October 27 – Launch of Kosmos 186 (1967)

Kosmos 186 was launched on this day in 1967 by the Soviet Union.  It was followed three days later by the identical Kosmos 188, and together they performed the first ever fully automated docking by two spacecraft.  Both were unmanned, which was probably wise at a time when space authorities on both sides of the iron curtain were recovering from tragedies, following the deaths of the three-man crew of Apollo 1 from the USA, and Vladimir Komarov (Soyuz 1) of the USSR.


For the younger readers among you, DDR stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik (the old East Germany).

You might have expected the second of this pair to have been called Kosmos 187, but such was the frenzy of launches happening at the time, accelerated by the requirements of Cold War governments, that there had already been another Kosmos sent up in the three days between Kosmos 186 and 188.


July 30 – Launch of Kosmos 36 (1964)

The wasp’s head in today’s illustration is actually Kosmos (Cosmos, if you prefer) 36, which was launched by the USSR on July 30th, 1964, via a Kosmos 2I launcher from the Kasputin Yar site (now in the Russian Federation) between Volgograd and Astrakhan.  It was used as a radar calibration target during tests of a missile defence system to presumably protect the comrades from the likes of decadent me.

Kosmos 36 (image credit: KB Yuzhnoye).
Kosmos 36 (image credit: KB Yuzhnoye).

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.