Origin of the Sputnik-2 project

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Roots of the Sputnik-2 project

At the time of the decision to launch Sputnik-2, Korolev had a sophisticated research satellite, known as Object D, in the works. However, it could not possibly be ready for launch before December 1957, therefore it was destined to become the third satellite. At the same time, a mere repetition of the previous launch was not good enough. To meet the November anniversary deadline, an "entirely new" concept for a Sputnik carrying a dog had emerged, most sources claim. Exactly how "new" was still opened to debate half a century later. It seems, several factors did give Korolev some lead time in an unprecedented spacecraft-building marathon, perhaps never again repeated in the history of space exploration.

The first and the foremost, since the end of 1940s, the USSR conducted an extensive program of flying animals onboard R-1E, R-2A and R-5A ballistic missiles. Dogs were first launched and safely returned to Earth from a ballistic rocket flight on July 22, 1951. (18)

Korolev's biographer Yaroslav Golovanov wrote that in the runup to the Soviet government's approval of the first satellite project at the end of August 1955, Korolev had a crucial meeting at the Academy of Sciences on possible scientific applications of satellites. Various configurations of the future spacecraft were discussed, including those capable of carrying live animals. One could speculate that some drafting of such mission had followed. If true, it would be fair to say that Sputnik-2 was conceived in 1955. (18)

Another source confirms that in 1955, the design and ballistic group lead by E.F. Ryazanov at OKB-1 began planning for first artificial satellites from D-1 to D-3, including the D-2 spacecraft, which would carry a dog. (463)

The Jan. 30, 1956, decree, which gave go ahead to the Soviet sputnik project lists the launch of live organisms as the third task after geophysics and physics experiments. An addendum to the decree assigned NIIIAM of the Ministry of Defense with the participation of Biology Division of the Academy of Sciences under Yazdovsky and Chernigovsky to research a possibility of survival and functioning for animals during long-duration flights on Object D and Object OD under a following schedule:

- Responsibility
Completion date
Responsible institution
1 Development of the life-support system for long-duration animal flight
4th quarter of 1956
NIIIAM (system development); NII-88 (airframe and compartment manufacturing); Plant No. 918 (equipment manufacturing)
2 Upgrades and manufacturing of equipment for long-duration registering of physiological functions of animals in flight
October 1956 (3 sets); April 1957 (3 sets); January 1958 (2 sets)
NIIIAM (upgrades and testing); NII-88 (arrangement of equipment in the compartment); KTB BFP of the Ministry of Instrument Building (serial avionics supply)
3 Selection and long-duration training of animals, feeding and water-supply systems
NIIIAM of the Ministry of Defense
4 Studies of possibility of animal survival in long-duration flight with evaluation of key physiological functions
NIIIAM; KTB BFP (tune up and testing of equipment)
5 Studies of influence of prolonged weightlessness on animals
NIIIAM with participation of Biology Division of the Academy of Sciences
6 Studies of influence of space rays on animals
NIIIAM with participation of Biology Division of the Academy of Sciences
7 Data analysis and reports on completed research
NIIIAM and Biology Division of the Academy of Sciences


A year later, on September 14, 1956, Keldysh invited Korolev to a meeting of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences, discussing the satellite program. The report made by Keldysh revealed a number of milestones in the future space exploration program:

In his other book, Golovanov said that the work preparing animals for the orbital flight had started about a year before the mission. (229)

Another indirect evidence that the development of Sputnik-2 was underway well before the official approval of the project comes from Korolev's deputy Yevgeny Shabarov. As he hastily reported to Korolev's office after his aborted vacation on the Black Sea, the chief designer broke him the news: "It has been decided to launch a second satellite, PS-2, with animals onboard. Start packing and have a look at the technical documentation..." -- perhaps a reference to already existing blueprints of Sputnik-2. (262)


Written and illustrated by Anatoly Zak

All rights reserved

Last update: February 11, 2018


Dog catapult

The catapult enabled safe return of a dog after a suborbital flight on a high-altitude research rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

Dog spacesuit

"Spacesuit" which protected dogs in suborbital flights onboard high-altitude research rockets during the 1950s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak



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