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Author thanks Igor Puchkov and Igor Postnikov at NPO Mashinostroenia, in Reutov, Russia, and Alain Chabot from Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, Nova Scotia, Canada, and David Rickman for their help in preparing this section.


The TKS spacecraft in orbit. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

Artist rendering of the Almaz space station in full configuration docked with two TKS spacecraft. Credit: NPO Mash

The TKS spacecraft. Credit: NPO Mash

A return craft ("Vozvrashaemiy Apparat," VA) of the TKS transport ship shown in pre-launch configuration. A parachute section and emergency escape tower top the landing capsule. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

This reusable reentry capsule flew three missions: as Cosmos-881 in 1976, as Cosmos-997 in 1978 and an unannounced suborbital flight in 1977. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The reentry capsule of the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The control panel inside the reentry capsule of the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The seat recliners inside the reentry capsule of the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

An NPO specialist demonstrates a latching mechanism on the interior side of the entrance hatch of the VA capsule. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The exterior side of the entrance hatch of the VA capsule. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A special hatch in the heat shield of the VA capsule connected the craft with the rest of the TKS spacecraft (left). Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

An engineer demonstrates the process of opening the hatch in the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The attitude control system for the return capsule of the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A parachute assembly used in the reentry capsule of the TKS spacecraft. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A scale model of the TKS spacecraft on top of the concept version of a launch vehicle. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

During the 1960s and 1970s, a design bureau led by Vladimir Chelomei developed an enduring series of manned transport ships, designated TKS and intended to resupply the Almaz space station. In the 1980s, the design of the craft became a base for the add-on modules of the Salyut and Mir space station and in the 1998, the same craft served as a founding stone of the International Space Station.

TKS: a general description

The TKS spacecraft with a total mass of 20 tons, consisted of two elements:

  • Functional Cargo Block, FGB, with the industrial designation 11F77
  • A three-seat Reentry Capsule, VA, with the industrial designation 11F74

The TKS was designed to be launched by the Proton rocket, to carry a three-man crew, up to eight small film return capsules and other supplies for the Almaz station. The TKS was equipped with the I11F77 propulsion system and eight externally attached cylindrical propellant tanks.

The TKS spacecraft had a length of 13 meters and a pressurized volume of 49.88 cubical meters.

Vladimir Chelomei delegated the development of the TKS spacecraft to the branch of his design bureau, known as KB Salyut located in the Moscow district of Fili. The development of the VA reentry capsule was conducted by Chelomei's "home" bureau in Reutov, east of Moscow.

The VA capsule could be attached either to the FGB module of the TKS and or to the front section of the Almaz station or to both. In the latter case, the Almaz station could be launched manned with the crew riding to orbit inside the VA capsule. The crewmembers would be able to exit and enter the VA capsule in orbit via a special hatch in the thermal protective shield of the craft.

Upon separation from the FGB craft or from the Almaz station, the VA capsule would be able to conduct an autonomous flight of up to 31 hours long. Along with the three-member crew, the VA capsule could apparently return as much as 50 kilograms of cargo. (49)

The VA capsule was equipped with an 11D841 solid-propellant motor, which was intended to propel the emergency escape rocket away from the ship after it would reach safe altitude during the launch. Another solid-propellant motor designated 11D848 was providing soft landing of the VA capsule. Both engines were developed at MKB Iskra.

Development of the TKS

The preliminary design of the TKS spacecraft was completed at KB Salyut under the direction of Ya. B. Nodelman in 1969. (134)

To support the TKS program, the NIIKhIMMash center in Zagorsk, north-east of Moscow, built test facilities to simulate the jettisoning of the payload fairing, live firing of the propulsion system and for vacuum testing. The craft life-support system and thermal control were tested at the aviation research facility in Chkalovo, north-east of Moscow. The facilities for testing the docking system and the process of separation between the FGB and the VA reentry capsule were deployed at the Khrunichev production plant in Fili.

In accordance with the timeline approved by the Minister of General Machine Building, MOM, Afanasiev, on June 15, 1972, the construction of the TKS spacecraft was to have started in the fourth quarter of 1972. (134)

In order to accelerate the man-rating of the TKS and VA spacecraft, the developers made the decision to launch two unmanned VA reentry capsules in every test flight. The dual launch of reentry capsules would maximize the test data gathered during each reentry and landing. Such test flights were conducted between 1976 and 1978.

In addition, so-called "autonomous launches" of the VA capsules, aimed to test its emergency escape system, were conducted from Site 51 in Baikonur on a ballistic trajectory from 1974 to 1977. At least one such test ended in failure, according to the memoirs of a program participant. (100)

In December 1978, the Minister of General Machine Building approved the formation of a special group of six cosmonauts within Chelomei's NPO Mash, specifically for manned missions onboard the TKS spacecraft.



The TKS spacecraft technical specifications: (49)

Industrial designation
Crew size
3 people
Launch mass
21,620 kg
Mass in orbit
17,510 kg
Payload mass to orbit
12,600 kg
Mass of onboard propellant
3,822 kg
13 meters (17.51 meters with VA capsule
4.15 meters
Solar arrays size
40 square meters
Onboard power supply
2,400 Watt


The VA capsule technical specifications: (49)

Industrial designation
Crew size
3 people
Mass at launch (with emergency escape system)
7,200 (49) - 7,300 kg
Mass in orbit
4,250 kg
Mass on landing
3,800 kg

Payload mass, including

  • Onboard systems
  • The crew (in spacesuits)

2,135 kg

  • 1,880 kg
  • 255 kg
1,880 kg (49)
Total internal volume
8.37 cubical meters (49)
Habitable volume
4.56 cubical meters (49)
3.64 meters
2.79 meters
Emergency escape tower discard solid propellant motor
Soft-landing solid propellant motor


Overview of TKS missions and TKS-based modules:

Official name
Launch date
VA landing date
FGB deorbit date Notes
Cosmos 881, 882
Two VA
1976 Dec. 15
Orbital test of VA
Cosmos 929
1977 July 17
1977 Aug. 16
1978 Feb. 3
First TKS test.
no name
Two VA
1977 Aug. 5
LV failure. Suborbital test of VA
Cosmos 997, 998
Two VA
1978 March 30
Orbital test of VA
Cosmos 1100, 1101
Two VA
1979 May 23
Orbital test of VA
Cosmos 1267
1981 April 25
1981 May 24
1982 July 29*
Docked to Salyut-6 on June 19, 1981.
Cosmos 1443
1983 March 2
1983 Aug. 23
1983 Sept. 19
Docked to Salyut-7 from March 10 to Aug. 14.
Cosmos 1686
1985 Sept. 27
Docked to Salyut-7 on Oct. 2, 1985
1987 March 30
2001 March 23**
Docked to Mir
1987 May 15
Energia test launch; Payload failed to reach orbit;
Mir module
1989 Nov. 26
2001 March 23**
Docked to Mir
Mir module
1990 May 31
2001 March 23**
Docked to Mir
Mir module
1995 May 20
2001 March 23**
Docked to Mir
Mir module
1996 April 23
2001 March 23**
Docked to Mir
ISS module
1998 Nov. 20
Docked to ISS
ISS module
To dock to ISS in 2012

*Deorbited along with the Salyut-6 space station

**Deorbited along with the Mir space station

Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: September 6, 2013

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