Author Topic: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station  (Read 11443 times)

Offline Blackstar

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The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« on: 11/20/2009 02:07 PM »
http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/Soviet-Star-Wars.html

Soviet Star Wars
The launch that saved the world from orbiting laser battle stations.


By Dwayne A. Day And Robert G. Kennedy III
Air & Space Magazine, January 01, 2010

It sounds like something from a James Bond movie: a massive satellite, the largest ever launched, equipped with a powerful laser to take out the American anti-missile shield in advance of a Soviet first strike. It was real, though—or at least the plan was. In fact, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev walked out of the October 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, because President Ronald Reagan wouldn't abandon his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, the Soviets were closer to fielding a space-based weapon than the United States was. Less than a year later, as the world continued to criticize Reagan for his "Star Wars" concept, the Soviet Union launched a test satellite for its own space-based laser system, which failed to reach orbit. Had it succeeded, the cold war might have taken a different turn.

The spacecraft was known as Polyus-Skif. "Polyus" is Russian for "pole," as in the north pole. "Skif" referred to the Scythians, an ancient tribe of warriors in central Asia—and the European equivalent of "barbarian."

Offline JosephB

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #1 on: 11/23/2009 07:51 PM »
Here's some layperson questions I had after reading this. Wouldn't Kaskad be more technically realistic than Skif? And perhaps smaller and less expensive? And what about the number of "shots" Skif would have in comparison? It seems to reaching too far for 80's tech.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to go hunting with a star wars blaster some day but rifle/shotgun rounds are cheap and less complicated. Poor analogy perhaps but made me wonder none the less.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #2 on: 11/24/2009 01:07 AM »
Here's some layperson questions I had after reading this. Wouldn't Kaskad be more technically realistic than Skif? And perhaps smaller and less expensive? And what about the number of "shots" Skif would have in comparison? It seems to reaching too far for 80's tech.

I agree for two reasons.  The first is that Kaskad would have used a cheap, reliable Soyuz rocket.  Much easier and all around less expensive than a single monster Energia.

The second reason is that Skif would have been big and complex, and it is hard to see how it could have stayed in orbit long, with all that laser fuel (the gas for firing the chemical laser) and not suffered problems.  What about leaks?  Reliability, etc.?  A small craft equipped with missiles should be inherently more reliable.

Offline JosephB

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #3 on: 11/24/2009 02:26 AM »
The last paragraph was certainly an eye opener.
Zarya was on time & on budget. Pretty coincidental I must agree.

Offline Danderman

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #4 on: 11/24/2009 03:11 AM »
OK, so how was a laser battle station supposed to operate off the power generated by a couple of FGB solar arrays?


Offline ChewyOlive

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #5 on: 11/24/2009 09:45 AM »
How did Polyus-Skif compare to its American counterpart, Zenith Star? Imagine if we had skirmishes between orbital laser battle stations!

Offline Jim

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #6 on: 11/24/2009 11:00 AM »
OK, so how was a laser battle station supposed to operate off the power generated by a couple of FGB solar arrays?

gas dynamic lasers "burn" gases to pump up the laser.   See ABL
« Last Edit: 11/24/2009 11:05 AM by Jim »

Offline William Barton

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #7 on: 11/24/2009 11:44 AM »
Great article! I'm not so sure how scary the successful launch of the first Energiya with the "battlestation" aboard would have been. As I pointed out at the time (in a novel and some magazine articles), things were lost as well as gained by the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Only the long view of history will tell us the relative value. Maybe a successful launch and testing would have given the leadership of this country pause to think further obout the worth of SDI. Or maybe it would have led to renewed post-Challenger commitment to Space Station Freedom, including the development of Shuttle-C and the building of 3 or 4 new orbiters instead of just the one replacement. We'll never know.

And before I am yet again told I need to go live in North Korea, this is just about the larger historical picture, not the sufferings of individuals. YMMV.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #8 on: 11/24/2009 12:51 PM »
How did Polyus-Skif compare to its American counterpart, Zenith Star? Imagine if we had skirmishes between orbital laser battle stations!


You can go to www.gao.gov and type in "Zenith Star" and get a 1989 government report on it.  I have attached that report below.

Zenith Star would have required two launches and a rendezvous.  I don't know anything else about how they compare.

Offline Danderman

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #9 on: 11/24/2009 05:52 PM »
I would imagine that the TKS tug used for Polyus would have been virtually identical to that used as a tug for Kvant, so even though data on the Polyus tug is scarce, there seems to be *some* for the Kvant tug. I would also imagine that the similarity between the two tugs is part of the reason why the Kvant tug is so poorly documented, and why early TKS tugs in general were so mysterious.

