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Sputnik 1 ( , "Satellite-1", ПС-1 (PS-1, i.e. "Простейший Спутник-1", or Elementary Satellite-1)) was the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. It was launched into an elliptical low earth orbit by the Soviet Unionmarker on 4 October 1957, and was the first in a series of satellites collectively known as the Sputnik program. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1's success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United Statesmarker and ignited the Space Race within the Cold War.

Apart from its value as a technological first, Sputnik also helped to identify the upper atmospheric layer's density, through measuring the satellite's orbital changes. It also provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere. Pressurized nitrogen, in the satellite's body, provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection. If a meteoroid penetrated the satellite's outer hull, it would be detected by the temperature data sent back to Earth.

Sputnik-1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1marker, at the 5th Tyuratammarker range, in Kazakh SSR (now at the Baikonur Cosmodromemarker). The satellite traveled at 29,000 kilometers (18,000 mi) per hour, taking 96.2 minutes to complete an orbit, and emitted radio signals at 20.005 and 40.002 MHz which were monitored by amateur radio operators throughout the world. The signals continued for 22 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up on 4 January 1958, as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth's atmosphere, after traveling about 60 million km (37 million miles) and spending 3 months in orbit.

Before the launch

Satellite construction project

Sputnik signal
The history of the Sputnik 1 project dates back to 27 May 1954, when Sergei Korolev addressed Dmitry Ustinov, then Minister of Defense Industries, proposing the development of an Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. Korolev also forwarded Ustinov a report by Mikhail Tikhonravov with an overview of similar projects abroad. Tikhonravov emphasized that an artificial satellite is an inevitable stage in the development of rocket equipment, after which interplanetary communication would become possible. On 29 July 1955 the U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower announced, through his press secretary, that the United States would launch an artificial satellite during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). A week later, on 8 August the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU approved the idea of creating an artificial satellite. On 30 August Vasily Ryabikov – the head of the State Commission on R-7 rocket test launches – held a meeting where Korolev presented calculation data for a spaceflight trajectory to the Moon. They decided to develop a three-stage version of the R-7 rocket for satellite launches.

On 30 January 1956 the Council of Ministers of the USSR approved practical work on an artificial Earth-orbiting satellite. This satellite, named "Object D", was planned to be completed in 1957-58; it would have a mass of 1,000 to 1,400 kg (2,200 to 3,090 lb) and would carry 200 to 300 kg (440 to 660 lb) of scientific instruments. The first test launch of "Object D" was scheduled for 1957. According to that decision, work on the satellite was to be divided between institutions as follows:

  • USSR Academy of Sciencesmarker was responsible for the general scientific leadership and research instruments supply
  • Ministry of Defense Industry and its main executor OKB-1 were assigned the task of creating the satellite as a special carrier for scientific research instruments
  • Ministry of Radiotechnical Industry would develop the control system, radio/technical instruments and the telemetry system
  • Ministry of Ship Building Industry would develop gyroscope devices
  • Ministry of Machine Building would develop ground launching, refueling and transportation means
  • Ministry of Defense was responsible for conducting launches

By July 1956 the draft was completed and the scientific tasks to be carried out by a satellite were defined. It included measuring the density of the atmosphere, its ion composition, corpuscular solar radiation, magnetic fields, cosmic rays, etc. Data, valuable in creating future satellites, were also to be collected. A ground observational complex was to be developed, that would collect information transmitted by the satellite, observe the satellite's orbit, and transmit commands to the satellite. Such a complex should include up to 15 measurement stations. Because of the limited time frame, they should have means designed for rocket R-7 observations. Observations were planned for only 7 to 10 days and orbit calculations were expected to be not quite accurate.

Unfortunately, the complexity of the ambitious design and problems in following exact specifications meant that some parts of 'Object D', when delivered for assembly, simply did not fit with the others, causing costly delays. By the end of 1956 it became clear that plans for 'Object D' were not to be fulfilled in time because of difficulties creating scientific instruments and the low specific impulse produced by the completed R-7 engines (304 sec instead of the planned 309 to 310 sec). Consequently the government re-scheduled the launch for April 1958. Object D would later fly as Sputnik 3.

