top of page

First around Earth

The first satellite was a very primitive body with almost no instrumentation. Khrushchev ordered to launch a more complex machine by November 1957 – towards the 40th anniversary of October Revolution (many things in USSR were done towards communist anniversaries like Lenin birthdays or October Revolution and Victory Day sometimes without proper thinking...). The spacecraft was not ready and in order to fulfil the demand of the Communist Party leader, Korolev rapidly designed quite simple satellite that should not separate from the upper stage of the rocket, using its telemetry equipment, putting Laika dog inside. Thus literally, the more "advanced" type of spacecraft - Sputnik 2, was launched plus hosting a living creature, that actually was not as important as it turned to be in future.

1st and 2nd Sputnik postcard. 1957.jpg

The third satellite was a fully equipped spacecraft launched from the second try on May 15, 1958 (the first launch turned to be a disaster when launch vehicle exploded after 2 minute flight). Sputnik 3 was fully controllable from Earth, weighted “enormous” 1327 kg, held scientific equipment and transmitted a huge amount of much needed data during the whole flight duration until de-orbiting on April 6, 1960. In the astrophilately this event was widely celebrated on official and club covers. The image of Sputnik 3 appeared along with the Sputnik and even became a trademark of the

Mezhkniga covers. Notable remark - Sputnik 3 launch was dedicated to XXI congress of Communist party (January 1959) and that fact was reflected on the covers as well.

Heavy Satellite 01 (also known as Sputnik 7 or Giant satellite) was actually an unsuccessful launch of Venera-1 spacecraft to Venus. The probe should have reached Venus and deliver a container with a USSR medal to the surface. Due to acceleration failure Venera-1 remained on the Earth orbit rapidly de-orbiting and disintegrated over Eastern Siberia. Soviet media (as usual) reported about successful launch of “first heavy” Earth satellite and well planned flight; this was reflected on the covers as well. Interestingly, the container with the medal was found by a boy in 1963 and returned to the Korolev OKB-1.

1st Sputnik, 5y postcard.jpg

In 1962 a major space event has been celebrated – 5 years since First satellite was launched that actually marked the 5th anniversary of “Space Era”. In astrophilately this milestone was treated accordingly. Official stamp, covers and cancellations were issued. Sputnik anniversary official special cancellation was applied in 19 cities.  I do not have all the places - this was not my goal, just some. Many clubs issued special cachets and cancellations, some in several variations of colors and even types of cachets. Some issued only cachets and used official postmark, others used their own cancellation on the official covers. In general most of the covers can be seen quite often and cost $5 and less.

One HUGE portion of Soviet “club” covers has been devoted to Kosmos satellites, beginning with Kosmos-1 (also known as Sputnik 11). “Kosmos series” was a product of secrecy around Soviet space program that had a clear military direction. Basically any launch could be designated as Kosmos + number and there was no need to elaborate on the new type of spacecraft and its application, as well as there were no difference between success and failure in terms of propaganda.

Around 2500 Kosmos launches were done from Baikonur, Plesetsk and Kapustin Yar. As a rule of thumb, Kosmos designation was given to the Earth orbit satellites, including lunar spaceships and interplanetary probes that did not leave to their respective targets. Some Kosmos launches gained fame, like Kosmos-110 with Ugolek and Veterok “space dogs”, Kosmos-672 ASTP testbed, Kosmos-1445 Buran testbed, Kosmos-954 nuclear powered satellite that crashed in Canada in 1978 and some others. But all began in 1962.

There are really a lot of covers marking Kosmos satellites in the first several years especially until 1966 before mass “club” cover movement almost ceased to exist, leaving lonely private initiatives that continued through 70s. I never paid much attention to the Kosmos events, but as they are very numerous I also have some in my collection. Possibly will add more, but not at the first priority.

Tartu “club” covers.

Tartu Collectors Club is by all means the most prolific and well-known to the astrophilately society. It appeared in 1962 under the leadership of Juhan Noormagi and from 1963 began its production of topical space cachets and hand stamped marks commemorating every space-related event of the former USSR starting from Kosmos-20 launch and until 1965 when its coverage became loose and more selective. These activities continued through 1978.

Tartu “club” covers introduced a single cachet model for numerous events with the same “core logic” – like Luna, Zond, Venera, Mars probes and Soyuz launches. In this model the main cachet remained the same allowing hand stamped changes in the name, number and other details. In total 40 different cover types were designed with at least 306 various hand stamped cachets made in different colors. The numbers of each type of event cover production went through 250 pieces in most cases.

Note that sometimes “incomplete” Tartu covers can be found – mostly only with club cachets lacking official postmarks – these were probably taken from production leftover. Interestingly although Tartu Collectors Club was a former USSR territory, the covers are mostly available on from the Western sources and quite rare with Russian dealers.

Info taken from Jim Reichman article in ORBIT #93

Another philatelic excitement was devoted to Polyot and Elektron series of satellites.

Maneuvering spacecraft Polyot -1 and Poyout-2 were launched by Polyot rocket launch vehicle (11A59) – a lightweight version of R-7 developed by Vladimir Chelomey. The main idea of the project was to develop and test the measures of confronting American spy satellites. Actually Polyot satallites served as prototypes for the first operational interceptors of satellites launched in 1968-1970.

On the other hand four Elektron satellites served pure scientific needs – measuring of Earth radiation. They had a very high elliptical orbit – up to 60,000 km for the Elektron-2 and 4. The experiments were devoted to the Year of Quite Sun.

bottom of page