Soyuz 22 was launched September 15, 1976
and was the last solo Soyuz mission to be flown. The Soviet
s had found that they had a spare spacecraft left over from ASTP
and needed to do something with it. They also had some time between Salyut 4
and Salyut 6
to use up.
On board were Valdimir Aksyonov and Valeri Bykovsky. Their callsign for the mission was Yastreb (Hawk)
Unusual for a Soyuz was the orbit - inclined at 64.75º, an inclination that had not been used since the Voskhod program. The reason for this was simple - it maximised the ground covereage, especially of East Germany.
Tha main payload was an East German built Carl Zeiss-Jena multi-spectral camera. This was mounted in the place of the androgonous docking system at the front of the Orbital Module. One cosmonaut would control the operations of the camera from inside the Orbital Module while the second changed the orientation from the Descent Module.
There were two orbit changes, both within 24 hours of launch. The first on the fourth orbit changed the orbit to 280 km by 250 km and the second burn on the sixteenth orbit further circularised the orbit to one of 257 km by 251 km.
Officially the objectives were to:
check and improve scientific and technical methods and means of studying geological features of the Earth’s surface in the interests of the national economies of the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic.
The camera had six lense
s (4 visible light
and 2 infrared
) which imaged a preselected 165-km wide strip
of the Earth's surface. This meant according to the Soviets that over half a million square kilometres could be imaged in 10 minutes.
An interesting item of note was that at the same time as this mission NATO were conducting military exercises under the codename Exercise Teamwork in Norway. This was outside the normal inclination of the Almaz stations, and this mission could have been used to image it.
The first test images from the camera were of Baikal-Amur railway that was being constructed. On the third day of the mission they took photographs of Siberia to the Sea of Okhotsk in the morning and north western USSR.
On the fourth day to investigate the Earth’s atmosphere, the crew imaged the Moon rising and setting during as they orbited the Earth. This also allowed them to see how clean or clouded the spacecrafts windows were. They also imaged Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Siberia, with the main focus on geological formations and agricultural effects.
The fifth day focused on Azerbaijan, the southern Urals, the Baikal-Amur railway again and western Siberia. At the same time a second camera was being flown on an aircraft over the same areas in order to compare the images.
The sixth day saw images of Siberia, the Northern USSR and European USSR and according to TASS, areas that had never before been ‘targets of space photography’.
The last full day saw a focus on East Germany, where a AN-30 aircraft was flying carrying an identical camera to the one of Soyuz 22. They also reimaged Central Asia, Kazhakstan, eastern Siberia and the south-western USSR in order to compare them with the photos from earlier in the mission.
One of the stranger tasks the crew had to accomplish was the dismantlement of the camera in order to reach the filters (blue, green, orange, red, violet and black) used. This was because they were needed to calibrate the images back on Earth. This task took them several hours to complete.
As well as imaging the Earth, during the week long mission the crew also did several biological experiments. They ran a small centrifuge in the orbital module to see how plants grew in artifical gravity. They also investigated the effects of cosmic rays passing through the eyes. This effect had first been seen by Apollo astronauts during there rest phases. They saw bright flashes when they closed their eyes. This was due to cosmic rays actually passing through the eye. Soyuz 22 also carried a small aquarium so that the crew could watch the development of fish.
After the highly successful mission the crew took the film cassettes and other items they were returning to Earth and stowed them in the reentry module. The retrofire, reentry and landing were absolutely nominal.
The crew had imaged 30 areas with 2400 photographs. None of the cassettes were found to be faulty and all the images were of good quality. The results, it was said, would benefit experts in the fields of agriculture, cartography, mineralogy, and hydrology.