Today, few people remember that before the only launch of Buran, the Energia carrier rocket flew into space without a shuttle. Even fewer people know why she flew there. Newsreels of those times usually show "Energy" from such an angle that the payload is almost invisible. Only a few photographs show a giant black cylinder docked to Energia. With its first launch, the world's most powerful launch vehicle was supposed to launch a combat station of unprecedented dimensions into orbit.
Unlike disposable IS satellite fighters, the new Soviet spacecraft had to intercept multiple targets. It was planned for them to develop a wide variety of space weapons: there were space-based lasers, space-to-space rockets, and even electromagnetic guns.
So, for example, the Cascade system, designed on the basis of the base unit of the Mir station, but having by no means a peaceful mission, was intended to destroy satellites in high orbits by rockets. For it, special space-to-space rockets were created, which they never had time to test. More fortunate is another combat space station - "Skif", equipped with laser weapons under the anti-satellite defense program. In the future, it was supposed to equip it with a laser system to destroy nuclear warheads.
The spacecraft, almost 37 m long and 4.1 m in diameter, had a mass of about 80 tons and consisted of two main compartments: a functional service unit (FSB) and a larger target module (CM). The FSB was just a slightly modified 20-ton ship for this new mission, being developed for the Mir station. It housed control systems, telemetric control, power supply and antenna devices. All devices and systems that could not withstand vacuum were located in a sealed instrument and cargo compartment (PGO). The propulsion compartment housed four propulsion engines, 20 attitude and stabilization engines and 16 precision stabilization engines, as well as fuel tanks. On the side surfaces were located solar panels, which unfold after entering orbit. The new large head fairing, which protects the vehicle from the incoming air flow, was for the first time made of carbon fiber. The whole apparatus was painted with black paint for the required thermal conditions.
The central part of the "Skif" was an unpressurized structure, where its main load was placed - a prototype of a gas-dynamic laser. Of all the various laser designs, a carbon dioxide (CO2) gasdynamic laser was chosen. Although such lasers have a low efficiency (about 10%), they are distinguished by a simple design and are well developed. The development of the laser was carried out by an NPO with the space name "Astrophysics". A special device - a laser pumping system - was developed by the design bureau, which was engaged in rocket engines. This is not surprising: the pumping system is a conventional liquid propellant rocket engine. To prevent the outflowing gases from rotating the station during firing, it had a special device for momentless exhaust, or, as the developers called it, “pants”. A similar system was to be used for the unit with an electromagnetic gun, where the gas path was supposed to work for the exhaust of the turbine generator.
(According to some reports, the laser was planned not on carbon dioxide, but on halogens - the so-called excimer laser. According to official data, the "Skif" was equipped with cylinders with a mixture of xenon and krypton. If you add there, for example, fluorine or chlorine, then we get the basis excimer laser (mixtures of argon fluorine, krypton chlorine, krypton fluorine, xenon chlorine, xenon fluorine))
By the time of the first launch of Energia, the Skif did not have time, so it was decided to launch a model of the combat station, as indicated by the letters DM in its name - a dynamic model. The launched module contained only the most basic components and a partial supply of the working fluid - CO2. There was no laser optical system at the first launch, as its delivery was late. There were also special targets on board, which were planned to shoot from the station in space and check the guidance system on them.
In February 1987, the Skif-DM arrived at the technical position for docking with Energia. On board the Skif-DM, its new name, Pole, was written in large letters on the black surface, and on the other was Mir-2, although it had nothing to do with the peaceful orbital station Mir. By April, the station was ready for launch. The launch took place on May 15, 1987. It should be noted that the station was attached to the carrier rocket back to front - this is how the features of its design required. After separation, she had to turn around 1800 and pick up the necessary speed to enter orbit with her own engines. Due to an error in the software, the station, turning at 1800, continued to rotate, the engines fired in the wrong direction and, instead of going into orbit, the Skif returned to Earth.
The TASS report on the first launch of Energia said: "The second stage of the launch vehicle brought the satellite's overall weight model to the calculated point … However, due to the abnormal operation of its onboard systems, the model did not go into the specified orbit and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean." This is how the Soviet Union's unrealized space combat plans were drowned, but so far no country has even managed to come close to the now almost mythical Skif.