Offline JosephB

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #10 on: 11/24/2009 07:12 PM »
On a quick side note, Dwayne's "Gorilla theater" article in TSR
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1513/1
was a fun read. I agree they could use some drama club members in their ranks. However, the young women showering in the streets tactic would garner more interest (IMHO) and definitely be worthy of a seperate thread here.


With pictures of course.
« Last Edit: 11/24/2009 07:14 PM by JosephB »

Offline Jim

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #11 on: 11/24/2009 07:53 PM »
I would imagine that the TKS tug used for Polyus would have been virtually identical to that used as a tug for Kvant,


I believe it was closer to the FGB

Offline Danderman

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #12 on: 11/24/2009 10:03 PM »
I would imagine that the TKS tug used for Polyus would have been virtually identical to that used as a tug for Kvant,


I believe it was closer to the FGB

If the point here is that the Polyus tug used the basic FGB/TKS "bus" structure, sure. But, my point is that the Polyus tug was probably almost identical to the Kvant tug, whereas the ISS FGB was a much evolved version of the TKS.

Here is an image of the basic TKS "bus" from the Mir Hardware Heritage:



The solar arrays are omitted for clarity, but they would have been affixed to the sides of the 2.9 meter wide primary structure.  This is pretty close to what the Kvant tug looked like, and probably the Polyus tug, although both probably had some sort of extension on the front, with a nose cap.
« Last Edit: 11/24/2009 10:04 PM by Danderman »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #13 on: 11/25/2009 02:00 AM »
On a quick side note, Dwayne's "Gorilla theater" article in TSR
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1513/1
was a fun read. I agree they could use some drama club members in their ranks. However, the young women showering in the streets tactic would garner more interest (IMHO) and definitely be worthy of a seperate thread here.

Alas, I never saw that protest.

And last Thursday was a cloudy, chilly day in Washington.  Gorilla suits were warmer...

Offline Danderman

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #14 on: 11/25/2009 05:24 AM »
What I still can't figure out is, if the vibrations from the Energia booster were too much for the FGB to be mounted at the bottom of Polyus, how were all the Star Wars devices mounted at the bottom of Polyus supposed to handle the vibrations, as they were sitting right next to 4 RD-170s, plus the 4 RD-0120s ..... ?

One gets the impression that Polyus was thrown together with more hope than careful design.


Offline Jim

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #15 on: 11/25/2009 02:04 PM »
What I still can't figure out is, if the vibrations from the Energia booster were too much for the FGB to be mounted at the bottom of Polyus, how were all the Star Wars devices mounted at the bottom of Polyus supposed to handle the vibrations, as they were sitting right next to 4 RD-170s, plus the 4 RD-0120s ..... ?


They were design for it from the onset.  The FGB was existing hardware

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #16 on: 11/25/2009 03:17 PM »
Good question.  I don't know.

The whole thing was a Frankenstein's monster.

Offline simonbp

Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #17 on: 11/25/2009 03:40 PM »
Y'know Dwayne, you managed to get through that whole article without mentioning the Soviet Union's real space-based laser system...

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #18 on: 11/26/2009 12:01 AM »
Y'know Dwayne, you managed to get through that whole article without mentioning the Soviet Union's real space-based laser system...

Actually, believe it or not, our proposed title (and the working title of the article) was "The Real GoldenEye."  A&S chose not to use it.

« Last Edit: 11/26/2009 12:01 AM by Blackstar »

Offline Thande

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #19 on: 11/26/2009 08:42 AM »
Y'know Dwayne, you managed to get through that whole article without mentioning the Soviet Union's real space-based laser system...

To nitpick, GoldenEye was an EMP weapon involving detonating a nuclear device in LEO, not anything related to lasers...

Always been fascinated by Polyus, haven't really heard of Zenith Star beyond the name. Anyone have any links to more information about the latter?

Offline bobthemonkey

Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #20 on: 11/26/2009 11:28 AM »
Didn't Zenith Star at one point look at a one-off launch vehicle, using clustered Delta 2 cores augmented by Shuttle SRBs?

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #21 on: 11/26/2009 01:17 PM »
Always been fascinated by Polyus, haven't really heard of Zenith Star beyond the name. Anyone have any links to more information about the latter?

Go up higher in the thread and see where I posted a pdf of a Government Accountability Office report on Zenith Star.  That includes an illustration.

