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Polyus / Skif-DM

The superheavy launcher Energia left the cosmodrome of Baikonur for the first time on May 15, 1987. This launch was an event for the cosmonautic world because the creation of such a launcher opened new ways for the USSR. For this first flight Energia carried the experimental apparatus "Skif-DM" 17F19DM ("Скиф-ДМ" 17Ф19ДМ), disguised under the official name "Polyus" Russian ("Полюс" means "Pole").

It would seem that Polyus is the Soviet response to the project "Star Wars" launched by the American president Reagan. It was to be in fact a space combat laser station. Finally, we know very few things about this apparatus and its real use. Officially it was intended to make scientific experiments in upper atmosphere.

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

Aim of Polyus

The flight program of Polyus included 10 experiments: 4 applied and 6 of geophysics. Experiment VP-1 was devoted to the validation of the orbiting of large-sized machines. In experiment VP-3 it was question of validating the operation of the modules (systems of control, temperature control, power supply, electromagnetic compatibility) in space. The program of geophysics experiments "Mirage-1-2-3" was devoted to the studies of the upper layers of the atmosphere and the ionosphere.

For the geophysics experiments GF-1/1- GF-1/2 and GF-1/3, it was planned to use the engine of Polyus. Experiment GF-1/1 was devoted to the generation of gravitational artificial waves in the upper layers of the atmosphere. The goal of experiment GF-1/2 was the creation of an artificial "dynamo-effect" in the ionosphere. Lastly, experiment GF-1/3 was to generate ionized signals with long waves. Polyus was equipped with a great quantity of gas (420 kg), a mixture of xenon and krypton (42 balloons of 32 l capacity), and a system of emission in the ionosphere.


The creation of Polyus

The beginning of the construction of the spaceship Polyus was initiated in July 1985, like a full scale mock-up for the first flight of Energia, envisaged at the autumn 1986. Because in the middle of the year 1985 it was clear that Buran would not be ready for this launching. Initially it did not seem difficult to make a vessel of 100 t, but suddenly the manufacturer received the order from the Minister of Industry to transform it to make a spaceship for geophysics experiments in circumterrestrial space, and to cumulate the tests of it and Energia.

The "vessel" have a length of almost 37 m and a diameter of 4.1 m weighed nearly 80 t and included 2 principal sections:

  • smallest, the functional service block.
  • largest, the aim module.

The service block looked like a "Salyut" slightly modified for this task and was made up from parts of the ships "Cosmos-929, -1267, -1443, -1668" and from modules of MIR-2 station. In this block took place the management systems and on-board displacement, the telemetric control, the radiocommunication, the heating system, the antennas and finally the scientific installations. All the apparatuses wich not supporting the vacuum were installed in the hermetic section. The part of the engines made up of 4 propulsion engines, 20 auxiliary engines for stabilization and the orientation, 16 precision engines, as well as tanks and pneumo-hydraulics conduits. Lastly, the production of electricity was made by solar panels which were spread when Polyus was into working orbit.

According to the required standards it took at least 5 years to work out a new vessel, but there were lack of time, so it was necessary to find another method. It was decided to use the apparatuses, equipment and already tested mechanisms of other vessels and to put them together.

The main block was developed from scratch, but the engineers tried to use a maximum of elements and technologies already checked. For example, the hang points to Energia were those of Buran and the junction section with the ground was the same that Buran used (Block Я).

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR
Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

The mechanical factory Hrunicheva which was responsible for the assembly of Polyus began the production immediately. But these efforts were not enough and each Thursday, during the meetings made by the minister O.D.Baklanovym or his assistant O.N.Shishkinym, it was the victim of severe criticisms because the project did not hold the deadlines. But finally, with the assistance of subcontractor the majority of the elements were delivered to Baikonur in July 1986.

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR
  Radar antennas   Radar antennas
Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR
  Orbital maneuvering system   Orbital maneuvering system

Flight program

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

The flight program of Polyus was as follows: after t+212 s of flight at 90 km of altitude the nose cone is removed. That occurs as follow, at t+212 s the signal to the actuators of the longitudinal assembly is sent, after 0.3 s it is the turn of the bolts of the first transversal assembly group GO, still 0.3 s later it was the turn of the second group bolts. Lastly, at t+241.1 s the mechanical connections were broken and the nose cone separated. At t+456.4 s the engines of Energia enter to the intermediate propulsion power, at t+459.4 s they were turned off, at t+460 s Polyus separated from Energia and 0.4 s later the engines of Polyus moved away it from Energia. Then at t+461.2 s was started the first pulse of the engines for the angular compensation (pitching, lace and lodging), the second at t+463.4 s and the third at t+464 s. 51 s later when Energia and Polyus were distant from 120 m, this last began its reversal. Because it started with the engines ahead it has to turn over 180° around Z axis to put its engines at the back. After this reversal at t+565 s the hood is removed, at t+568 s it is the turn of the caps of the side blocks, then the radar antennas are spread. At t+925 s and 155 km of altitude the 4 principal engines, of a thrust of 417 kg, start during 384 s to stabilize the vessel. Then at t+2220 s the solar panels are spreading, during 60 s. Finally, a second impulse at 172 s of the 4 engines is trigger at t+3605 s and complet the orbiting of Polyus at 280 km of altitude and a slope of 64.6 °.


