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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.


Previous page: Origin of Almaz

OPS stalled

For most of the 1960s, the Almaz program was put on the backburner," as the Soviet space industry concentrated its main efforts on the Moon race with the United States. Technical problems and political intrigue also plagued the project. During 1969, the Khrunichev Plant in the Moscow district of Fili had completed several hulls of the Almaz stations, however, systems to outfit them were yet to arrive. (78)

In the meantime, with the downfall of Khrushchev, Chelomei fought an uphill battle for his place in the manned space program. As Khrushchev's protégé, Chelomei faced strong hostility from Dimitry Ustinov, a powerful Communist Party executive and an old Stalinist, who had supervised the rocket development program since its inception in 1946. In the post-Khrushchevean era, Ustinov would become Chelomei's chief nemesis.

Along with Ustinov, a number of "well-wishers" in the industry raced to topple Chelomei. When at the beginning of 1968, the preliminary design of the Almaz space station arrived for evaluation to the NIIP-5 test range in Tyuratam, the deputy chief of the range and supporter of Korolev's organization, Anatoly Kirillov formed a commission, which he hoped would "cook the data" against the Almaz. When the commission turned out mostly positive conclusions, Kirillov disbanded it and reportedly reworked the commission's final report to present a critical view of the program. (100)

Birth of DOS

However in 1969, the first landing of the US astronauts on the lunar surface essentially ended the Moon Race. Inevitably, the leaders of the Soviet space industry as well as their patrons in the Kremlin had already started looking elsewhere for future goals.

Within TsKBEM, the primary developer of Soviet manned spacecraft and Chelomei's rival organization, a group of top engineers "conspired" to initiate a project of space station, which could be accomplished quickly and economically. TsKBEM people aimed to cannibalize the hardware developed by Chelomei's collective for the troubled Almaz program and build their own station outfitted with "recycled" systems from the Soyuz spacecraft.

On December 6, 1969, a large meeting including representatives of TsKBEM, Chelomei's TsKBM and government officials discussed the strategy. Arkadi Eidis, Chelomei's deputy tried to "preserve" the Almaz in its original form, while agreeing to use the Soyuz in the program. Eidis warned that plans to involve the Khrunichev plant into the production of the streamlined space station would further delay the Almaz. (78)

By December 29, 1969, Dimitry Ustinov, signed off on the TsKBEM project of a streamlined station, designated DOS-7K. Now, the Soviet Union had two active space station projects.

The head of TsKBEM Vasiliy Mishin, despite his reservations about the idea, had no choice but to squeeze another assignment in the already overloaded luggage of projects carried by his organization.

Almaz accelerates

However, in parallel, the Soviet military gave Vladimir Chelomei the green light to accelerate the Almaz project. By the end of 1969, a small group of test specialists, which had been formed in Tyuratam a year earlier to process the Almaz hardware, was expanded into a separate department of "complex testing" led by Lt. Colonel Anatoly Zavalishin. Three other test departments, responsible for the Almaz station itself, VA capsule and the TKS spacecraft were led by Ivan Evteev, V. Bogomolov and N. P. Khapankov. (100)

On June 16, 1970, the Soviet government, yelding to lobbying from the Ministry of Defense, signed a decree establishing the following target dates for the Almaz project:

  • The fourth quarter of 1971 - first test launch of Almaz;
  • End of 1972 - completion of tests;
  • 1973 - acceptance of the Almaz system into armaments;

At the beginning of August 1970, General Kamanin, who was responsible for space operations of the Soviet Air Force, and who strongly supported Chelomei, held a special meeting dedicated to the Almaz project in light of the latest government decree. According to Kamanin, by the time of the meeting, Chelomei's organization had already delivered a mockup of the Almaz station to the Air Force Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine for pre-flight tests. A total eight prototypes and two flight-worthy versions of the OPS station had been manufactured by the beginning of 1970. (129) At the same time a group of 22 cosmonauts led by Popovich was training for the Almaz missions. (142)

Yet, despite formal government approval, the Almaz program still had a lower priority than DOS-7K project. In his diaries, Kamanin claims that Vladimir Chelomei blamed Sergei Korolev and his successor Vasili Mishin, the head of TsKBEM, for efforts to undermine the Almaz project. Chelomei complained that during a meeting at the Ministry of General Machine Building, MOM in September 1970, Mishin tried to get approval for the construction of three DOS-7K stations, in addition to four already under construction. Moreover, these three new DOS stations would essentially duplicate the Almaz.

However, in reality (unlike his subordinates and his boss, Ustinov) Mishin, had apparently little desire to take over Chelomei's specialization. Just the opposite, Mishin believed that his organization had to concentrate on the manned lunar program, leaving the station work to Chelomei.

On February 15, 1971, during a meeting hosted by Ustinov at the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Mishin argued to limit the development of the DOS-7K project by four vehicles and let Chelomei develop the Almaz, as both civilian and military stations. However, Ustinov overuled Mishin, directing the continuation of both programs. (78)

On April 21, 1972, Mishin and Chelomei reached an amicable agreement to discontinue the DOS-7K program after launching the four original DOS stations and return all further work in the field to Chelomei's collective. Moreover, Mishin agreed to use Chelomei's TKS transport ship for the resupply of the prospective MKBS heavy orbital station studied at the TsKBEM design bureau. An official letter with this proposal was sent to Afanasiev, the Minister of General Machine Building, who, in his turn, approved the decision.

In accordance with the timeline approved by Afanasiev on June 15, 1972, the assembly of the OPS-1 station had to be completed before June 30, 1972 and that of OPS-2 in November 1972. (134)

Ground tests

In 1969, test firings of the RD-0225 (11D24) main maneuvering engine of the OPS Almaz started at Test Facility No. 1 of NIIKhIMMASh research center near Zagorsk (presently Sergiev Posad). Also, since May 1970 two test facilities had been under construction at Site No. 5 of the same center for the testing of the I17K attitude control system of the Almaz. The first firing took place on March 11, 1971. (129)

Next page: OPS-1 - First Almaz


Integration tests between the Almaz station and the TKS spacecraft. Credit: NPO Mash

Artist rendering of the of the Almaz space station docked with the Soyuz spacecraft. Credit: NPO Mash

The Almaz space station consisted of three main sections: a tail section (left), "main diameter" section housing surveillance payloads, and "small diameter" section (far right) containing living quarters. Copyright © 2002 by Anatoly Zak

The last manned Almaz station, OPS-4, which was equipped with a second docking port in its front section, has remained grounded. Copyright © 2002 by Anatoly Zak