The Soviet Union's cannon, according to Rikhter R-23

The Soviet Union's cannon, according to Rikhter R-23 ...

The Soviet Union became the first, yet only nation to have effectively fired a cannon in space in the mid-1970s. The actual details of the operation have kept the secret for over forty years until now.

Let''s take a look at this historic event.

Is it true that the Soviet Union installed a working cannon on a space station?

In short, yes they did. In the 1970s, the cannon was installed and tested on the Almaz space station.

The pistol, which is derived from a very powerful revolver-like aircraft weapon, is the only one widely known to have been successfully fired in space.

The weapon, which was built on a Cold War-era bomber tail gun cannon, has had a lot of speculation until official records were released a few years ago.

According to these records, the weapon''s development was assigned to the Moscow-based KB Tochmash Design Bureau. Rapidly, they assigned their chief engineer in such matters,Aleksandr Nudelman, to lead the project.

Since the Second World War, KB Tochmash had made a name for themselves.

After a few discussions, the team developed a 37/64th inch (14.5-mm) rapid-fire cannon that would, reportedly, target targets up to two miles (3.2 km) away. Opinions vary, but the weapon is thought to have been capable of firing from 950 to 5,000 shots per minute, with 200-gram shells at a velocity of 690 meters per second (1,500 miles per hour).

For a space-based weapon, that''s more than enough of a punch to make a huge difference. However, firing such a weapon in space has many more variables and potential difficulties than on Earth.

While a cannon might be used in a similar manner to on Earth, i.e., by using an optical view from the cockpit, this did not guarantee a hit. If the target was generous enough to approach within your field of fire, you''d need to move the whole spacecraft to the center.

According to "Almaz" project veterans, this is exactly the kind of thing that was achieved. During its ground tests, they able to actually persuade a metal gasoline canister target from a mile away (1.6 kilometers).

Further details about the extent of the weapon would be necessary for the Soviet Union to be discovered, however. According to these sources, the Soviet Union even managed to fire the weapon on the 24th of January, 1975, from the Salyut-3 space station (more on the station later).

As this event was a seemingly unprecedented event, officials behind the project could not be entirely sure how it might impact the integrity of the space station. So, the experiment-firing was scheduled only hours before the station''s official de-orbiting.

It also occurred after the crew on board had been returned to Earth a few months beforehand.

The jet thrusters on the station were ignited at the same time as the cannon was fired. This was to counteract, as best they could, the recoil of the gun, which was extremely powerful. This is particularly the case in near zero-g.

According to various sources, the cannon was fired from one to three blasts, reportedly firing around 20 shells in all. All of the shells reportedly burned up in the Earth''s atmosphere.

While the actual results of the test are still classified, it does appear that the later Soviet armed space stations would be equipped with missiles rather than projectile weapons. We''ll explain why this might have been the case.

The Soviet Union would not build further armed space stations, with the last armed "Almaz" being permanently mothballed in 1978.

Several pieces of information have been discovered about the project, including a rare photo of the R-23M cannon. This fact has been investigated, as it appears to be an aircraft-mounted version rather than the one sent to space.

In 2016, however, some very grainy footage of what was supposed to be the space cannon was aired onVoennaya Priemka, a military show created by the Zvezda TV channel assassinated with the Russian Defense Ministry.

The present episode included footage from the inside of KB Tochmash''s limited-access corporate museum. This footage provided a 360-degree view of the cannon for everyone.

What do we know about the space cannon?

According to available records and information, the pistol was a variant of the Soviet Rickter R-23. This was an aircraft autocannon developed by the Soviet Union for use on Soviet aircraft in the late 1950s.

This pistol was specifically designed to eliminate issues with pointing guns into the airstream of high-speed jet aircraft. This weapon was a gas-operated revolver-type cannon that would recycle trapped gas from holes in the barrel to assist with the motive force.

The cannon weighed around 129lbs (58.5 kg) with a length of 4ft and 10-inch (1.468m) and a 90-caliber version (23mm) and a muzzle velocity of 2,800 feet per second (850 m/s).

It might shoot roughly 2,000 rounds per minute, and was the fastested firing single-barrel cannon ever introduced into service. It took a while to develop and was eventually put into operation until the mid-1960s.

The cannon was originally used as the tail defensive turrets of the Russian Tupolev Tu-22 jet strategic jet bomber.

From what space station was the Soviet space cannon fired?

The RM-23 cannon was mounted on the Salyut-3 (aka "Almaz" OPS-2) space station. It was the second military laboratory for the Soviet Union to be launched in 1974, but was officially part of the "civilian" Salyut series.

After technical difficulties throughout the night, the OPS-2 space station, which was inaugurated from the "left hand" launch pad at Site 81 in Baikonur on June 25th. It is an "improved" thermal control system, as well as separate areas for work and safety. Salyut-3 was also scheduled to undertake its top-secret missions months later.

