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Author thanks Igor Puchkov and Igor Postnikov at NPO Mashinostroenia, in Reutov, Russia, and Alain Chabot from Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, Nova Scotia, Canada, for their help in preparing this section.


Origin of the Almaz project

The ascent of man into space at the height of the Cold War raised the question of the military role for piloted spacecraft. On October 12, 1964, during a meeting of leading specialists of the OKB-52 design bureau, based in Reutov, on the eastern edge of Moscow, its chief-designer Vladimir Chelomei officially announced the beginning the Orbital Piloted Station, OPS, project code-named Almaz or "Diamond." The Soviet government saw the Almaz project as a response to the development of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, MOL, by the US Air Force.

Development of the Almaz space station

For most of the 1960s, the Almaz program remained on the backburner, as the Soviet space industry concentrated most efforts on the Moon race with the United States. Technical problems and political intrigue also plagued Almaz. Chelomei's rivals at TsKBEM, former Korolev's bureau, a group of top engineers "conspired" to initiate a project of space station, which could leapfrog the Almaz. However, in parallel, the Soviet military gave Vladimir Chelomei the green light to accelerate the Almaz project.

OPS-1 (Salyut-2)

The first Almaz station -- OPS-1 -- made it to Baikonur in the midst of harsh winter of 1973. After several months of preparation, it blasted off into orbit on April 3, 1973. Since the Soviet authorities did not want to disclose the existence of two space station projects in the USSR, particularly of the top-secret Almaz, the OPS-1 was announced as Salyut-2 upon reaching the orbit. A crew was preparing to fly to the station, however, a mysterious accident days after the launch left OPS-1 disabled and depressurized.

OPS-2 (Salyut-3)

The OPS-2, announced as Salyut-3, was launched on June 25, 1974. The crew of the Soyuz-14 spacecraft spent 15 days onboard the station in July 1974. The second expedition launched toward OPS-2 in August 1974, failed to reach the station. Salyut-3 was deorbited in January 1975.

OPS-3 (Salyut-5)

The OPS-3, announced after the 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. Between two successful expeditions, one crew failed to reach the station and had to conduct an urgent landing, resulted in the first ever splashdown of the Soviet spacecraft. One additional crew had hopes of working onboard OPS-3, however, the mission had never took place, due to lack of the transport spacecraft, or so its developers said.


The next Almaz station, OPS-4, promised a number of radical upgrades in the project. However, from the beginning of 1978, the funding for the Almaz project has started disappearing, dragging the construction of OPS-4 behind schedule. The station was ultimately grounded and has become a rare artifact of the Almaz project.

Almaz-206 Scientific Almaz-N

During 1974-1976, NPO Mash studied an unmanned version of the Almaz for astronomical and remote-sensing research under designation Almaz-N, where "N" likely stood for "nauka" or "science." The work grew out of an Order No. 170 by the Ministry of General Machine building, MOM, issued on June 15, 1972, which authorized the use of Almaz hardware for remote-sensing studies of the Earth. According to the NPO Mash proposals, the 6,000-kilogram Almaz-N spacecraft would carry five tons of astrophysical payloads and a ton of Earth-watching instruments. (490)

Unmanned Almaz

On June 28, 1978, the Soviet government officially killed the development of manned orbital stations at Chelomei's TsKBM design bureau. The Almaz station was downgraded to a heavy radar-carrying reconnaissance satellite, which could be visited by servicing crews and later to a fully unmanned spacecraft. Three such satellites have been launched, two of which successfully worked in orbit.



The Almaz spacecraft with a manufacturing ("zavodskoi") number 0205-02 was largely completed by the time, the project was stopped. The spacecraft was apparently build for manned missions and later refurbished for autonomous flight.



Only hull of the spacecraft with the manufacturing ("zavodskoi") number 0206-02 was ready by the time the program was discontinued. The design of the hull indicated that at least originally it was intended for manned missions.



Initial hopes to commercialize the Almaz space station during the 1990s, relied on its capabilities to take photographic and radar imagery of the Earth surface. A US-based marketing office, which would offer on-demand imagery to commercial clients, had been set up, however the project had never taken off. Instead the US entrepreneur Art Dula proposed to use the station as a tourist destination and the commercial research outpost in the Earth orbit.


OPS Almaz description

As proposed in 1964, the Almaz space station, also designated 11F71 or 11F71B, was designed to have a rotating crew of three people and an operational life of one or two years. The habitable volume of the Almaz station was divided into following main areas:

TKS spacecraft description and history

The TKS was designed to be launched by the Proton rocket, to carry a three-man crew, up to eight small film return capsules and other supplies for the Almaz station. The TKS was equipped with the I11F77 propulsion system and eight externally attached cylindrical propellant tanks. The TKS spacecraft had a length of 13 meters and a pressurized volume of 49.88 cubical meters.