Fearing the U.S. would launch a satellite before the USSR, OKB-1 suggested the creation and launch of a satellite in April-May 1957, before the IGY began in July 1957. The new satellite would be simple, light ( ), and easy to construct, forgoing the complex, heavy scientific equipment in favour of a simple radio transmitter. On 15 February 1957 the Council of Ministers of the USSR approved this, providing for launching the simplest version satellite, designated 'Object PS'. This version also facilitated the satellite to be visually tracked by Earth-based observers while in orbit, and transmit tracking signals to ground-based receiving stations. Launch of two satellites PS-1 and PS-2 with two R-7 rockets (8K71) was allowed, but only after one or two successful R-7 test launches.

Launch vehicle preparation and launch site selection

The two-stage R-7 rocket was initially designed as an ICBM by OKB-1. The decision to build it was made by the CPSU Central Committee and the Council of Ministers of the USSR on 20 May 1954. A special reconnaissance commission selected Tyuratam as a place for the construction of a rocket proving ground (the 5th Tyuratam range, usually referred to as "NIIP-5", or "GIK-5" in the post-Soviet time). The selection was approved on 12 February 1955 by the Council of Ministers of the USSR, but the site would not be completed until 1958. Actual work on the construction of the site began on 20 July by military building units. On 14 June 1956 Sergei Korolev decided to adapt the R-7 rocket to the 'Object D', that would later be replaced by the much lighter 'Object PS'.

The first launch of an R-7 rocket (8K71 No.5L) occurred on 15 May 1957. The flight was controlled until the 98th second, but a fire in a strap-on rocket led to an unintended crash 400 km from the site. Three attempts to launch the second rocket (8K71 No.6) were made on 10-11 June, which failed because of a mistake made during the rocket's assembly. The unsuccessful launch of the third R-7 rocket (8K71 No.7) took place on 12 July. During the flight the rocket began to rotate about its longitudinal axis and its engines were automatically turned off. The packet of stages was destroyed 32.9 seconds into the flight. The stages fell from the site and exploded.

The launch of the fourth rocket (8K71 No.8), on 21 August at 15:25 Moscow Time, was successful. Its head part separated, reached the defined region, entered the atmosphere, and was destroyed at a height of because of thermodynamic overload after traveling 6,000 km. On 27 August TASS in the USSR issued a statement on the launch of a long-distance multistage ICBM. The launch of the fifth R-7 rocket (8K71 No.9), on 7 September was also successful, but the head part was also destroyed in the atmosphere, and hence needed a long redesign to completely fit its military purpose. The rocket, however, was already suitable for scientific satellite launches and this "time-out" of the rocket's military exploitation was used to launch the PS-1 and PS-2 satellites.

On 22 September a modified R-7 rocket, named Sputnik Rocket ( ) and indexed as 8K71PS, with the satellite PS-1, arrived at the proving ground and preparations for the launch began. As the R-7 was designed to carry the much heavier Object D, its adaptation to PS-1 reduced its initial mass from and its mass at launch was ; its length with PS-1 was and the thrust was .

Observational complex

The measurement complex at the proving ground for monitoring launch vehicle parameters from its start onward was completed prior to the first R-7 rocket test launches in December 1956. It consisted of six static stations: IP-1 through IP-6, with IP-1 situated at a distance of from the launch pad. The main monitoring devices of these stations were telemetry and trajectory measurement stations, "Tral," developed by OKB MEI. They received and monitored data from the "Tral" system transponders mounted on the R-7 rocket; an on-board system that provided precise telemetric data about Sputnik's launch vehicle. The data was useful even after the satellite's separation from the second stage of the rocket; Sputnik's location was calculated from the data on the second stage's location (which followed Sputnik at a known distance) using nomograms developed by P.E. Elyasberg.

