The Vostok spacecraft was originally designed for use both as a camera platform (for the Soviet Union's first spy satellite program, Zenit) and as a manned spacecraft. This dual-use design was crucial in gaining Communist Party support for the program. The basic Vostok design has remained in use for some forty years, gradually adapted for a range of other unmanned satellites. The descent module design was reused, in heavily-modified form, by the Voskhod programme.
The craft consisted of a spherical descent module (mass 2.46 tonnes, diameter 2.3 meters), which housed the cosmonaut, instruments and escape system, and a conical instrument module (mass 2.27 tonnes, 2.25 m long, 2.43 m wide), which contained propellant and the engine system. On reentry, the cosmonaut would eject from the craft at about 7,000 m (23,000 ft) and descend via parachute, while the capsule would land separately.
There were several models of the Vostok leading up to the manned version:
Prototype spacecraft. Used to test basic systems and prove the concept. Flew six unmanned test missions in 1960.
Photo-reconnaissance and signals intelligence spacecraft . Later named Zenit spy satellite.
The Vostok 3KA was the spacecraft used for the first human spaceflights. They were launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome using Vostok 8K72K launch vehicles. The first flight of a Vostok 3KA occurred on March 9, 1961. The first flight with a crew -- Vostok 1 carrying Yuri Gagarin -- took place on April 12, 1961. The last flight -- Vostok 6 carrying the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova -- took place on June 16, 1963.
A total of 8 Vostok 3KA spacecraft were flown, 6 of them with a human crew.
Specifications for this version are:
Reentry Module: Vostok SA. Also known as: Spuskaemiy apparat - Sharik (sphere).
Equipment Module: Vostok PA. Also known as: Priborniy otsek.
The Vostok capsule had limited thruster capability. As such, the reentry path and orientation could not be controlled after the capsule had separated from the engine system. This meant that the capsule had to be protected from reentry heat on all sides, thus explaining the spherical design (as opposed to Project Mercury's conical design), which allowed for maximum volume while minimizing the external surface. Some control of the capsule was possible by way of positioning of the heavy equipment, which was placed in a manner that maximized the chance of the cosmonaut surviving g-forces while in a horizontal position. Even then, the cosmonaut experienced 8 to 9g.
Published - July 2009
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