Preparations for the first flight of Polyus

Initially, the launch was scheduled for September 1986. However because of the delay in the factory and the preparation of some systems of the cosmodrome the launch was deferred of 6 months. It is only at the end of January 1987 that Polyus was moved from the assembly hangar to the assembly building of Energia. There, on February 3, 1987 Polyus is docked on Energia. The following day the unit is carried to the launch pad to undergo a series of common tests there.

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Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

The Polyus-Energia unit was really ready only at the end of April. During all this times (from the beginning of February to the end of April) the launcher remained upright on the launch pad. The tanks of Polyus were filled and during these 3 months it was necessary to take into account the extreme climatic conditions: from -27°C to +30°C, sand and snowstorms, wet snow, rain and fog. However, the vessel resisted. After an in-depth study, the departure was fixed at May 12.

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

The first launch of Energia and Polyus was so important for the direction of the party that the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party itself, Mikhaïl Sergeevich Gorbatchev, went. However, it is well-known that any apparatus, so simple is it, have a strong probability of breaking down during a demonstration or in the presence of VIPs, this is why the Management committee had decided (on May 8) to delay the departure on May 15, under pretext of technical problems, knowing that M.S. Gorbatchev could not remain because it had a voyage to the head office of UNO at New York. M.S. Gorbatchev arrived at Baikonur on May 11, 1987, the 12 he visited the technical space installations and more particularly those of Energia and Polyus (to be sure there weren't any weapons on Polyus), then he left on May 13.


First flight of Polyus

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

May 15 the departure was programmed to 3 p.m. local time (4 p.m. Moscow time), the same day the control of Polyus started at 00h10 a.m. and finished at 01h40 a.m.. At 04h00 a.m. the blocks of Energia were filled with nitrogen, at 07h00 a.m. was inserted the nitric preparation in the side block tanks. The filling of liquid oxygen for Energia started at 08h30 a.m.. However, there have been technical problems during the transfer of propellant and caused 8 hours of delay on the initial planning, but as a certain time of delay was envisaged there was only 2 hours of delay. Then a problem of valve added one hour and 2 other hours because of a problem in the control panel of the equipment of the flight center. The new launch time was then 08h30 p.m..

Polyus, space combat, orbital station, Star Wars project, MIR-2, USSR

08h30 p.m. the starting signal is given, the maintaining arm felt back and the rocket flies away. During the first seconds of flight there is a beginning of panic in the underground flight center. Indeed, Energia leans dangerously on the left, because of a problem in the algorithm of the control system. This movement was envisaged but was corrected thereafter for the launch of Buran. Then Energia corrects its trajectory and continues its flight. Energia separates from Polyus at t+460 s and an altitude of 110 km. And there the troubles begin because only one of the 16 positioning engines work. At t+512 s the operation of reversal of 180° begin, at t+568 s the lids of the side blocks and protective lid SBV are ejected. Then the catastrophe occurs, the engines of reversals do not stop functioning although Polyus made its 180° rotation. Then the principal engine cannot give sufficient speed to Polyus to put itself into orbit and it continuous according to the ballistic trajectory and goes crashing in the Pacific Ocean in the same zone as the block of the 2nd stage of Energia to a 2.5-6 km depth.

In spite of the failure of putting in orbit Polyus this flight made it possible to gather a significant number of datas, about launching of a load by Energia, which will be used for the launching of Buran:

  • The use of a heavy launcher with a load laid out in an asymmetrical way is validated.
  • Reception of many data telemetric during all the flight.
  • Validation of the technical installations on the ground.
  • Studies for the new space station of 100 t are started.

Moreover other parts of Polyus were re-used, the nose cone was used for the apparatuses "Quantum - 2", "Crystal", "Spectrum" and "Nature", as well as the first element of the international space station ISS which was the electric block FGB "Paddle".





Perhaps hard to fathom in retrospect, many Soviets were of a perceived U.S. Shuttle capability to skip and out of the Earth's atmosphere and surreptitiously a hydrogen bomb on a major Soviet city as the capital. Boris Chertok, a long-time fixture Soviet space circles who worked at NPO Energia, his team that the U.S. Shuttle flying peacefully away from our borders, can throw the missile and air defense off-guard and carry out a maneuver…and flying over Moscow, drop a hydrogen bomb up to 25 tons with a strength of least 25 megatons. Gubanov, the head designer of Energia, later wrote that studies conducted by Mstislav the influential head of the Soviet National Academy Sciences, highlighted this supposed capability and recommended countering perceived threat by building a similar Shuttle that launch a nuclear strike. Chertok quoted Keldysh as the U.S. could achieve a decisive military advantage the Space Shuttle is commissioned and they will capable of launching a preventive nuclear strike at vital facilities of our country.

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