The Cosmos Biosatellite Program

The Soviet/Russian series of Cosmos satellite missions is carried out for a variety of military and civil purposes. Falling under its jurisdiction is the Cosmos biosatellite program, which includes a series of missions dedicated to biological experimentation in unmanned, Earth-orbiting satellites. The Cosmos biosatellite program is often referred to as the Biocosmos program or the Bion program by various non-U.S. sources.

Program Overview

The Russian biosatellite program began with the launch in 1966 of Cosmos 110, a mission concerned mainly with studies of the cardiovascular system. The 22-day Cosmos 110 mission is the longest duration biosatellite orbital flight achieved to date. A wide variety of experimental subjects was flown on subsequent missions, including rats, beginning with Cosmos 605 (also called Bion 1), and primates, beginning with Cosmos 1514.

     The unparalleled success of the Cosmos biosatellite program is due to several factors. The research conducted under its auspices is complex, combining studies in numerous areas within the life sciences. Many organisms from very different taxonomic orders have been studied on biosatellites since the program's inception. An important feature of the program has been its predictable, frequent launch schedule. Its continuous internal evolution has enabled scientists to study increasingly complicated levels of a given problem. The participation in the program of specialists from a number of European countries and the U.S. has also been to its advantage.

Figure 4-31: Launch and recovery of Cosmos missions with U.S. participation.

     Cooperation in space ventures between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. was initiated in 1971, with the signing of the U.S./U.S.S.R. Science and Applications Agreement (which included an agreement on space research cooperation). The the U.S.S.R. first offered to fly U.S. experiments on a Cosmos biosatellite in 1974, only a few years after the termination (in 1969) of the U.S. biosatellite program. The offer was realized in 1975 when the first joint U.S./U.S.S.R. investigations were carried out on the Cosmos 782 mission.

     Through 1990, the U.S. participated in seven Cosmos biosatellite missions: Cosmos 782, 936, 1129, 1514, 1667, 1887, and 2044. Each mission is described in detail in later sections of this chapter. An eighth joint mission, Cosmos 2229, was launched in 1992. Funds furnished by the U.S. were used for experiment development and analysis, mission logistics, and project management for U.S.-related mission activities. All costs related to launch have been borne by the U.S.S.R. The Institute of Biomedical Problems of the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Health in Moscow has played a leading role in research design, experiment integration, and data interpretation. The primary responsibility for equipment design has been undertaken by the Biophyspribor Design Bureau in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Soviet scientists provided all organisms flown on these missions. The only exception to this was on Cosmos 782 when U.S. scientists provided some specimens.

Specimen Flown
25 rats, fruit flies,
Carrot tissues and
cells, fish embryos
20 days
30 male rats, fruit flies
19 days
32 male rat, 5 female
rats, quail eggs, carrot
tissues and cells
19 days
2 rhesus monkeys
10 female rats
5 days
2 rhesus monkeys
7 days
2 rhesus monkeys,
10 male rats
13 days
2 rhesus monkeys,
10 male rats
14 days
Table 4-4: Organisms used in U.S. experiments onboard Cosmos biosatellites.

     On the three earliest of the joint U.S./U.S.S.R. missions, most U.S. experiments were conducted in carry-on packages. Such packages typically contained insects or plant tissues and required only the use of the spacecraft environmental control and life support systems. Radiation dosimetry experiments of the carry-on type were also developed by U.S. investigators for these missions. Other U.S. experiments involved obtaining preflight and postflight measurements from rats flown on the biosatellites.

     A new level of cooperation between the two countries began with the Cosmos 1514 mission. On this and subsequent missions, the U.S. provided experiment hardware that required integration with the Soviet spacecraft and data systems.

     Since Cosmos missions typically remained in orbit for a considerably longer time than the U.S. Space Shuttle, the Cosmos biosatellite was particularly useful for studies requiring longer exposure of biological subjects to microgravity. Joint U.S./U.S.S.R. Cosmos flights have served as testing grounds for developing U.S. experiments and flight hardware. Experience acquired by U.S. scientists and engineers on these missions will be a valuable asset for developing U.S. space programs such as the STS Extended Duration Orbiter and Space Station.

