic specialists will bring their developments to the project. According to the original plan, the laser was supposed to concentrate energy from 10 thousand fiber-optic channels. But Russian physicists have proposed to reduce the number of channels by a factor of 100 by using so-called thin rods instead of optical fiber, which are being developed at the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This will reduce the size and technological complexity of the orbital laser. The laser installation will occupy a volume of one to two cubic meters and weigh about 500 kilograms.
The key problem that must be solved by everyone who is engaged in the design of orbital lasers, and not only orbital lasers, is to find the required amount of energy to power the laser installation. To launch the planned laser at full power, all the electricity generated by the station is needed. However, it is clear that it is impossible to completely de-energize the orbital station. Today, the ISS solar panels are the largest orbital power plant in space. But they give only 93.9 kilowatts of power.
Our scientists are also pondering how to keep within five percent of the available energy for a shot. For these purposes, it is proposed to stretch the shot time to 10 seconds. Another 200 seconds between shots will take to "recharge" the laser.
The laser installation will "take out" the garbage from a distance of up to 10 kilometers. Moreover, the destruction of debris fragments will not look the same as in "Star Wars". A laser beam, hitting the surface of a large body, causes its substance to evaporate, resulting in a weak plasma flow.Then, due to the principle of jet propulsion, the debris fragment acquires an impulse, and if the laser hits the forehead, the fragment will slow down and, losing speed, will inevitably enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, where it will burn.