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The Soviet Challenge in Space: Illustrating the Threat

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The Soviet Challenge In Space: Illustrating The Threat


Reconnaissance Systems

The United States and the Soviet Union used many different reconnaissance systems during the Cold War. Some imaged military targets, others detected radar and radio emissions, and still others intercepted communications. Advances in technology enabled both nations to conduct these missions from the relative safety of space beginning in the 1960s. Soviet systems provided military and political leaders with information on U.S. military forces and developments.

   
Mandrake

Mandrake

American U-2 overflights of Soviet territory in the late 1950s prompted the Soviet Union to develop its own high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the Yak-25RD Mandrake, which is depicted in this 1972 illustration. Unlike the U-2, the Soviets designed the Mandrake around an existing airframe, the all-weather Yak-25 interceptor. Carrying cameras and signals intelligence equipment, the Mandrake flew missions in the early 1960s over the Middle East, South Asia, China, and the border regions of NATO nations.
38k JPEG
Image courtesy DIA

   
Cosmos 389

Cosmos 389

This 1982 work shows the Cosmos 389 satellite, which was launched in December 1970 and performed electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions. Cosmos 389 was the first in a series of "ferret" satellites that pinpointed sources of radar and radio emissions to identify air defense sites and command and control centers. Transmitted to ground stations, the data was used for Soviet targeting and war planning.
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Image courtesy DIA

   

RORSAT

 

RORSAT

This Soviet Union placed a series of radar-equipped ocean reconnaissance satellites (RORSATs) in low Earth orbit beginning in 1967. Employing powerful radars and working in pairs, they located and targeted U.S. ships for destruction by Soviet naval forces. Nuclear-powered RORSATs launched in the 1970s occasionally malfunctioned, including one that crashed and spread radioactive debris across northern Canada in 1978.
27k JPEG
Image courtesy DIA

 



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