An additional observational complex, established to track the satellite after its separation from the rocket, was completed by a group led by Colonel Yu.A.Mozzhorin in accordance with the General Staff directive of 8 May 1957. It was called the Command-Measurement Complex and consisted of the coordination center in NII-4 by the Ministry of Defence of the USSR (at Bolshevomarker) and seven ground tracking stations, situated along the line of the satellite's ground track. They were: NIP-1 (at Tyuratammarker station, Kazakh SSR, situated not far from IP-1), NIP-2 (at Makat station, Guryev Oblastmarker), NIP-3 (at Sary-Shagan station, Dzhezkazgan Oblastmarker), NIP-4 (at Yeniseyskmarker), NIP-5 (at village Iskup, Krasnoyarsk Kraimarker), NIP-6 (at Yelizovomarker) and NIP-7 (at Klyuchimarker). The complex had a communication channel with the launch pad. Stations were equipped with radar, optical instruments, and communication means. PS-1 was not designed to be controlled, it could only be observed. Data from stations were transmitted by telegraphs into NII-4 where ballistics specialists calculated orbital parameters. The complex became an early prototype of the Soviet Mission Control Center


A replica of Sputnik.
The chief constructor of Sputnik 1 at OKB-1 was M.S.Khomyakov. The satellite was a 585 mm (23 in) diameter sphere, assembled from two hemispheres which were hermetically sealed using o-rings and connected using 36 bolt. The hemispheres, covered with a highly polished 1 mm-thick heat shield made of aluminium-magnesium-titanium AMG6T ("AMG" is an abbreviation for "aluminium-magnesium" and "T" stands for "titanium", the alloy contains 6% of magnesium and 0.2% of titanium) alloy, were 2 mm-thick. The satellite carried two antennas designed by the Antenna Laboratory of OKB-1 led by M.V.Krayushkin. Each antenna was made up of two whip-like parts: 2.4 and 2.9 metres (7.9 and 9.5 ft) in length, and had an almost spherical radiation pattern, so that the satellite beeps were transmitted with equal power in all directions; making reception of the transmitted signal independent of the satellite's rotation. The whip-like pairs of antennas resembled four long "whiskers" pointing to one side, at equal 35 degrees angles with the longitudinal axis of the satellite.

The power supply, with a mass of , was in the shape of an octahedral nut with the radio transmitter in its hole. It consisted of three silver-zinc batteries, developed at the All-Union Research Institute of Current Sources (VNIIT) under the leadership of N. S. Lidorenko. Two of them powered the radio transmitter and one powered the temperature regulation system. They were expected to fade out in two weeks, but ended up working for 22 days. The power supply was turned on automatically at the moment of the satellite's separation from the second stage of the rocket.

The satellite had a one-watt, radio transmitting unit inside, developed by V. I. Lappo from NII-885, that worked on two frequencies, 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. Signals on the first frequency were transmitted in 0.3 sec pulses (under normal temperature and pressure conditions on-board), with pauses of the same duration filled by pulses on the second frequency. Analysis of the radio signals was used to gather information about the electron density of the ionosphere. Temperature and pressure were encoded in the duration of radio beeps, which additionally indicated that the satellite had not been punctured by a meteorite. A temperature regulation system contained a fan, a dual thermal switch, and a control thermal switch. If the temperature inside the satellite exceeded the fan was turned on and when it fell below the fan was turned off by the dual thermal switch. If the temperature exceeded or fell below , another control thermal switch was activated, changing the duration of the radio signal pulses. Sputnik 1 was filled with dry nitrogen, pressurized to 1.3 atm. For the pressure control the satellite had a barometric switch, activated when the pressure inside the satellite fell below , changing the duration of radio signal impulse.