     The goals of the joint U.S./U.S.S.R. research performed within the Cosmos biosatellite program are to: investigate mechanisms for physiological, biochemical and behavioral changes associated with the space environment; identify and evaluate potential hazards to man during long-duration space flight; study ways of supporting long-duration manned space flight in the areas of artificial gravity, radiation shielding and life-support; and use the microgravity environment to determine the role of gravity in terrestrial biological phenomena.

The Cosmos Biosatellite

The biosatellite is designed for conducting long-term experiments in space and for returning the biological subjects to Earth. It is composed of three compartments: the landing module, the instrument assembly compartment, and a hermetically sealed unit that contains additional chemical sources of energy (Fig. 4-32).

Figure 4-32: Cross section of Cosmos biosatellite: (a) instrument assembly compartment; (b) landing module; (c) monkey capsule; (d) rodent capsule; (e) energy storage unit; and (f) actual orientation just after landing.

     The landing module is a complex, autonomous compartment capable of housing the biological subjects. It has a modified Vostok design, similar to the spacecraft used in early Soviet manned space flights. Spherical in shape, with a diameter of approximately 2.5 m and a gross weight of about 2250 kg, it can accommodate a 900 kg payload. Batteries supply power required during the flight. The interior of the spacecraft is maintained at sea level conditions, with a total pressure of approximately 760 ml mercury, an oxygen partial pressure of 135-212 ml and a carbon dioxide partial pressure of up to 7 ml. Relative humidity is approximately 56-66 percent during flight, and ambient temperatures range from 22.0° to 25.5°C. Ammonia, methane and other gaseous impurities generated within the craft are kept at low levels by circulating the cabin air through canisters of absorbent materials.

     The biosatellite is launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, on the Cosmos launcher. The B1 version of the launcher used between 1962 and 1972 was capable of placing 280 to 600 kg in low Earth orbit. After almost 150 successful missions, it was replaced by the C version. Based on a medium range ballistic missile, the C launcher has a reignitable second stage and is able to reach very high orbits.

Move to next section Cosmos 782

Additional Reading

Ballard, R.W. and J.P. Connolly. U.S./U.S.S.R. Joint Research in Space Biology and Medicine on Cosmos Biosatellites. The FASEB Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, January 1990, pp. 5-9.

Connolly, J.P., R.E. Grindeland, and R.W. Ballard, eds. U.S. Experiments Flown on the Soviet Biosatellite Cosmos 1887. Final Reports. NASA TM-102254, February 1990.

Connolly, J.P., R.E. Grindeland, and R.W. Ballard. U.S. Monkey and Rat Experiments Flown on the Biosatellite Cosmos 2044. Final Reports. NASA TM-108802, September 1994.

Heinrich, M.R. and K.A. Souza. U.S. Plant and Radiation Dosimetry Experiments Flown on the Soviet Satellite Cosmos 1129.Final Reports. NASA TM-81288, 1981.

Heinrich, M.R. and K.A. Souza. U.S. Rat Experiments Flown on the Soviet Satellite Cosmos 1129. Final Reports. NASA TM-81289, 1981.

Hines, J.W. and M.G. Skidmore. U.S. Experiment Flown on the Soviet Biosatellite Cosmos 1667. Final Report. NASA TM-108803, May 1994.

Ilyin, E.A. The Cosmos Biosatellites: Some Conclusions and Prospects. Kosmicheskaya Biologiya Aviakosmicheskaya Meditsina, vol. 22, no. 6, 1988 pp. 41-45.

Ilyin, E.A. and G.P. Parfenov. Biologicheskiye Issledovaniya na Biosputnikakh 'Cosmos'(Biological Studies on the Cosmos Biosatellite). NASA TM-75769, 1979.

Mains, R.C. and E.W. Gomersall. U.S. Monkey and Rat Experiments Flown on the Soviet Satellite Cosmos 1514. Final Reports. NASA TM-88223, May 1986.

Rosenszweig, S.N. and K.A. Souza. U.S. Experiments Flown on the Soviet Satellite Cosmos 782. Final Reports. NASA TM-78525, September 1978.

Rosenszweig, S.N. and K.A. Souza. U.S. Experiments Flown on the Soviet Satellite Cosmos 936. Final Reports. NASA TM-78526, September 1978.

Rycroft, M., ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Space. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Souza, K.A. The Joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. Biosatellite Program. Bioscience, vol. 29 no. 3, 1979, pp.160-166.