Salyut-7: nine years from takeoff to fall

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Salyut-7: nine years from takeoff to fall
Salyut-7: nine years from takeoff to fall

In the late 1980s, Soviet cosmonauts accomplished a feat: they saved Salyut-7, one of the most notable orbital stations of the last century, from falling. We want to tell you about the place in the history of astronautics that the station has occupied. And a little about why she was worth saving.


A brief history of orbital construction

Today, astronauts live and work on the International Space Station. Its first element, the Zarya functional cargo block, was launched by Russia on November 20, 1998. We can say that this is already the 10th manned space station (OS) launched by mankind into space. It was preceded by seven stations of the Salyut series (1971–1991), one American orbital station Skylab (1973–1979) and the first multi-module orbital station Mir (1986–2001). In the current century, China has also joined the club of countries that can create and launch manned stations into orbit. Smaller in size, but similar in function to Soviet first-generation orbital stations, Tiangong-1 OS was launched in 2011. The second "heavenly palace" - this is the translation of the name of the Chinese stations - "Tiangong-2" was launched into orbit in 2016. China plans to assemble its first modular station in orbit by 2022.

Orbital stations are divided into single-module, launched into space by one launch, and multi-module - consisting of sections that are delivered to orbit separately, and then assembled into a single complex already in space. The Salyut series stations consisted of one module.

In one launch, the only American space station Skylab was launched into space. Few people know, but after the epoch-making flight "Soyuz-Apollo" it was proposed to create a joint orbital complex "Skylab-Salyut". True, in terms of mass and size parameters, including useful volume, Skylab was several times higher than the Soviet orbital stations. But she only accepted three expeditions. The first of them was not so much scientific as it was repair: when the station was put into orbit, the heat shield was torn off from it, one solar battery was lost, and the second did not open. The last expedition was remembered for the strike of the station's crew, which refused to carry out the commands of the Mission Control Center. After turning off radio communication with the Earth for a day, the astronauts arranged a day off.


The Americans did not fly again on Skylab, and due to the termination of production of the "lunar" rocket Saturn-5, which put the station into orbit, the States did not launch new OSs. For the coming decades, the development of orbital construction became a matter for the USSR. Then the accumulated experience was implemented in the construction of the International Space Station, which incorporated all the achievements of Soviet and Russian cosmonautics during that time.

The seventh "Salute" in figures and facts

The Salyut-7 orbital station became the last station of the Salyut series. Although sometimes Mir is referred to as Salyut-8, and the Zvezda module designed to support the Russian segment of the ISS, which could become the base unit for the planned Mir-2 station, is Salyut-9.

The last Salyut was launched into orbit in 1982, exactly 11 years after the first station of this series, Salyut-1. Coincidentally, both launches fell on the same date - April 19. But the duration of the flight of the Salyut-1 station, launched in 1971, was only 175 days, of which only 22 days it was inhabited. And the "seven" stayed in orbit for 3,216 days, that is, almost 9 years. Although in fact it could have been much longer.It was planned that the station had to wait for the start of flights of the Soviet shuttles.


During its stay in orbit, the station was visited by 6 long-term expeditions and 5 visiting expeditions, making it habitable for a total of 816 days. The duration of the longest expeditions was 211 days (the first main expedition) and 237 days (the third main expedition). During the third expedition, six cosmonauts were simultaneously working on board the Salyut-7. 13 spacewalks were made from the station, the total duration of which was 48 hours 33 minutes.

Salyut-7 was formally a single-module station. But already its predecessor, the Salyut-6 orbital station, was equipped with two docking nodes for the first time. Now, one of the docking hubs was reinforced to receive automatic transport supply ships (TKS), which could be used as modules. In conjunction with one of these, the station died a few years later. The sixth and seventh "Salutes" belonged to the orbital stations of the second generation. We can say that Salyut-7 stood on the border between single-module and multi-module stations.

The length of the station was 14.4 meters, and the maximum diameter was 4.15 meters. The total hermetic volume of the station is 82.5 m³, weight is 19.824 tons, the span of solar panels is 16.5 meters, and their area is 60 m².