While attached to the rocket, Sputnik 1 was protected by a cone-shaped payload fairing, with a height of and an aperture of 48 degrees. The fairing separated from both Sputnik 1 and the rocket at the same time when the satellite was ejected. Tests of the satellite were conducted at OKB-1 under the leadership of O. G. Ivanovsky. Sputnik 1 was launched by an R-7 rocket on 4 October 1957. It burned up upon re-entry on 4 January 1958.

Launch and mission

The control system of the Sputnik Rocket was tuned to provide an orbit with the following parameters: perigee height - , apogee height - , orbital period - 101.5 min. A rocket trajectory with these parameters was calculated earlier by Georgi Grechko, after completing the calculations over several nights on the USSR Academy of Sciencesmarker's mainframe computer.

The Sputnik Rocket was launched at 19:28:34 UTC, on 4 October 1957, from Site No.1marker at NIIP-5. Processing of the information, obtained from the "Tral" system showed that the side boosters separated 116.38 seconds into the flight and the second-stage engine was shut down 294.6 seconds into the flight. At this moment the second stage with PS-1 attached had a height of above Earth's surface, a velocity of and velocity vector inclination to the local horizon was 0 degrees 24 minutes. This motion resulted in an orbit with initial parameters: perigee height - 223 km, apogee height - , initial orbital period - 96.2 minutes.

After 314.5 seconds PS-1 separated from the second stage and at the same moment at the small "Finnish house" of IP-1 station Junior Engineer-Lieutenant V.G. Borisov heard the "Beep-beep-beep" signals from the radio receiver R-250 (see :ru:Р-250 ). Reception lasted for two minutes, while PS-1 was above the horizon. There were many people in the house, both military and civil, and they were probably the first to celebrate the event. After 325.44 seconds a corner reflector on the second stage was opened, that also allowed measurement of its orbit parameters – like the working "Tral" system did.

The designers, engineers and technicians who developed the rocket and satellite watched the launch from the range. After the launch they ran to the mobile radio station to listen to signals from the satellite. They waited about 90 minutes to ensure that the satellite had made one orbit and was transmitting, before Korolyov called Khrushchev. The downlink telemetry included data on temperatures inside and on the surface of the sphere.

On the first orbit the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) transmitted: "As result of great, intense work of scientific institutes and design bureaus the first artificial Earth satellite has been built". The Sputnik 1 rocket booster (second stage of the rocket) also reached Earth orbit and was visible from the ground at night as a first magnitude object following the satellite. Korolyov had intentionally requested reflective panels placed on the booster in order to make it so visible. The satellite itself, a small but highly polished sphere, was barely visible at sixth magnitude, and thus more difficult to follow optically. Ahead of Sputnik 1 flew the third object – the payload fairing, -long cone, i.e. a little bit bigger than the satellite.


Teams of visual observers at 150 stations in the United States and other countries were alerted during the night to watch for the Soviet sphere at dawn and during the evening twilight. They had been organized in Project Moonwatch to sight the satellite through binoculars or telescopes as it passed overhead. The USSR asked radio amateurs and commercial stations to record the sound of the satellite on magnetic tape.

News reports at the time pointed out that "anyone possessing a short wave receiver can hear the new Russian earth satellite as it hurtles over his area of the globe". Directions, provided by the American Radio Relay League were to "Tune in 20 megacycles sharply, by the time signals, given on that frequency. Then tune to slightly higher frequencies. The 'beep, beep' sound of the satellite can be heard each time it rounds the globe,"

At first the Soviet Union agreed to use equipment "compatible" with that of the United States, but later announced the lower frequencies. The White Housemarker declined to comment on military aspects of the launch, but said it "did not come as a surprise." On 5 October the Naval Research Laboratory announced it had recorded four crossings of Sputnik-1 over the United States. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower obtained photographs of the Soviet facilities from Lockheed U-2 flights conducted since 1956.

Propaganda Value

The propaganda value of Sputnik 1 was seen in both the response of the United States and the elevated status of the Soviet Union. The launch provided both pride for the Soviet people and embarrassment for the Americans that made it an exceptional piece of propaganda.

