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By Wikipedia,
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The Almaz (Russian: Алмаз - "Diamond") program was a series of military space stations (or "Orbital Piloted Station" - OPS) launched by the Soviet Union under cover of the civilian Salyut DOS-17K (Orbital space station) program after 1971.

Three Almaz stations were launched: Salyut 2, Salyut 3 and Salyut 5.

Salyut 2 failed shortly after achieving orbit, but Salyut 3 and Salyut 5 both conducted successful manned testing. Following Salyut 5, the Soviet Ministry of Defense judged in 1978 that the time consumed by station maintenance outweighed the benefits relative to automatic reconnaissance satellites.


Almaz was promoted by Vladimir Chelomei as a response to the USAF's MOL project. Like its counterpart, the Almaz OPS would be launched with its initial crew atop Chelomei's UR-500 Proton rocket. After an extended stay of 30 to 60 days of military observation and photography the crew would return to Earth by way of a reusable VA capsule.

Unlike the American MOL design the Almaz was equipped with a docking port for subsequent crews. These crews would arrive in manned TKS, also launched by the UR-500. And just like Almaz OPS, the TKS was equipped with its own reusable VA capsule. Also unique to the Almaz complex were small capsules which could be loaded with developed film for immediate return to Earth.

Orbital Piloted Stations (OPS)

The OPS basic design features are 4.15 meters in diameter and a weight of 20 tonnes. From 1965 to 1970, 8 test models and 2 flight ready spaceframes were built.

OPS-1 (Salyut 2)

The first Almaz station (OPS-1 or Almaz 101.1), announced as Salyut 2, it was launched on April 3, 1973. For purposes of military secrecy, it was publicly designated Salyut 2 upon reaching orbit. A crew was prepared to fly to the station but an accident days after the launch left OPS-1 disabled and depressurized.

OPS-2 (Salyut 3)

OPS-2 (or Almaz 101.2), announced as Salyut 3, was launched on June 25, 1974. The crew of the Soyuz 14 spacecraft spent 15 days aboard the station in July 1974. A second expedition was launched toward OPS-2 in August 1974, but failed to reach the station. The station successfully test-fired an onboard aircraft cannon at a target satellite while the station was unmanned. Salyut-3 was deorbited in January 1975, the day after the cannon test. Aiming the cannon meant pointing the whole spacecraft. It was speculated the cannon firing significantly altered the orbit of the platform. As one commentator put it, "It wouldn't do to fire at an attacker only to discover you have deorbited yourself!" However, in reality the mass of the station was so great compared to the low recoil of the cannon, that firing the gun in no way significantly altered the attitude or inclination of the station.

OPS-3 (Salyut 5)

OPS-3 (or Almaz 103), announced after launch as Salyut 5, entered orbit on June 22, 1976. It was visited by two crews in the summer of 1976 and winter of 1977.


The next Almaz station, OPS-4, was to be the first station launched with a three panel Mech-A Synthetic Aperture Radar and a manned VA capsule, however the VA was replaced by a second TKS docking port. This station's Shchit-1 23 mm defense cannon was also to be replaced with an advanced Shchit-2 space-to-space cannon. The Shchit-2 was reported to be a two projectile system, although no photographs of it have ever been published and it is doesn't appear that this system was ever installed on the station. OPS-4 was grounded when the Almaz manned program was cancelled.

Defence measures

In addition to reconnaissance equipment, the Almaz was equipped with a rapid-fire cannon to prevent hostile interception or boarding by American forces. This self-lubricating cannon was most likely a derivative of the 23mm Nudelman aircraft cannon (some sources say it was a Nudelman NR-30 30 mm gun). This cannon was mounted in a stationary position to the forward belly of the station. To aim the cannon the entire station would be quickly reoriented facing the threat. This provided a low profile to the station as well as positioning the crew vehicle behind the station.

Salyut 3 conducted a successful test firing on a target satellite remotely with the station unmanned due to concerns over excessive vibration and the possibility of accidental deorbitation.

OPS-4 is said to have featured two unguided missiles instead of the aircraft cannon, but this system has not been shown publicly and may have never been fully manufactured.

Almaz-T (unmanned)

Almaz radar satellite (based on Almaz space station).
Almaz radar satellite (based on Almaz space station).

Following cancellation of the program, the Almaz station was reconfigured as an unmanned heavy radar-carrying reconnaissance satellite. Three such satellites were launched, two of which functioned successfully in orbit.


  • Almaz-T - The first Almaz-T blasted off from Baikonur on October 29, 1986. It did not reach orbit due to the failure of the first and second stages of the Proton launcher to separate. The safety system then destroyed the vehicle.


  • Cosmos-1870 - On July 25, 1987, the second Almaz-T spacecraft successfully reached orbit with an inclination 71.92 degrees toward the Equator and it was officially identified as Cosmos-1870. The spacecraft functioned for two years, providing radar imagery with a resolution down to 25 meters, until it was deorbited on July 30, 1989.


  • Almaz-1 - The third Almaz-T spacecraft was launched on March 31, 1991 under the name Almaz-1. After the launch a failure of the communications antenna designed to downlink the imagery via the Luch relay satellite was noted. Also one of the solar panels failed to deploy completely, leaving the main radar panel of the spacecraft partially blocked. After 18 months of successful work the Almaz-1 was deorbited on October 17, 1992 over the Pacific Ocean.


  • Almaz-2 (Almaz-1V) - Not flown. It had a new radar which would have provided a resolution of 5 to 7 meters. In addition, an optical-electronic payload on the station would have been capable of producing imagery with a resolution of 2.5 - 4 meters.

Other usage

The OPS spaceframes formed the basis of the Salyut, Mir and ISS space station base modules.

Currently, the private spaceflight company Excalibur Almaz has plans to launch modernized Almaz space stations, and service them with space capsules derived from the TKS spacecraft system, in support of space tourism.

See also

External links

Text from Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; additional terms may apply.

Published in July 2009.

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