The space station also had water-recycling facilities and an unmanned reentry capsule.

According to official records, the official payload for OPS-2 included but was not limited to:

  • An Agat-1 photo camera that had a focal length of 6,375 millimeters and a resolution greater than 3 meters
  • An OD-5 optical visor
  • A POU panoramic device
  • A topographical camera
  • A star camera
  • A Volga infrared camera with a resolution of 100 meters

According toCosmonaut Pavel Popovich, the space station would have a total of 14 cameras, depending on whether or not the station would be decommissioned.

The station''s relatively short lifespan included two crewed missions, Soyuz-14 and Soyuz-15. The first was performed in early July of 1974, when crew members spent 15 days aboard.

During this time, the station''s "remote-sensing equipment" was activated and used to photograph large portions of the Earth''s surface. Other than that, the crew performed various system checks and housekeeping duties.

They''ve even restocked the station''s onboard camera shows.

The latter mission took place in late August of 1974, when it was officially sent to "test] various rendezvous modes during the mission, but it has since been revealed that the crew was confronted with several serious problems when it came to docking.

The Igla (needle) rendezvous system failed to switch to final-approach mode, triggering a sequence of commands that would normally be used kilometers out of the docking point.

Soyuz-15 and its crew were driven toward the station with thrusters at around 72 kilometers per hour. Fortunately, for everyone concerned Soyuz-15 missed a direct impact and overshot the station by about 40 meters.

As the crew failed to realize the problem (and shut down the Igla), the rendezvous system attempted to re-acquire radio contact with the target and sent the Soyuz-15 to the station two times more, again narrowly eviting a deadly collision. By the time ground control ordered the deactivation of the Igla, the crew only had sufficient propellant for the descent back to Earth.

Following an investigation into the potentially catastrophic events of the Soyuz-15 mission, the required modifications to safely dock further missions to the station were deemed unacceptable, and the station was then scheduled for destruction.

Salyut-3 spent a total of seven months orbiting, which despite being too short on initial expectations for the space station.

Salyut-3, beyond carrying the first operational space weapon, made several other firsts in space history. For example, it was the first to maintain a constant orientation to the Earth''s surface throughout its short life.

Through firing its attitude control thrusters no less than half a million times, this was achieved.

What happened to the Soviet Union in space?

The Soviet Union was concerned about the possibility that American spacecraft would become more capable of approaching and monitoring Soviet military space assets. This situation, if true, was unacceptable.

As for military space assets, this is a particularly true scenario, as as if this government was not officially established, according to official Soviet propaganda.

This was not completely unhinged, as both NATO (primarily America) and the Soviet Union were pioneering anti-satellite technologies and an incredible speed. For this reason, it was a perfectly logical step to enact spacecraft in such a way that it could be used for self-defense, like actual kinetic weapons.

At the same time, the Soviet Union had developed its first space station project, titled Almaz (meaning "diamond") this was an obvious asset to fortify against potential belligerent interests. "Almaz" was a habitable space outpost and initially developed exclusively for military purposes, primarily reconnaissance.

It was the perfect opportunity to test out potentially defensive weapons.

Although the gun itself was in use since the mid-1960s, the actual space station that would accommodate it was experiencing some serious delays. For example, its intended package of high-tech payloads and sensors was quickly falling behind schedule.

Despite these delays, the Soviet military was shifting to the use of unmanned satellites to provide a similar function. In 1973, the United States was scheduled to complete and deploy its Skylab space station.

This means that the Soviet Union would lose the fight to become the first nation to deploy a space station in orbit. To this end, efforts were redoubled to achieve the objective.

Instead of the original, more ambitious space station, a smaller civilian outpost was constructed out of off-the-shelf parts from the existing Soyuz spacecraft and completed "Almaz" gear. The finished craft, an orbital laboratory, was then successful launched in 1971 and later christened "Salyut."

This achievement had an immediate impact on public opinion, which increased the Kremlin''s support for the "Almaz project." With the goal of putting the first space station in orbit, the pressure was off a bit and there was the time to complete the more sophisticated Almaz station.

By 1982, the Soviet Union figured out about seven space stations in orbit, all under the alias "Salyut." Three of these were, however, effective spy stations for "Almaz."

The Western intelligence and independent observers quickly figured out which was which, but the "Almaz" program was officially under wraps until the end of the Cold War.

Today, that''s your lot.

While many details about Salyut-3 and its infamous space cannon are still too widespread, there is no doubt that this was one of the most significant events in space exploration history. Who knows how many other military spacecraft orbiting Earth were similarly armed in the previous, or even today.

Because such projects would be covered by the most important national security safeguards, we will likely never know.

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