The explosion in orbit: a killer satellite and nuclear war

He made one, and a half turns and found the enemy in orbit. The explosion – and instead of the spy satellite, 27 shapeless fragments flew. On December 3, 1971, the Soviet Union successfully tested the Satellite Fighter program.

Launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome. First the “target” – then the “killer”: the Kosmos 459 and Kosmos 462 satellites. The interceptor was essentially a homing fragmentation mine. This was the first time in the world.

An interception on one turn

The first maneuvering spacecraft in the USSR was created in 1963. It was called “Flight-1.” This was the beginning of the Soviet anti-space defense system’s main project: the “Satellite Fighter.” During its existence, at least ten space battles were held. The task is always the same: find and destroy. It was executed as many times as it was set. Time to complete-no more than two orbits. Ideally – one turn. This was almost achieved when the program was discontinued. The orbital interception was also carried out in the United States, but with a long delay in time from the USSR. The methods were also different. Says the Director of the Museum of air defense troops Yuri Knutov:

“The Americans took an F-15 plane and placed a missile on it. It was supposed to go into space and intercept Soviet satellites. The USSR responded with a similar system: a fairly powerful missile with the same destruction tasks, only attached to the MiG-31. At the same time, both the Soviet and American sides sought to ensure that the interception was single-turn. However, in the early 1980s, the USSR suggested that the United States freeze all these developments. The Americans supported it, and the work stopped. There were no official agreements that the systems would be dismantled and destroyed, but the militarization of space was stopped.”

Soviet satellite fighters were never used in a real battle. But the training demonstration was enough to scare the whole world.

7 hours of fear

The last time this happened was during the exercise of the strategic forces “Shield-82”. In the West, they were given a different name: “seven-hour nuclear war.” Indeed, within seven hours, several medium-range and Intercontinental ballistic missiles were fired from various regions of the USSR, including from underwater, as well as two anti-missiles and three launch vehicles: with navigation, intelligence, and a killer satellite. Against this background, the launches of ground-based cruise and tactical missiles went almost unnoticed. As well as air and sea landings. The show of force was so impressive that less than a year later, NATO countries held exercises “like at war.” Yuri Knutov recalled that “the leaders of all the countries of the Alliance arrived at the command posts and worked according to the wartime codes.” The situation was a hundred times tenser than during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Only one thing saved the world from General panic: no one told anyone about the details of those exercises of the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries.

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