Space Race: The Spiral That Never Reached the Sky (Topic)

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Space Race: The Spiral That Never Reached the Sky


For hundreds of years, human gazes have turned to the silent starry sky. They studied constellations, conducted research, made great discoveries, but had to be content with the role of silent observers. Aristarchus of Samos, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Kapernik, Galileo and Kepler became great theorists who did not have the opportunity to test their hypotheses in practice. In the XX century, the dreams of scientists became a reality, but space aroused keen interest not only among scientists. This boundless space has become a "training ground" for military tests. Humanity has long guessed what opportunities the prospect of using weapons in outer space opens up. Here it was possible to implement the most daring ideas and, as a result, get shock weapons with monstrous power. Successful space exploration could bring power to Earth. The military has teamed up with scientists to achieve these goals. The USSR became one of the two leading countries that claimed absolute dominance in space. Huge amounts were allocated from the budget for military space projects. Many of the promising developments were never completed, but later found application in other countries. Below we will talk about one of these projects.

Space Race and Rebirth of Forgotten Projects

On October 4, 1957, the first successful launch of an artificial satellite of our planet was carried out by the R-7 carrier rocket from the territory of a research site in Kazakhstan, which was later named Baikonur. This day became a turning point in the history of mankind, as it marked the beginning of the space age. The project was a breakthrough for that time, and there were still many fantastic ups and downs in store for the USSR military space industry.


The USSR marked the beginning of a new round of the scientific and technological revolution. October 4, 1957 is considered to be the beginning of the space arms race, in which only two superpowers took part, while the rest of the countries closely followed the "competition" of a world scale and adjoined one or another camp of "fans". In the second half of the twentieth century, contenders for the title of conquerors of space used all possible means to surpass each other. The United States and the USSR were actively developing a special type of weapon that could be used outside the planet. Some of the ideas seemed fantastic, while others were successfully implemented and even served as the basis for modern developments that are still used today.


The space race ended with a technical victory for the United States, when the USSR simply dropped out of it. At the end of the life of this huge country, dozens of projects were wound up. Such a fate befell large-scale developments "Skif" and "Buran". There was another major project that started back in the 60s of the last century, almost at the same time as the first launch of man into space. He was almost lost in the pages of military history, but suddenly reminded of himself.

American military engineers announced the start of work on the Dream Chaser reusable orbital spacecraft, which in the United States has become loudly called "the crown of the aerospace industry." Is it a special development that has no analogues in the world or does it have? Few people know that not only the key technical solutions, but also the very appearance of the innovative technical means were completely copied from a Soviet-made orbital ship as part of the Spiral project. It was conceived as a retaliatory measure for strikes on the territory of the USSR from space. For the middle of the last century, the very idea of such an attack was somewhere on the verge of fantasy, but today the Americans have proven that many Soviet developments were ahead of their time, which is why they remained underestimated.


Up the Spiral

In 1964, a group of Soviet scientists began to develop the concept of a unique space system, which consisted of a tandem, which included:

  • A hypersonic aircraft serving as a special carrier.
  • An orbital aircraft (OS) with a rocket booster.

The hypersonic aircraft was supposed to launch the OS into space using air launch technology, after which it was sent into orbit. It was a fundamentally new aerospace station that had no analogues in the world. Scientists from TsNII 30 managed to create a model that organically combined the functions of a space object, an airplane and a rocket plane. By 1965, work on the theoretical part of the project was completed and it was handed over to A.I. Mikoyan, where the chief designer G.E. Lozino-Lozinsky. The two-stage airborne orbital ship, which later became known as the aerospace station, was dubbed the "Spiral". The USSR began serious preparations for war in space.


It should be noted that the idea of creating an aerospace system did not appear in the 60s. In his writings, this was mentioned by Tsiolkovsky , but it was just a bare theory, which did not have a technical basis for practical application. In 1962, employees of the Mikoyan Design Bureau worked on the 50-50 project, even before the start of work on Spiral. His key task was also the creation of an aerospace system. Many of the technical solutions of this project were later used in Spiral.

