Early Unmanned & Manned Soviet Missions (Sputnik)
The Sputnik program was the world's first successful one to launch a rocket, a living being, and a human into Earth orbit. The first 25 Sputnik missions are presented here.
- Launched October 4, 1957 at 19:12:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 83.6 kg
Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around the Earth. It was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam (370 km southwest of the small town of Baikonur) in Kazakhstan, then part of the former Soviet Union. The Russian word "Sputnik" means "companion" ("satellite" in the astronomical sense).
In 1885 Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first described in his book, Dreams of Earth and Sky, how such a satellite could be launched into a low altitude orbit. It was the first in a series of four satellites as part of the Sputnik program of the former Soviet Union and was planned as a contribution to the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). Three of these satellites (Sputnik 1, 2, and 3) reached Earth orbit.
The Sputnik 1 satellite was a 58.0 cm-diameter aluminum sphere that carried four whip-like antennas that were 2.4-2.9 m long. The antennas looked like long "whiskers" pointing to one side. The spacecraft obtained data pertaining to the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere and the propagation of radio signals in the ionosphere. The instruments and electric power sources were housed in a sealed capsule and included transmitters operated at 20.005 and 40.002 MHz (about 15 and 7.5 m in wavelength), the emissions taking place in alternating groups of 0.3 sec in duration. The downlink telemetry included data on temperatures inside and on the surface of the sphere.
Since the sphere was filled with nitrogen under pressure, Sputnik 1 provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection (no such events were reported), since losses in internal pressure due to meteoroid penetration of the outer surface would have been evident in the temperature data. The satellite transmitters operated for three weeks, until the on-board chemical batteries failed, and were monitored with intense interest around the world.
The orbit of the then inactive satellite was later observed optically to decay 92 days after launch (January 4, 1958) after having completed about 1400 orbits of the Earth over a cumulative distance traveled of 70 million kilometers. The orbital apogee declined from 947 km after launch to 600 km by December 9.
The Sputnik 1 rocket booster also reached Earth orbit and was visible from the ground at night as a first magnitude object, while the small but highly polished sphere barely visible at sixth magnitude more difficult to follow optically. Several replicas of the Sputnik 1 satellite can be seen at museums in Russia and another is on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
- Launched November 3, 1957 at 19:12:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 508.3 kg
- Principal Investigator: Prof. S. N. Vernov
Sputnik 2 was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit and was the first biological to contain a passenger. It was a 4 m high cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 m. It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments. A separate sealed cabin contained the experimental dog Laika. Engineering and biological data were transmitted using the Tral_D telemetry system, which would transmit data to Earth for 15 minutes of each orbit. Two spectrophotometers were on board for measuring solar radiation (ultraviolet and x-ray emissions) and cosmic rays. A television camera was mounted in the passenger compartment to observe Laika. The camera could transmit 100-line video frames at 10 frames/sec.
The craft was launched on a Sapwood SS-6 8K71PS launch vehicle (essentially a modified R-7 ICBM similar to that used for Sputnik 1) to a 212x1660 km orbit with a period of 103.7 minutes. After reaching orbit the nose cone was jettisoned successfully but the Blok A core did not separate as planned. This inhibited the operation of the thermal control system. Additionally some of the thermal insulation tore loose so the interior temperatures reached 40 C. It is believed Laika survived for only about two days instead of the planned 10 because of the heat. The orbit of Sputnik 2 decayed and it reentered Earth's atmosphere on April 14, 1958 after 162 days in orbit.
The first being to travel to outer space was a female part-Samoyed terrier originally named Kudryavka (Little Curly) but later renamed Laika (Barker). She weighed about 6 kg. The pressurized cabin on Sputnik 2 allowed enough room for her to lie down or stand and was padded. An air regeneration system provided oxygen; food and water were dispensed in a gelatinized form. Laika was fitted with a harness, a bag to collect waste, and electrodes to monitor vital signs. Early telemetry indicated Laika was agitated but eating her food. There was no capability of returning a payload safely to Earth at this time, so it was planned that Laika would run out of oxygen after about 10 days of orbiting the Earth. Because of the thermal problems she probably only survived a day or two. The mission provided scientists with the first data on the behavior of a living organism in the space environment.
- Launched May 5, 1958 at 07:12:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 1327 kg
Sputnik 3 was an automatic scientific laboratory spacecraft. It was conically-shaped at 3.57 m long. The scientific instrumentation (twelve instruments) provided data on pressure and composition of the upper atmosphere, concentration of charged particles, photons in cosmic rays, heavy nuclei in cosmic rays, magnetic and electrostatic fields, and meteoric particles. The outer radiation belts of the Earth were detected during the flight. The spacecraft remained in orbit until April 6, 1960.
