June 11 – Launch of Kosmos 427

I’m never sure whether to call these things Cosmos or Kosmos.  Cosmos is probably better because I’m not trying to speak Russian; but Kosmos starts with a “k”, which the actual name does.  But then, if I’m going to do that, should I not go the whole hog and say Космос?  Anyhoo . . .

Cosmos 427 was launched from the Plesetsk or Pleseck (or even Плесе́цк, if you must) Cosmodrome on June 11th, 1971.  The aim was to insert a 4,000 kg satellite into orbit, and for this the Russians turned to the Voskhod variant of the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-7 (or the “A-1” as it was known in the West in 1974 when my Observer’s Book of Unmanned Spaceflight was published).

Kosmos 427 spent a fairly short time in space: 12 days.  It’s orbit decayed on June 23rd, 1971.  Not that this was anything for the ground crew to worry about; the actual payload of this particular flight was a Zenit-4MK reconnaissance satellite, all of which were given the name “Kosmos” to hide their true purpose, which would almost certainly have been to spy on the USA or one of her allies.  This being the early 1970’s, the easiest way to do this was to launch a collection of cameras into orbit, get them to take loads of photos, and then arrange for them to fall back to Earth at a place of your choosing.

A Zenit-style satellite (image credit: anybody’s guess; possibly the Energia corporation).

Today’s visual aid is almost certainly not a Zenit-4MK, but a Zenit-4MT.  But there is very little difference in the basic design: something looking like two-thirds of a vary large ant goes up, and the big sphere at the top comes back down full of pictures.

Just in case you were wondering, Kosmos satellites were launched sequentially, from “1” upwards, meaning the number 427 really does signify the 427th in a quite staggering sequence of launches.

I’ve added a page of Cosmos launches by year here.









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