Link #146: The Soviets Built Their Own Death Star!

Death Star
Image credit: KillamarshianUK/CC BY 2.0


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Link #146: The Soviets Built Their Own Death Star!

Death Star
Image credit: KillamarshianUK/CC BY 2.0

During the WWII, not only did the Americans build and use an atomic bomb but they also researched the viability of a Tsunami bomb. As explained in our last post, the Tsunami Bomb was researched in New Zealand under the Project Seal and was only cancelled because the atomic bomb was a success.

If you thought that the Tsunami Bomb was something out of a James Bond movie, you haven’t heard of the Polyus-Skif. The Polyus-Skif was an orbiting spaceship designed by Soviets to shoot down American missiles and missile defence systems from space! That’s right folks; the Soviets wanted their very own Death Star!

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What Was The Polyus-Skif?

 Carbon Dioxide Laser
Carbon Dioxide Laser. Public Domain Image.

The Polyus-Skif was an orbital weapons platform. This means that it was a spaceship designed to orbit Earth with capabilities of striking down objects on the planet or in orbit. Initially, the Polyus-Skif was designed to have carbon dioxide gas based laser weapon on board.

However, if carbon dioxide was used then the purpose of the ship would become obvious to American observers during the testing phase in orbit when gases were supposed to be vented. So, for the purpose of secrecy, the gases used in the laser were later changed by the scientists to a mixture of xenon and krypton.

What Was The Purpose Of The Polyus-Skif?

Strategic Defense Initiative
An artist’s concept of a Space Laser Satellite Defense System. Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Public Domain.

The Polyus-Skif was conceived by the Soviets because they were alarmed by the American Strategic Defence Initiative. The Strategic Defence Initiative was designed to protect the US from intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as missiles launched from submarines by establishing systems on the ground and in space.

The American Strategic Defence Initiative would’ve given the US a clear advantage over the Soviet Union. In the earlier stages, the Polyus-Skif’s purpose was the same as the Strategic Defence Initiative i.e. take down ballistic missiles launched by the US against the Soviet Union.

However, research showed this to not be viable. So, the Polyus-Skif’s purpose was changed to taking down America’s missile defence systems in orbit around the Earth.

This would’ve allowed Soviets the option of a pre-emptive strike against the Americans wherein missile launches would be preceded by the destruction of their defence systems.

What Happened To The Polyus-Skif?

The development of the Polyus-Skif was rushed by the Soviet brass because of multiple political and military reasons. This prevented the scientists from properly testing the Polyus-Skif. Moreover, it forced them to come up with innovative ways to make the Polyus-Skif viable. They chose to use parts and technology from other space devices to complete the development of the Polyus-Skif.

For technical reasons, when the Polyus-Skif was launched it was attached to its rocket upside down. So, it was supposed to detach from the rocket that was carrying it in high atmosphere and then perform a 180 degree turn.

After the turn, it would initiate its propulsion systems and move higher into orbit. Everything went well up till the detachment. The Polyus-Skif detached from its rocket but instead of performing a 180 degree turn, it performed a 360 degree turn.

This meant that when its propulsion systems came online, it was pointing towards the Earth. This happened because of an erroneous code in the software which was left there because the project was rushed. The Polyus-Skif burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

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