- Launched May 15, 1960 at 00:00:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 1477 kg
This spacecraft, the first of a series of spacecraft used to investigate the means for manned space flight, contained scientific instruments, a television system, and a self-sustaining biological cabin with a dummy of a man. The spacecraft was designed to study the operation of the life support system and the stresses of flight. The spacecraft radioed both extensive telemetry and prerecorded voice communications. After four days of flight, the reentry cabin was separated from its service module and retrorockets were fired, but because of an incorrect attitude the spacecraft did not reenter the atmosphere.
- Also called Korabl Sputnik 2
- Launched August 19, 1960 at 08:38:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4600 kg
This spacecraft was the second in a series of spacecraft designed to further the development of an Earth orbiting system for the planned manned space program. The spacecraft carried two dogs, Strelka and Belka, in addition to a television system and other scientific instrumentation. After a one day flight, the spacecraft was successfully recovered.
- Also called Korabl Sputnik 3
- Launched December 1, 1960 at 07:26:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4563 kg
This spacecraft carried two dogs, Pchelka and Mushka, as well as a television system and other scientific instruments. The flight lasted for one day. The reentry was unsuccessful because the cabin was burned, precluding successful recovery and destroying the two animals.
- Launched February 4, 1961
- Orbital Mass: 6843 kg
This was the first Soviet attempt at a Venus probe. The probe was successfully launched into Earth orbit with a SL-6/A-2-e (Molniya 8K78) launcher. The launch payload consisted of an Earth orbiting launch platform (Tyazheliy Sputnik 4) and the Venera probe. The fourth stage (a Blok L Zond rocket) was supposed to launch the Venera probe towards a landing on Venus after one Earth orbit but ignition failed, probably due to a fault in the power supply to the guidance system, the PT-200 DC transformer had not been designed to work in a vacuum. The spacecraft and launch platform remained attached in a 212 x 318 km, 64.95 degree inclination, 89.8 minute Earth orbit. Because of its large size (6483 kg), the mission was originally thought by non-Soviet observers to be a failed manned mission, and later was described as a test of an Earth orbiting platform from which an interplanetary probe could be launched. This was the first attempt to launch a spacecraft from a preliminary Earth orbit. The orbit decayed and the spacecraft reentered the Earth's atmosphere on 26 February after 22 days.
The Venera probe had a mass of about 645 kg and was based on the M1 (Mars) spacecraft design. It was designed as a Venus atmospheric probe. It carried a 3-axis magnetometer, a variometer (vertical speed indicator), and charged particle monitors. It also carried a small globe which held medallions and other commemorations of the mission. The spacecraft communications were at 66 and 66.2 MHz.
- Also called Tyazheliy Sputnik 5
- Launched February 12, 1961 at 02:09:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 6424 kg
This spacecraft was an Earth-orbiting platform from which a Zond rocket, carrying the automatic interplanetary station Venera 1, was launched.
- Also called Korabl Sputnik 5
- Launched March 25, 1961at 06:00:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4695 kg
This spacecraft was the fifth and last in a series of spacecraft designed as precursors to manned space flight. It carried a dummy astronaut and the dog Zvezdochka ("little star"), as well as the television system and other scientific apparatus. After one orbit, a successful recovery was made.
- Also called Korabl Sputnik 4
- Launched March 9, 1961at 06:28:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4700 kg
This spacecraft was the fourth in a series of spacecraft designed as precursors to manned space flight. The spacecraft carried a dummy astronaut and the dog Chernushka. The flight lasted for a single orbit, and a successful recovery was made.
- Also called Vostok 1
- Launched April 12, 1961 at 06:07:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4725 kg
Vostok 1 was the first spacecraft to carry a human, Yuri A. Gargarin, into space, occurring 25 days prior to the first U.S. suborbital flight. Because of concerns of adverse reactions to due to experiencing weightlessness, the manual controls on the spacecraft were locked prior to launch and the entire flight was under the control of ground personnel.
The spacecraft consisted of a nearly spherical cabin covered with ablative material. There were three small portholes and external radio antennas. Radios, a life support system, instrumentation, and an ejection seat were contained in the manned cabin. This cabin was attached to a service module that carried chemical batteries, orientation rockets, the main retro system, and added support equipment for the total system. This module was separated from the manned cabin on reentry. After one orbit, the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere and landed in Kazakhstan (about 26 km southwest of Engels) 1 hour 48 minutes after launch.
The Vostok spacecraft was designed to eject the cosmonaut at approximately 7 km and allow him to return to earth by parachute. Although initial reports made it unclear whether Gargarin landed in this manner or returned in the spacecraft, subsequent reports confirmed that he did indeed eject from the capsule. Radio communications with Earth were continuous during the flight, and television transmissions were also made from space.
- Also called Cosmos 2
- Launched April 6, 1962 at 17:16:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 285 kg
This was the second satellite in the Soviet Earth Satellite series, employed radio methods to study the structure of the ionosphere.
