In the midst of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, not destroying the planet with nuclear bombs was not the only problem to be solved. There was also a war to be waged in space. In the space race, being “first” was not enough, you also had to prevent the enemy from killing you. So, in the USSR, they decided to create a space weapon to protect their ships in orbit.
In a way, it makes perfect sense in the world to protect spacecraft like ground facilities are protected, maybe more so. Every spaceship is millions and millions of dollars (or rubles, or euros…) and the enemy comes and destroys it with virtually no possibility of operating in orbit… it’s not very pleasant. Soviet engineers understood this, so they decided to look for the best way to arm your ships and satellites in orbit in the 70s.
It was precisely in 1975 that the USSR fired a cannon for the first time from one of its ships in space orbit, but it took several decades for the secrets of this weapon and others it developed be revealed.
R-23M Kartech is the name of famous soviet weapon. We are talking about a gun that was derived from the one used in the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder supersonic bomber. Although the original version is popular in the industry, there are hardly any details on the version designed for the space.
3D rendering of the weapon. Via Anatoly Zak.
The first place the Soviets wanted to protect in space was their Almaz space station. It was a habitable station that was practically only used for military purposes such as espionage. It also became the first spacecraft with military weapons.
For the design of the weapon, the engineers first designed a 14.5mm submachine gun Capable of hitting targets over two miles firing hundreds of rounds per minute (ratios vary from around 900 rounds to 5,000 rounds, making it difficult to know its exact speed). In the tests carried out (on Earth), the submachine gun fired at a speed of 690 m / s, which is certainly not bad.
In space, things were different because, the astronauts had to turn practically the whole ship to aim for a certain point and shoot. This obviously hampered its use and made it practically unusable due to its slowness. Fortunately for some and for others, it should never have been used.
Almaz space station.
New goals, new priorities
As much as we like the idea of having some kind of real Star Wars, the space armament of the USSR ships didn’t go much further. With time the space race has drifted into unmanned spaceships Moscow and Washington realized the difficulty and cost of space development, so they focused more on pragmatic options.
It was It is only after the cold war that it will end and that the USSR will dissolve when this weapon is discovered. They also explained how and when they came to shoot him for one of the tests. Apparently concerned about how the weapon’s fire might affect the ship, they decided to do some preliminary test shots. To this end, on board the Salyut-3, Soviet engineers fired a series of shots on January 24, 1975. But of course, before that, they shot all the astronauts from the ship and started the ship’s propellers to counter the blast. the power of the cannon. They indicate that about 20 bullets were fired in total.
Image of the Soviet space weapon that appeared on a Russian TV show.
The R-23M Kartech and its space shots are a special little event. But of course it is a big milestone for the space race if you put it in perspective. Perhaps one of the most peculiar and curious weapons that were created during the Cold War. And closely followed by the laser gun created for similar purposes by the USSR for use in space.