Unique fuel and pilot rescue capsule

The Soviet aerospace system was amazing. The launch from the booster platform was made at a speed of about 400 km / h. After that, the booster plane climbed to the required altitude of 25-30 km and a speed of 6,000-6500 km / h, which was 6.5 times the speed of sound. Then the orbital plane, which weighed 10 tons, separated from the carrier's "back" and picked up acceleration using rocket engines. To achieve the maximum efficiency of the power plant, the developers had to use a special fuel. Chemists were looking for an optimal solution for a long time, until they finally settled on a hydrogen fluoride mixture, the use of which helped to solve several problems at once:

  • Getting an efficiency close to 100%.
  • Providing the power plant with a fuel composition that could be called relatively stable.

Hydrogen fluoride mixture had only one major drawback - it was too toxic. Potassium cyanide, in comparison with liquid fluorine, became just a harmless flavoring additive to tea.


When the fuel issue was resolved, the designers faced another important problem. First of all, it was necessary to take care of the pilot's safety in the event of an emergency situation. To save the pilot, a special capsule was developed, which, if necessary, was separated from the OS fuselage. The cockpit was equipped with powder engines. They "fired" the capsule from the plane. To enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, control engines were used. The use of such a technical solution significantly increased the chances of human survival in the air at hypersonic speeds. The Americans used a very similar emergency rescue system in two of their designs:

  • The XB-70 high-altitude bomber, better known as the terrifying Valkyrie.
  • Frontline F-111.

With the help of a special capsule, Soviet design engineers successfully solved the problem of saving a person in airspace. Since the temperature of the fuselage at different stages of descent from orbit could reach critical values (1600 ° C), it was necessary to cover the hull with a special material that could withstand such a thermal effect. The thermal protection of the OS was provided by special clad plates made of molybdenum disilicide and niobium alloy.

Space combat is the hardest one

What should a collision be in space? Military experts know very well what air combat looks like at long distances or at close range. It is difficult to imagine how the scenario of such a collision will develop in a space where wars have never been fought. Lozino-Lozinsky from the very beginning developed the concept of a spacecraft that will take part in a highly maneuverable space battle. One of the most interesting developments of the project was various modifications of the OS, each of which had to be used for specific purposes. On the basis of the orbital aircraft, the designers have created:

  • A transporter with a small compartment for transporting goods.
  • Radar reconnaissance aircraft equipped with an external expandable antenna
  • Daytime photographic reconnaissance aircraft with photographic equipment that allowed taking high-definition pictures.
  • An orbital interceptor designed to destroy space objects.
  • Attack orbital aircraft, which was supposed to attack enemy military targets on the ground.

The shock OS became the most dangerous in space war. It was planned to equip it with a two-ton space-to-ground missile with a nuclear warhead. Such an OS could destroy an enemy aircraft carrier even if it deviated from the target by 200 m. He performed his task already on the first orbit, and during the second, the pilot had to simply control the situation.

After the successful completion of the operation, the OS should have returned home. The solution to this problem became a real headache for the designers, due to the design features of the aircraft, which, like all aircraft, had wings. The designers had to solve a difficult problem, because the OS had to descend to the ground "nose first" and at the same time not lose the correct orientation at huge supersonic, hypersonic and subsonic speeds. Since it is impossible to provide an orbital aircraft with 100% protection from an incoming air flow, the most vulnerable areas on the hull were covered with a layer of special thermal protection. The wings were additionally equipped with triangular consoles that could fold. These structural elements were responsible for the self-balancing of the ship. The solution was simple but ingenious for the time.

"Spiral" break

In 1973 all work on the Spiral project was discontinued. Many of his developments later found their application. Based on the results of the work of the OKB A.I. Mikoyan was subsequently created an unmanned orbital rocket plane, called "BOR-4". After one of the test flights, Soviet sailors retrieved it from the sea. Their unusual activity was noticed by Australian intelligence officers. "BOR-4" got into the lenses of their cameras. The pictures were given to the Americans. The photographs were studied in detail by foreign experts for several years, and then the Dream Chaser ship appeared. According to many experts, the Americans pulled out a "lucky ticket" by copying the development of the USSR.


Already now you can see the prerequisites for the start of a new space race. The participants completed the warm-up and lined up at the start, it remains only to wait for the signal shot. There is a long road ahead, full of ups and downs, many of which can be prevented. It is enough to learn a valuable lesson from the sad story of Spiral, which was a promising project for the Soviet military space industry, but was too far ahead of its time, which is why it was consigned to oblivion.

The Topic of Article: Space Race: The Spiral That Never Reached the Sky.
Author: Jake Pinkman