Station and people

During the period of operation, 21 cosmonauts worked on the Salyut-7. Moreover, Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Soloviev and Svetlana Savitskaya visited the station twice. And Vladimir Dzhanibekov even three. His third flight to Salyut-7 was the very same expedition to rescue the station that had lost its functionality.

The first flight of Svetlana Savitskaya made her the world's second female astronaut. During the second flight on July 17, 1984, Savitskaya made a spacewalk, becoming the first woman in the world to do so.


Using the Universal Hand Tool (URI), developed at the EO Paton Electric Welding Institute, Savitskaya and Dzhanibekov carried out experimental work on cutting, welding and soldering metal plates in open space, as well as work on coating. For three and a half hours, while the cosmonauts were outside the station, Salyut-7 made two orbits around the planet, periodically disappearing into the shadow of the Earth. At this time, work had to be suspended. Later, during construction and repairs in orbit, such work will become commonplace.

At this time, preparations for the Buran flight were already in full swing, and the third crew member on this flight was the pilot-cosmonaut Igor Volk. His visit to the station was part of preparations for the upcoming flight on the Soviet shuttle. Wolf was not very busy on the Salute. But immediately after landing on Earth, right from the descent vehicle, he moved to the helm of the helicopter. Having flown to the nearest airfield, he took the seat of the Tu-154 pilot, and having landed at the airfield in Akhtubinsk, he sat down at the helm again. Now it was the MiG-25. It was required to work out the landing along a trajectory close to the landing trajectory of the "Buran". It was important to make sure that after being in zero gravity, a person can control the plane, which means that he will be able to land "Buran" in the event of a failure of automation. Igor Volk was the commander of a group of test pilots who were trained to fly on a Soviet reusable spacecraft. They were nicknamed “wolf pack”. But for obvious reasons, the flight did not take place.

And Savitskaya herself later admitted that flying on the "Buran" was her dream. She no longer flew into space, and remained in the cosmonaut corps until the closure of the Buran program. I did not wait for the launches of the reusable spacecraft and Salyut-7, although with the start of operation of the Mir the station was mothballed so that in the future it would be possible to send an expedition to it on the Buran.


Starting from the sixth "Salut" under the "Interkosmos" program, representatives of friendly states were taken into orbit.These lucky ones became the first cosmonauts for their countries. Salyut-7 received two foreigners. The Frenchman Jean-Loup Chretien visited the station with the first visiting expedition (from June 25 to July 2, 1982). He became the first French astronaut and the first representative of Western Europe in orbit. The commander of the crew on this expedition was Vladimir Dzhanibekov. For him, it was the first flight on the Salyut-7 and the third flight in the general list: before that, Dzhanibekov had already twice visited the Salyut-6 station. The first Indian cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, visited the station as part of the third visiting crew (from April 4 to April 11, 1984).

The world's first flight with an all-female crew was also planned: Svetlana Savitskaya as commander, Elena Dobrokvashina and Ekaterina Ivanova. But as a result of the emergency completion of the fifth main expedition, it was canceled.

The rescue

In July 1984, after the fourth visiting expedition (V. Dzhanibekov, S. Savitskaya, I. Volk), the station was left alone again. And six months later, on February 11, 1985, Salyut-7 got out of control - communication with it was interrupted. At that time, the station could not be allowed to fall. Moreover, five years earlier, under similar circumstances, the American orbital station Skylab fell to Earth. And if Soviet citizens knew nothing about the Salyut incident, then the world media abroad had already spread the news that the Soviet orbital station had lost control and was about to fall to Earth.

Docking to an unmanned station is actually not difficult. The problem was that the Salyut radio transmitters were silent, and he could not transmit information about his position in space. A crew of the most experienced cosmonauts was supposed to fly to the station, and some of them needed to have experience in manual docking. The answer to the question of who it would be was found quickly.


Vladimir Dzhanibekov had four flights on orbital stations, two of them on Salyut-7. Moreover, in June 1982, during the first visiting expedition (V. Dzhanibekov, A. Ivanchenkov, J.-L. Chretien), an abnormal situation occurred when approaching the station. Approximately 900 meters before the Salut, the rendezvous automatics refused. Dzhanibekov took over control and successfully docked the manned spacecraft.

