Cutting corners on Sputnik

Korolev explained to his workers the expedited procedure they would follow. Engineers would make drawings and pass them along to the workers. In fact, the designers would move into the factory workshops so that designs could be handed over directly. There would be no special drawings, no organised quality control. Instead, everyone would be guided by his own conscience. It was a risky approach that called for shortcuts and corner-cutting.

Since the technology did not exist for returning a payload from orbit, this would be a one-way trip for Sputnik 2's canine passenger, and that was a considerable advantage for the hasty design and construction of an orbital capsule. The dog could travel in a relatively simple, pressurised cabin, similar to those used on ballistic flights.

They would begin with an R-7 stripped down to make room for a satellite. The "stripping down'' would be accomplished mainly by eliminating the satellite separation mechanism, permitting the spacecraft to go into orbit while remaining attached to the upper stage of the rocket [3].

In Roads to Space, a collection of oral history interviews with those involved in the Soviet space effort, engineer Arkadiy Ostashov recalled the scramble to pull things together, saying that "life support cabins had already been built for the R-5A and

Side and front views of the pressurised capsule used in Sputnik 2: (1) cylindrical shell, (2) base, (3) lid, (4) ridges for mounting, (5) pocket for airtight connectors, (6) airtight connectors, (7) connecting pipe. (Illustration: authors' collections)

R-5B rockets and that one of them could be re-used after installing an automatic feeder to nourish the dog for a prolonged period of time. We suggested that he [Korolev] save a few kilograms by designing the feeder for one meal only, since we were mainly interested in knowing whether the dog would be able to eat at all'' [3].

This food-dispensing shortcut appears to have been adopted. During extensive testing on the nutritional and water needs of the dogs, the Soviets had determined that a dog could survive, without loss of weight for up to 8 days, if presented with a single portion of the entire amount of food-water mix it would need for that period.

"Since the flight of the dog Laika on the second artificial Earth satellite was due to last for only seven days, it was possible to dispense with the use of any automatic food dispensing equipment and it was sufficient to open up, prior to the launching, the access to the entire quantity of food to insure maintenance of its life for this period'' [7].

This single-serving approach had the advantage of simpler and lighter construction and it eliminated the electrical system necessary to activate the system during flight. A simple half-gallon tin box held all of Laika's food. Prior to launch, the lid was opened electrically allowing her access to the food.

Many decisions were made without sufficient research, according to physician Oleg Gazenko, trainer of the space dogs, who also worked on the Sputnik 2 capsule. "We did not have time to produce blueprints and then look for someone who could do the job. They'd say, 'Maybe we can do it this way, alright, let's do it.''' He recalled problems with the fan that forced air through the ventilation system of the animal cabin. Rather than measuring and calculating the air stream, they simply turned the fan at different angles until it provided the best airflow [8].

The capsule that began to take shape was no longer quite so ''simple'' as the 220-pound design proposed in January. Sputnik 2 would have a final weight of 1,120 pounds, six times heavier than its predecessor. It would stand about 13 feet high, 7 feet wide at the base and contain three components stacked atop each other. At the bottom sat the airtight cabin for the dog passenger. Constructed of aluminium alloy, it measured 25 inches in diameter by 31.5 inches in length. Above that perched a sphere

Sputnik Blueprint

Cutaway of the Sputnik 2 capsule: (1) protective cone; (2) instrument to measure cosmic rays plus X-ray and ultraviolet emissions from the sun; (3) a duplicate of Sputnik 1, containing radio transmitters; (4) reinforced frame; (5) airtight cabin for the experimental animal. (Illustration: authors' collections)

resembling the original Sputnik, which contained the radio transmitters, batteries and instruments to register cabin temperature. Topmost sat a container holding two spectrophotometers for measuring solar radiation (ultraviolet and X-ray emissions) and cosmic rays.

Other equipment included a device for air regeneration, which absorbed carbon dioxide and water vapour and released the necessary amounts of oxygen. A fan provided ventilation for the regenerative equipment and regulated temperature in conjunction with a heat-conducting screen. The heating element automatically shut off when the cabin temperature rose above 59° F. Air regeneration and food were planned for a flight duration of 7 days.

Rather than having the capsule separate from the rocket once in orbit, as with the earlier satellite, Sputnik 2 was designed to remain attached to its rocket booster. Although it has been reported in some publications that Sputnik 2 failed to separate from the rocket by accident, that was not the case. To Korolev and his scientists, keeping the satellite attached seemed easier, faster and presented fewer opportunities for problems to arise. Not having the separation device on board also saved an enormous amount of weight. The larger satellite-rocket combination would be easier to track visually as well [3].

One additional advantage of keeping Sputnik 2 and the rocket core attached to each other was that it enabled the satellite to use the booster's telemetry system. The R-7 rocket utilized a "Tral-D" telemetry system that broadcast two signals, at 66 and 70 MHz. The capsule itself contained its own telemetry signals, the same used by the first Sputnik. One, at 40 MHz, broadcast a steady tone, which made for easier Doppler study. The second, at 20 MHz, was the familiar "beep-beep" signal made famous by the first Sputnik. The Tral-D system would be utilized to transmit physiological data collected on the dog. The flight of Sputnik 2 would be the first time that physiological data were transmitted by telemetry from space [9].

Although the 20- and 40-MHz signals would broadcast continuously, to the delight of satellite trackers around the world, Tral-D would not. Because of the limited strength of onboard batteries, Tral-D data transmission would be limited to one 15-minute burst of data per orbit as the satellite passed over Soviet territory.

One vital aspect of keeping the rocket and satellite attached remained poorly understood - how it might affect the temperature in the animal capsule. Overheating had been a major concern of the engineers involved in building it. The sun would heat the capsule from the outside, while the equipment and the dog's body temperature heated it from the inside. Korolev believed that the additional metal of the rocket would help to dissipate this heat into space and thus aid in keeping the dog cabin from overheating. However, in his 1996 memoir, Vladimir Yazdovskiy, director of the Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine, suggested just the opposite. "It seemed to us that that would be easier and more reliable. But, we didn't take into account that the metal of the construction could bring more heat to the animal'' [10]. Given the critical role that heat would play during the flight of Sputnik 2, this was a serious consequence of the accelerated launch schedule.

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