The enormous propaganda value of Sputnik for the Soviet Union was not capitalized immediately after the launch because the Soviets were distracted by their own scientific goals and determination to win the Space Race. The United States was presently working on a separate development, Project Vanguard, and was caught off guard by the Soviet's early launch, placing them behind the Soviets in the newly emerged space race. However, the Soviet’s accomplishments were kept quiet in the homeland to prevent any exploitation of their failures or success secrets, which undermined propagandistic opportunity at hand. The original article announcing the first launch never made a headline in the daily Pravda. Sputnik was a stunning propaganda achievement for the Soviets that was only recognized in hindsight.

The value of Sputnik 1 as Soviet propaganda was especially evident in the response of the American public. Sputnik crushed the American ego as the technological superpower by demonstrating that the Soviets were not the ignorant easterners they had been perceived as prior to the launch. As a result, panic overtook the American public, which created an enormous sense of vulnerability regarding the United States' ability to defend its territory. Adding to this fear was the element of surprise with which Sputnik entered the world, which left the American public in what was observed as a “wave of near-hysteria”. The United States appeared at the mercy of a new technological superpower which shattered any notion of internal security or confidence for the American people and significantly elevated the perception of the Soviet Union in the international community.

The elevated perception of the Soviet Union was further solidified by the actions of the American government following Sputnik 1. American society underwent an enormous shift that emphasized science and technological research. Sputnik forced the Americans to take up a more offensive stance in the emerging space race. Everything from the military to education systems were revamped by the government and unimaginable economic possibilities ensued. The federal government began pouring unmatched amounts of money into science education, engineering and mathematics at all levels of education. An advanced research group was assembled for military purposes. These research groups developed weapons such as ICBMs and missile defense systems, as well as spy satellites for the US. After several failed attempts, the US successfully launched a satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958.

The launch of Sputnik both united the people of the Soviet Union and humiliated the United States with its lack of comparable technology. State propaganda increased the pride the Russian people had in the project; millions of people listened to Sputnik's signals on the radio. Citizens were told a particular place in the sky and time of night when they could see Sputnik. However, this was only something they were told by Pravda. The people actually witnessed a stage of the carrier rocket. Russians began to use their expedition into space as a form of propaganda and political leverage, mimicked by the United States. However, the United States' temporary status as second-rate technological superpower brought great embarrassment to the American people. Some theorize that this embarrassment provided the much-needed push that accelerated America's moon landing.

Pop culture

  • Sputnik 1 resulted in a fashion trend now called the "Sputnik Lamp", which usually consists of a metallic sphere with bars jutting out in multiple directions holding light bulbs or lamp globes at the ends. Most have 8 to 15 bars, as opposed to the 4 antennas on Sputnik 1. As an example of such a lamp, see
  • In a flashback section of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Carbon Creek", a Vulcan starship is in orbit around Earth in early October 1957, and its crew closely observes the Sputnik 1 satellite
  • The animated film The Iron Giant shows Sputnik 1 in orbit around Earth, just prior to the title character's crash landing.
  • A satellite resembling Sputnik 1 can be seen in orbit around Earth in the Pixar film WALL-E, as the title character flies into space (although in actuality, Sputnik 1 would no longer have been in orbit).
  • In Fallout 3, the organization known as the Enclave field small hovering robots called Eyebots, which bear a significant resemblance to Sputnik 1 (aside from a large speaker grill). This similarity is somewhat ironic considering the Enclave's status as a post-apocalyptic, paranoid-isolationist remnant of the US government.
  • In the film October Sky the Sputnik launch inspires Homer Hickam to build rockets and become involved with NASA.


  • One Sputnik 1 replica, built by French and Russian teenagers and hand-launched from Mir on 3 November 1997, reentered Earth's atmosphere after two months in orbit.