An interesting bit of trivia is that in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan visited a defense contractor and posed in front of a mockup of Zenith Star.  I believe that the same contractor built a mockup of a launch vehicle for it, and that mockup was actually assembled from an old MOL mockup that had been sitting in storage since the 1960s.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #22 on: 11/26/2009 01:18 PM »
Didn't Zenith Star at one point look at a one-off launch vehicle, using clustered Delta 2 cores augmented by Shuttle SRBs?

They looked at some monster launch vehicle.  I believe that the final configuration was for a two-launch and rendezvous scenario.

Offline Nascent Ascent

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #23 on: 11/26/2009 01:38 PM »
Y'know Dwayne, you managed to get through that whole article without mentioning the Soviet Union's real space-based laser system...

To nitpick, GoldenEye was an EMP weapon involving detonating a nuclear device in LEO, not anything related to lasers...

Always been fascinated by Polyus, haven't really heard of Zenith Star beyond the name. Anyone have any links to more information about the latter?

Yeah, in some ways it's more like Diamonds are Forever.  ;D

“Why should we send people into space when we have kids in the U.S. that can’t read”. - Barack Obama

Offline simonbp

Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #24 on: 11/29/2009 03:15 AM »
True, but that may be more comparable to Zenith Star. Ironically, the movie sat was built by SPECTR, masquerading as a Howard Hugues knock-off, while in reality Hugues lost out in getting any Zenith Star contracts...

Offline bobthemonkey

Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #25 on: 11/29/2009 02:54 PM »
Always been fascinated by Polyus, haven't really heard of Zenith Star beyond the name. Anyone have any links to more information about the latter?

Go up higher in the thread and see where I posted a pdf of a Government Accountability Office report on Zenith Star.  That includes an illustration.

An interesting bit of trivia is that in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan visited a defense contractor and posed in front of a mockup of Zenith Star.  I believe that the same contractor built a mockup of a launch vehicle for it, and that mockup was actually assembled from an old MOL mockup that had been sitting in storage since the 1960s.

For storage read a farmers field.

Offline Downix

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #26 on: 11/29/2009 03:04 PM »
Always been fascinated by Polyus, haven't really heard of Zenith Star beyond the name. Anyone have any links to more information about the latter?

Go up higher in the thread and see where I posted a pdf of a Government Accountability Office report on Zenith Star.  That includes an illustration.

An interesting bit of trivia is that in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan visited a defense contractor and posed in front of a mockup of Zenith Star.  I believe that the same contractor built a mockup of a launch vehicle for it, and that mockup was actually assembled from an old MOL mockup that had been sitting in storage since the 1960s.

For storage read a farmers field.
And why don't we build the Barbarian now as a lifter!  C'mon, 7 Delta II, 3 shuttle SRB, more than doable!  8)
chuck - Toilet paper has no real value? Try living with 5 other adults for 6 months in a can with no toilet paper. Man oh man. Toilet paper would be worth it's weight in gold!

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Soviet Polyus-Skif laser battle station
« Reply #27 on: 05/15/2017 02:33 AM »
Thirty years ago, on May 15, 1987, the Soviet Union launched the Energia rocket. What was known only to a small number of Soviet engineers and politicians, was that the launch vehicle carried test equipment for a space-based laser battlestation known as Polyus-Skif.

You can read about that here:

http://www.airspacemag.com/space/soviet-star-wars-8758185/?c=y&page=1

Soviet Star Wars
The launch that saved the world from orbiting laser battle stations.


By Dwayne A. Day And Robert G. Kennedy III
Air & Space Magazine, January 01, 2010

It sounds like something from a James Bond movie: a massive satellite, the largest ever launched, equipped with a powerful laser to take out the American anti-missile shield in advance of a Soviet first strike. It was real, though—or at least the plan was. In fact, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev walked out of the October 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, because President Ronald Reagan wouldn't abandon his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, the Soviets were closer to fielding a space-based weapon than the United States was. Less than a year later, as the world continued to criticize Reagan for his "Star Wars" concept, the Soviet Union launched a test satellite for its own space-based laser system, which failed to reach orbit. Had it succeeded, the cold war might have taken a different turn.

The spacecraft was known as Polyus-Skif. "Polyus" is Russian for "pole," as in the north pole. "Skif" referred to the Scythians, an ancient tribe of warriors in central Asia—and the European equivalent of "barbarian."
« Last Edit: 05/15/2017 02:37 AM by Blackstar »

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