- Also called Cosmos 3
- Launched April 24, 1962 at 04:04:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 330 kg
This was one of a series of Soviet Earth satellites whose purpose was to study outer space, the upper layers of the atmosphere, and Earth. Scientific data and measurements were relayed to Earth by multichannel telemetry systems equipped with space-borne memory units.
- Also called Cosmos 4
- Launched April 26, 1962 at 10:04:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4600 kg
This was one of a series of Soviet Earth satellites whose purpose was to study outer space, the upper layers of the atmosphere, and Earth. Scientific data and measurements were relayed to Earth by multichannel telemetry systems equipped with space-borne memory units. The mission of Cosmos 4 was to measure radiation before and after the US nuclear tests conducted during project Starfish.
- Also called Cosmos 5
- Launched May 28, 1962 at 03:07:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 280 kg
This was one of a series of Soviet Earth satellites whose purpose was to study outer space, the upper layers of the atmosphere, and Earth. Scientific data and measurements were relayed to earth by multichannel telemetry systems equipped with space-borne memory units.
- Also called Cosmos 6
- Launched June 30, 1962 at 16:04:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 355 kg
Cosmos 6 was a Soviet DS type military satellite launched from Kapustin Yar. DS (Dnepropetrovsk Sputnik) were small satellites built by Yangel's OKB-586 / KB Yuzhnoye in the Ukraine for launch by the same KB's Kosmos launch vehicles. They were used for a wide range of military and scientific research and component proving tests.
- Also called Cosmos 7
- Launched July 28, 1962 at 09:21:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 4600 kg
This was one of a series of Soviet Earth satellites whose purpose was to study outer space, the upper layers of the atmosphere, and Earth. Scientific data and measurements were relayed to earth by multichannel telemetry systems equipped with space-borne memory units. Radiation measurements made by Cosmos guaranteed safety during the flight of the Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 spacecraft.
- Also called Cosmos 8
- Launched August 18, 1962 at 05:02:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 337 kg
Cosmos 8 was a Soviet DS type military satellite launched from Kapustin Yar. DS (Dnepropetrovsk Sputnik) were small satellites built by Yangel's OKB-586 / KB Yuzhnoye in the Ukraine for launch by the same KB's Kosmos launch vehicles. They were used for a wide range of military and scientific research and component proving tests.
- Also called Alpha Pi 1
- Originally called Sputnik 23 in the U.S. Naval Space Command Satellite Situation Summary
- Launched August 25, 1962 at 02:52:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 890 kg
Sputnik 19 was a Venera-type spacecraft intended to make a landing on Venus. The SL-6/A-2-e launcher put the spacecraft into Earth orbit, but the escape stage failed and the probe remained in geocentric orbit for three days until the orbit decayed on August 28 and it re-entered Earth's atmosphere.
- Also called 1962 Alpha Tau 1
- Originally called Sputnik 24 in the U.S. Naval Space Command Satellite Situation Summary
- Launched September 1, 1962 at 02:24:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 6500 kg
Sputnik 20 was intended to be a Venus landing mission. The Venera-type spacecraft was successfully inserted into geocentric orbit by the SL-6/A-2-e launcher. The escape stage failed and the spacecraft was stranded in Earth orbit until it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere 5 days later.
- Also called Alpha Pi 1
- Originally called Sputnik 25 in the U.S. Naval Space Command Satellite Situation Summary
- Launched September 12, 1962 at 01:40:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 6500 kg
Sputnik 21 was an attempted Venus flyby mission. The SL-6/A-2-e launcher put the craft into Earth orbit, but the third stage exploded, destroying the spacecraft.
See section on Mars 1962A spacecraft.Mars Mars 1 spacecraft. Mars 1962B spacecraft.
- Originally called Sputnik 33 in the U.S. Naval Space Command Satellite Situation Summary
- Launched January 4, 1963 at 07:12:00 UTC
- Orbital Mass: 2500 kg
This mission was an attempted lunar soft landing, with the purpose of returning data on the mechanical characteristics of the lunar surface, the hazards presented by the topology such as craters, rocks, and other obstructions, and radiation, in preparation for future manned landings. The 1500 kg spacecraft consisted of a cylindrical section containing maneuvering and landing rockets and fuel, orientation devices and radio transmitters and a spherical top containing the 100 kg lander. The lander would be ejected onto the surface after the main body touched down, carrying a camera and devices to measure radiation.
The spacecraft was injected into Earth orbit successfully by the SL-6/A-2-e launcher but failed to escape orbit for its trip to the moon. Its orbit decayed on January 5, 1963 after one day.
Sputnik 25 was originally designated Sputnik 33 in the U.S. Naval Space Command Satellite Situation Summary.