  • In 2003 a back-up unit of Sputnik 1 called "model PS-1" failed to sell on eBay. It was offered while still on display in a science institute near Kievmarker. It is estimated that between four and twenty models were made for testing and as replicas.

  • What is thought to be a backup of Sputnik 1 now hangs at The Museum of Flightmarker in Seattle, Washington. The craft was manufactured by the Soviet Academy of Sciences and has battery acid remnants on the inside walls of the spherical shell, as well as fittings for the various components, suggesting that it was more than just a model.

  • A Sputnik 1 backup unit is on display at the personal library of Jay Walker, an Internet entrepreneur.

  • Three accurate replicas of the Sputnik 1 titled "My Sputnik", were created by the artist and inventor Michael Joaquin Grey in 1990 and exhibited in art galleries and museums internationally.


  1. ICBM R-7 at
  2. Origin of the test range in Tyuratam at
  3. Sputnik-3 at
  4. R-7 at
  5. R-7 Rocket at Energia
  6. R-7 family of launchers and ICBMs at
  7. 45th Anniversary of the First Start of Native ICBM R-7 at Ukrainian Aerospace Portal
  8. Sputnik launch vehicle 8K71PS
  9. Creation and Launch of the First Earth's Satellite by V.Poroshkov
  10. Wonderful "Seven" and First Satellites at the website of OKB MEI
  11. Yu.A.Mozzhorin Memories at the website of Russian state archive for scientific-technical documentation
  12. История предприятий, связанных с производством ракетной техники
  13. Mission Control Center: Labour, Joys and Ordeals
  14. 80th Anniversary of Oleg Genrikhovich Ivanovsky
  15. Space Era Start at BBC Russia
  16. PS-1 - The First Earth's Artificial Satellite
  17. Application of Aluminium Alloys in Construction, book by N.M.Kirsanov, Voronezh, 1960
  18. Парламентская газета // Разделы // События // Спутник, спасший мир
  19. Fifty Space Years by A.Zheleznyakov
  20. Korolev:Facts and Myths, book by Yaroslav Golovanov
  21. Sputnik Design at
  22. Form of Signals of the First Earth's Artificial Satellite - a document at the website of Russian state archive for scientific-technical documentation
  23. Satellite Sputnik-1
  24. Sputnik and Amateur Radio
  25. Main Results of the Launch of the Rocket with the First ISZ Onboard on October 4, 1957 - document signed by S.P. Korolev, V.P. Glushko, N.A. Pilyugin and V.P. Barmin, in the book by Vetrov "Korolev and His Job"
  26. Secrets of 1957 Sputnik Launch Revealed at Foxnews
  27. Sputnik 1
  28. How the First Sputnik Was Launched at Zemlya i Vselennaya magazine, No.5, 2002
  29. Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age by Matthew Brzezinski, 2007-11-14, ISBN 978-1410402790
  30. "How To Tune," San Antonio Light, 5 October 1957, p1
  31. Zavidonov, I. (2000). Sputniks, explorers and propaganda: The discovery of the earth’s radiation belts. History and Technology, 17, 99-124.
  32. Morring, F., Jr. (2007, March). Down To Earth. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 166(12), 129.
  33. Bessonov, K. (2007). Sputnik's legacy. Moscow News, 41. Retrieved from
  34. The Legacy of Sputnik [Editorial]. (2007). New York Times, p. 28.
  35. Peoples, C. (2008). Sputnik and ‘skill thinking’ revisited: technological determinism in American responses to the Soviet missile threat. Cold War History, 8(1), 55-75.
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  38. Shaw, J. E. (n.d.). The Sputnik Legacy: 50 Years in Retrospect. Air & Space Power Journal, 21(3), (26).

See also

External links

Authentic recordings of the signal

This Russian page contains signals which are probably the faster pulsations from Sputnik-2:

A NASA history website on Sputnik contains this commonly copied recording, which is some pulse-duration-modulated signal of an unknown spacecraft :


Historical sections

Other sites of interest:

Primary sources


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