Viktor Savinykh flew in 1981 on the Salyut-6. In addition, they were friends with Dzhanibekov, which is important for such a responsible mission.

They took only three months to prepare for the most difficult flight. It was necessary to prepare not only people, but also the ship itself for manual docking. The Soyuz T-13 began to be modified. The automatic docking system was removed immediately, instead of it a laser rangefinder was installed on the porthole, and in case it was necessary to dock in the shadow of the Earth, also night vision devices. And since there are only two cosmonauts in the team, the third seat was useless. Due to the saved weight, additional supplies of fuel, water and food were taken on board.


Soyuz T-13 was launched to the station on June 6, 1985. By this time, contact with her had been lost for almost 4 months. Salyut-7 had yet to be found. And now, after two days of flight, he appeared in the window. As soon as the station approached, it became clear that the orientation system of the solar panels was faulty, which means that there are problems in the entire electrical system. But the worst thing was that the station's docking station "looked" at the Earth, and naturally there was no way to deploy "Salyut" to the approaching ship.

When the station was four kilometers away, Dzhanibekov switched the Soyuz T-13 into manual control mode. Two hundred meters before the station, the ship began flying around it in order to approach the docking port of the transition compartment. The docking was successful.

As expected on the approach to the station, it was completely de-energized. The temperature control system did not work. The walls were covered with frost, the water in the pipes and units froze. It was dark and cold at the station.The air temperature inside dropped below zero.

As a result of several days of hard work, the malfunction that led to the accident was found. As it turned out, the sensor that monitored the state of charge of one of the batteries failed. And when the station's computer gave a command to charge it, the sensor immediately replied that the battery was charged. As a result, the onboard systems used up all the electricity available at the station. The astronauts managed to restore the power supply. And their work was immediately "rewarded" - the station began to thaw, and soon its equipment was in the water, which had to be removed with the help of all available rags, up to torn overalls and underwear.


On September 18, a Soyuz T-14 docked with Salyut with Vladimir Vasyutin, Alexander Volkov and Georgy Grechko on board. Five people worked at the station for a week. In addition to repairs, the cosmonauts were also engaged in scientific work, conducted experiments. During the spacewalk, additional solar panels and equipment were installed for conducting experiments. Dzhanibekov, who was given no more than 100 days by the doctors for the flight, returned earlier with Georgy Grechko on the Soyuz T-13 spacecraft. The duration of his fifth flight was 112 days. Savinykh stayed at the rescued station for 168 days. He stayed there with Vladimir Vasyutin and Alexander Volkov.

Another mysterious story is connected with the salvation of "Salut". According to unconfirmed reports, the Americans also planned to take part in the operation. However, for some, such rescue was tantamount to abducting the station from orbit. It may be difficult to imagine, but the dimensions of both the shuttles and the Buran significantly exceed the dimensions of transport and manned spacecraft, including single-module orbital stations of the Salyut series. In theory, the American shuttle could easily remove the space station from orbit and return it to Earth. Such works, only with smaller objects, were carried out by American shuttles constantly. The shuttle's cargo hold is voluminous: suffice it to say that the American reusable space laboratory Spacelab traveled to orbit in it. The Hubble Orbital Telescope also quietly fit in the cargo hold of the Shuttle Discovery and was launched into space.

The severity of the whole situation was added by the fact that the crew of the Challenger shuttle, which was preparing for the start, included the Frenchman Patrick Baudry. And his understudy was Jean-Loup Chretien. Both of them knew Salyut-7 very well. Chretien flew to the station with Dzhanibekov as part of the crew of the first visiting expedition, and Baudry was then a backup.

Orbital flight

Very little time will pass from the moment of the heroic rescue, and the station will once again be without a crew. However, this ISS is now in continuous manned mode. It was not so in those years. In the life of the first orbital stations, there were always periods when they remained uninhabited. True, the early return of the 5th Main Expedition was unplanned. We had to urgently return because of the illness of one of the crew members. As a result, the planned experiments remained incomplete, and it was also not possible to test the scientific equipment in orbit. It was necessary to fly to the station again.

But by coincidence, no ship was found for the expedition to the Salyut. More precisely, the ship itself was, but it was being prepared for a flight to the new orbital station Mir. Its base segment, the basis of the future multi-module complex, was launched into orbit in February 1986, and now it needed to be prepared for operation.


