Almaz was a small space station project developed specifically for purposes of piloted observational recconnaissance of U.S. military assets from low Earth orbit. Preliminary design studies were initiated at OKB-52 based in Reutov on 12 October 1964. The station complex originally consisted of two primary components:

•the Orbital Piloted Station (OPS)

•the Transport-Supply Ship (TKS)

Each had an identical reusable Return Apparatus (VA) for returning crews and supplies back to Earth. Around 1967, the VA component was eliminated from the OPS proper. Initially, crews were to have been delivered by a variant of the Soyuz spacecraft known as the 7K-TK (see Soyuz-R) developed by the Kubyshev Branch of OKB-1 (based in Kaliningrad). That plan was abandoned by 1967 in favor of the TKS option. The Draft Plan for Almaz was signed on 21 June 1967. The Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers formally approved the project the same month. The use of the TKS as a crew delivery and add-on vehicle for the Almaz core station was stipulated in an official governmental decree dated 16 June 1970.

The overall prime contractor for the program was OKB-52 (now NPO Mashinostroyeniya). OKB-52 also designed the OPS and the VA components. The TKS service module, known as the Functional-Cargo Block (FGB), was assigned to OKB-52’s Branch No. 1 (now KB Salyut of GKNPTs Khrunichev). OKB-52 Chief/General Designer from 1955 to 1984 was V. N. Chelomey. Branch No. 1 was headed by V. N. Bugayskiy from 1960 to 1973.

Certainly the most enigmatic payload on the Almaz space station complex was a 23 mm rapid fire cannon developed by OKB-16 (now KB TochMash) headed by Chief Designer A. E. Nudelman. Although unofficial sources hint that the cannon was actually carried on Salyut-3, most reliable sources suggest that the weapon was never deployed in orbit. [NOTE: Bert Vis reported on the the FPSpace list-server on 8 December 1998 that the cannon was a Nudelman-Rikhter NR-30 (30 mm caliber, not 23 mm). It’s name was Vulkan, a type of cannon which was evidently used on aircraft in the 1970s.]

A total of five crews were sent on missions to Almaz in 1974-77: Soyuz-14, Soyuz-15, Soyuz-21, Soyuz-23, and Soyuz-24. Two of them (Soyuz-15 and Soyuz-23) failed to dock. See Soyuz for details.

The piloted portion of the Almaz program was terminated in late 1978 after a review of the Ministry of Defense proved that piloted reconnaissance was significantly less cost-effective than automated reconnaissance. Instead, the military opted to switch to a completely robotic version of Almaz using the Almaz-T platform equipped with a powerful radar. (see Almaz-T for more information).

There were quite ambitious plans for Almaz at the time that the piloted portion was canceled in 1978. An official government decree issued on 19 January 1976 formally approved work on an improved Almaz core station (OPS-4) with uprated onboard instrumentation and longer lifetime. Most important, it would be equipped with two docking ports, one for receiving TKS spacecraft and the other for receiving Soyuz ferries. Engineers were expected to finish the paper Draft Plan for OPS-4 in the second quarter of 1976. Launch was set for 1977. This module would be equipped with its own VA component. TKS flights to OPS-4 were expected to begin in 1978 leading to full operational status in 1980. After initial delays in early 1978, work on OPS-4 was terminated in late 1978 when the piloted portion of the project was canceled.

A further iteration of the Almaz, evidently designated Zvezda, was also projected in 1977. This station would have been capable of carrying 4-5 crewmembers who would have been able to vacate the station in a large unique reentry vehicle fixed at the forward end of the station. TKS spacecraft would have been capable of docking on both the forward and aft ports. Total mass in orbit would have been 75 tons (35 ton station plus two 20 ton TKS spacecraft). For lifting this 35 ton station, Chelomey had proposed the development of the two-stage UR-530 launch vehicle comprising elements of the original UR-500K/Proton booster and a variant of the UR-100 ICBM.

Systems on board the flown Almaz included:

• the Agat-1 reconnaissance camera with a resolution of <3 m (developed by the KB-10 of the Krasnogorsk Plant)

• the OD-5 optical viewfinder

• the POU panoramic instrument for wide coverage of the Earth's surface

• the Volga infra-red device with a resolution of 100 m.



Public Name

Industrial Index

OKB Name

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Launch Date

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Apr 3 1973










Jun 25 1974










Jun 22 1976







[1]. I. B. Afanasyev, "Unknown Spacecraft (From the History of the Soviet Space Program)" (in Russian), Novoye v zhizni. Nauke, tekhnike: Seriya kosmonavtika, astronomiya (December 1991): 1-64.

[2]. Igor Marinin and Sergey Shamsutdinov, "The Invisible Facet of 'Almaz' " (in Russian), Know-How 3 (1993): 9-11.

[3]. Maxim V. Tarasenko, "The U.S. and Soviet Space Systems Developments As Driven by the Cold War Competition," presented at the 45th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation, Jerusalem, October 9-14, 1994, IAA-94-IAA.2.2.622.

[4]. A. Vladimirov, "Table of Launches of the 'Proton' and 'Proton-K' RN" (in Russian), Novosti kosmonavtiki 10 (April 18-May 1, 1998): 25-30.

Ref.: Asif Siddiqi web-pages

Newly updated on April 8, 1999.