Russia’s Hand-Tossed Satellites

Apr 19, 2021 1 comments

On November 3, 1997, cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and Anatoly Solovyov were spacewalking outside the Mir space station to remove an old solar panel that was to be replaced three days later during another outing. The solar panel was retracted on command, removed from the Kvant module, and stowed on the exterior of the core module. Before returning inside, Vinogradov took hold of a small satellite named Sputnik 40 and waited until the station had oriented itself to give a clear view of the satellite’s intended flight path. Then giving it a good toss, Vinogradov launched the satellite into orbit. As the little satellite drifted away, it became satellite number 24958 in NASA's catalog and the first satellite to be launched by hand.

Russia’s Hand-Tossed Satellites

Photo: Ann May |

Sputnik 40, also known as Sputnik Jr, and Radio Sputnik 17 (RS-17), was a one-third, working scale model of Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite. It was built by students from Russia and France to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the launching of Sputnik-1 on October 4, 1957, and was trucked up to the space station in the Russian cargo freighter Progress M-36 a month earlier.

While Sputnik-1 was relatively large at 23 inches in diameter and weighed nearly 84 kilogram (184 lb), Sputnik Jr was only about 8 inches and 4 kilograms (8.8 lb). The small spherical satellite transmitted a “beep-beep” beacon on 145.820 MHz, as opposed to Sputnik-1's beacon at 20 MHz and 40 MHz. As Sputnik Jr looped around the globe, ham operators reported its reception from across the world. At the Jules Reydellet College in Réunion, where the transmitter was assembled, a great cheer went up from the students and teachers gathered to listen to the Sputnik model as it passed overhead on its initial orbit. The Russian students at the Polytechnic Laboratory of Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria were equally jubilant. They had build the satellite body. In fact, two working models were built and transported to Mir, but only one was launched.

Mir space station.

Mir space station.

Sputnik-1’s power supply consisted of three silver-zinc batteries. Two of these batteries powered the 1-watt radio transmitter and one powered the temperature regulation system. By contrast, Sputnik Jr was powered by three one-pound packs of four lithium batteries. Despite being undersized by Sputnik-1’s massive 51-kg power supply unit, Sputnik Jr functioned longer than the original Sputnik-1 radio had 40 years earlier. Sputnik-1’s battery lasted for only 21 days, but Sputnik Jr continued to transmit for 56 days. After Sputnik Jr became silent, it continued to orbit for four more months, before falling back into the atmosphere.

Russia launched two more satellites by hand between 1998 and 1999. Sputnik 41 (RS 18) was carried to the Mir aboard Progress-M 40 on 25 October 1998, and on 10 November 1998 during an extra-vehicular activity, cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev deployed the satellite by hand. Sputnik 41 was identical to Sputnik 40, except it also broadcasted recorded voice messages in three languages in addition to beeps. The satellite was built and launched to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Aéro-Club de France, and the 41st anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1. Sputnik 41’s radio operated for one month, and the satellite fell back to earth a month later.

The third and the final hand-tossed satellite Sputnik 99 was notable for the controversary it generated before it left Earth. The satellite was developed by French and Russian amateur radio satellite groups, with help from the Russian Space Agency's flight control center, TsUP. However, TsUP made the mistake of partnering with Swatch, a Swiss watch manufacturer to broadcast advertisement from the satellite over amateur radio bands promoting the Swatch Group. Apparently, the Mir project was in dire straits and required funding in order to survive. Swatch agreed to financially help the space agency in return for transmitting voice and text messages over amateur radio frequencies in flagrant violation of international code of conduct. Amateur radio enthusiasts and amateur radio organizations around the world raised a storm and protested the misuse of amateur radio frequencies. As a result, the Russian Space Agency was forced to disable the transmitter on the satellite prior to launch. When French spationaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré hurled the satellite into orbit, it was already dead.

Russia failed to secure the necessary funds to keep Mir afloat, and in early 2001, the 15-year-old space station was deorbited to be burned up in the atmosphere.

# The Top 10 Sputniks, Collect Space
# Tiny Beeping Model Tossed From Station, Space Today


  1. You have a space station decommissioned for lack of funds because some smarmy radio nerds opposed the advertising.


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