Then it was decided that first the crew would fly to a new station, and after all the work had been completed, they would board the ship and fly to Salyut-7. One spacecraft is used both for space flight and for space travel from one orbital house to another. And so it was done. And the first and only time in the history of astronautics. Anyway, for today.

Experienced cosmonauts Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyov were sent on the flight.In 1984, they already flew to the station as part of the same crew. Having completed their work at Mir in two months, they went to Salyut. The flight took more than a day: 29 hours. Both stations were removed from Baikonur, so their orbits had the same inclination of the plane - 51.6 °, only the altitude differed. Therefore, the Soyuz T-15 spacecraft, by the way, the last in its series, in order to approach the station, only needed to change the altitude of its orbit, without changing its plane.

This sixth long-term expedition by Kizim and Solovyov was the last in the history of the Salyut-7 station and the first for Mir. They stayed on the Salyut for another two months. Experiments were carried out, including with space walks and necessary for the future construction of the Mir station. Soldering and welding of truss parts were practiced with the use of a universal hand tool - the same one that was first tested by Dzhanibekov and Savitskaya.

Having mothballed Salyut-7 and taking away the scientific instruments necessary for work on the Mir, the cosmonauts returned to live in a new orbital station, where they stayed for another 20 days.

The fall

So, the station was mothballed. It was assumed that in unmanned mode, it will stay in orbit for at least ten years. During this time, it will be possible to test the reliability of components and assemblies, to check whether the systems will be able to maintain the station's tightness for a long time. And, as already mentioned, with the onset of a new era of manned flights for the USSR - the beginning of the operation of the Buran - a new type of ship will be flown to Salyut.

After the arrival of the Kosmos-1686 transport vehicle (TKS-4) in September 1985, the station was already a whole orbital complex consisting of Salyut-7 itself and TKS, which acted as a module. To avoid atmospheric effects and prevent a decline, TKS lifted the complex into an orbit with an altitude of 492 km at apogee and 474 km at perigee.

But then Salyut-7 repeated the fate of the American Skylab orbital station. To the latter, American astronauts flew on Apollo ships before the start of the Space Shuttle program. After three expeditions, the station was mothballed. It was planned to send a fourth one to raise the station to a higher altitude, but NASA believed that until the early 80s Skylab would still hold out in its orbit (440 km), although the station did not have its own engines. As you know, shuttle flights began in 1981. It was expected that as soon as the operation of the space shuttles began, they would fly to Skylab. But it didn't work out.


The station began to decline, and not least because of the increased solar activity, which thickened the upper layers of the Earth's atmosphere lying above the Karman line. In 1976, it became clear that the station would enter the atmosphere by mid-1979. In addition, a project for the construction of a new OS Freedom appeared. And Skylab decided not to save. The station entered the atmosphere on July 11, 1979, finally falling apart at an altitude of 16 km. Thousands of small fragments fell in the state of Western Australia south of the city of Perth. Although initially it was planned to flood it in the ocean, due to an error in the calculations, this could not be done.

Unlike the American station, both Salyut-7 and TKS-4 had their own engines, but by the end of the 1980s the fuel needed to maintain the orbit was practically depleted. 1990 was marked by high solar activity. The station began to descend uncontrollably. Of course, it should have burned up almost completely upon entering the atmosphere. The flying fragments should not have caused serious damage. But the descent block of the transport ship was intended for return to Earth and, naturally, had thermal protection. The two-ton unit could well fly to the surface of the Earth, causing serious damage.

The USSR informed the governments of other countries in advance that there were no toxic, chemical or radioactive substances on board the station, and all possible damage associated with its fall would be compensated.On the night of February 6-7, 1991, at a speed of over 30 thousand kilometers per hour, the orbital station entered the Earth's atmosphere. Fragments that did not burn in the dense layers of the atmosphere fell in South America in uninhabited areas of Argentina and Chile, without causing destruction. Rare eyewitnesses of this event observed unusual bright flashes in the night sky. Perhaps they reminded someone of a salute. And by the end of this year, the Soviet Union, the country that first sent a man into space, was gone.

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