Scratchbuilding the Mir Space Station in 1/72 Scale

By Keith McNeill, FBIS

Ed. note: Keith wrote this article in 1997, an edited version of which appeared in the March 1998 issue of FineScale Modeler. Keith has been gracious enough to share his original version with us here.

For some time I had thought of scratchbuilding the Russian space station Mir, but kept putting it off as it appeared to be a gigantic task to recreate this complicated looking spacecraft, especially with all the various modules which had been launched and docked to the core module over the years. Another complication was the lack of really good quality photographic reference material. Following the recent joint space shuttle missions with the Russians, this deficiency was rectified. After some quick calculations I decided that, although 1/72 scale would make for quite a large model, this scale would be best suited to the detail I hoped to incorporate into it.

Background

The Mir core module was launched shortly after the Challenger disaster on 20 February 1986. Mir was based on the previous Soviet Salyut series of space stations, but with a larger internal volume dedicated to living space for the crew. The main difference from the Salyuts was the cluster of five docking ports at the forward end of Mir. Like the Salyuts, Mir also has a rear docking port. From the beginning, therefore, Mir was always intended to be the core module of a much larger station.

The following April, Kvant 1 docked at the rear docking port of Mir. This was the first of the experiment modules to be launched and although encountering difficulty in jettisoning its engine module and also with the actual docking, remained the only additional module to be launched to Mir until November 1989 when Kvant 2 was launched. Unlike Kvant 1 which was a short module, Kvant 2 was to be the first of the experiment modules to be closely equivalent in mass and dimensions to the original Mir core module. Kvant 2 incorporated an airlock which would allow cosomonauts to conduct Extravehicular Activities (EVA's or spacewalks) on a routine basis. Kvant 2 was docked at the forward docking port and later moved to one of the side ones with the use of a small manipulator arm.

The next module was not launched until May 1 990 and also docked at the front port before being moved to the docking port opposite Kvant 2. Kristal was the technological and biological module and supported two androgonous docking ports which would be used for docking the Soviet Buran space shuttle. Or at least that was the idea! Buran flew only once and was mothballed due to lack of funds and obvious missions for it to undertake.

Funding and technical problems pushed back the launches of the final two modules, Spektr and Priroda. Spektr was finally launched in April 1995 and Priroda launched exactly one year later, bringing Mir up to its full complement of large modules. Spektr is equipped with a remote sensing payload while Priroda (Nature in Russian) carries active, passive and infra-red radiometers, a large synthetic aperture radar and several types of spectrometers for measuring ozone and aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere. The final module to be attached to Mir was launched aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-74 in November 1995. This was the Docking Module which, when attached to the forward docking port of Krystal would allow sufficient clearance from the large solar arrays when the shuttle docked.

Cosmonauts are ferried to and from Mir by third generation Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz TM can carry three crewmembers, has a new Kurs docking system and sports two solar arrays. Regular Progress M transport craft are used to keep the crews supplied with food, water, air, fuel and even mail. They are also used to boost the Mir complex to a higher orbit after atmospheric drag has lowered the complex's orbit.

In February 1995, the space shuttle Discovery approached Mir to a distance of 37 metres in the first of a series of joint missions before the international operations with Space Station Alpha. In July 1995 the shuttle Atlantis docked at the forward androgonous docking port located on Kristal. STS-74, the second docking mission carried the Docking Module as mentioned above. At the time of writing a further six such docking missions are scheduled over the next two years during which time the US shuttle will ferry crews, air and water to Mir to prolong its orbital life well beyond the design limit.

The Model

Although Mir has received its full complement of modules, it is continually being upgraded and various pieces of equipment being attached to the outer hull or replaced. Therefore the configuration I will describe in this article is correct as of December 1996 and is as follows (from front to rear):- Soyuz TM, Kvant 2, Kristal, Docking Module, Spektr, Priroda, Mir core module, Kvant 1 and Progress M.

Although this model is actually made up of nine models, it turned out not to be quite so difficult to construct as I first feared. Most of the modules are constructed from tubes, many of them being found around the home and the spares box. For instance I used medicine containers, desk tidies (those ones consisting of five tubes for holding pens/pencils etc.), small lengths of piping from the local hardware store and offcuts from a spare 1/144 shuttle external tank and 1/72 shuttle Spacelab modules. I spent very little money on raw materials. The only outlay was for plastic card, clear hemispheres from EMA Plastruct, some brass etched girder work, two Revell 1/96 Apollo kits and an aquarium fishing net (more of that later). The real problems would be the construction of the Soyuz TM and Progress M spacecraft, each of which consist of three modules; service module, re-entry module (fuel/oxygen tanks in the case of Progress M) and the orbital module which houses the docking apparatus. The latter two modules are bell shaped and flattened spheroid respectively and would thus require a different approach to construction as I shall describe later.

The following diameters and lengths of tubing/cylinders are required to construct this model:

DiameterLengthTotal Length Required
42mm63mm + 93mm + 59m215mm
30mm45mm45mm
42mm63mm63mm
47mm63mm + 135mm + 103mm301mm
60mm70mm + 28mm98mm
29mm2 @ 28mm + 58mm114mm

Mir Core Module

The core module is constructed from two tubes (see fig. 1 for dimensions), a frustrum and a 31 mm diameter sphere (constructed from two EMA hemispheres) which contains the five docking ports. This sphere was then blended into the frustrum with filler. At the aft end of the core module is a sixth docking port to which Kvant 1 is docked. Therefore the rear bulkhead should be strengthened internally to accept this weight. A length of 16mm diameter plastic tubing was inserted in both the Kvant 1 docking port and also through Mir's four ports which Kvant 2, Krystal, Spektr and Priroda would be docked to. These were allowed to protrude by about 10mm. The modules will be slotted over these tube extensions, thus providing a strong attachment point.

I decided early on in this project that the solar arrays on this model would be removeable (apart from the Soyuz and Progress ones). There were two reasons for this - it was going to be a large model as it was but with all the solar arrays in place would take up a huge amount of space in my display cabinet. Also due to the effects of gravity (something the real spacecraft does not have to contend with) solar arrays on models quickly wilt and distort with time (the arrays on Mir are very large and would tend to sag in any case). The arrays were designed only to be fitted to the model for photography or competition display. The arrays on the real Mir are designed to rotate to follow the sun, providing the spacecraft with optimum solar energy. Therefore during photography whichever way the model is orientated the arrays can be placed perpendicular to gravity. I therefore drilled a hole through the forward portion of the core module (see fig. 1). Plastic rod with the same internal diameter as the holes was then glued in place making sure it was lined up correctly between the holes. The plastic rod will support the solar array fixtures. A hole was also drilled at 90 to this for an additional array.

The rear of this module is covered in tiny hand holds for cosmonauts to use during EVA's. These were made from the smallest possible staples. The other handrails running the length of Mir and around the docking ports were constructed from cut down railway lineside fencing.

Finally the Mir core module sports a large drum shaped antenna at the rear. This antenna which is 19mm in diameter and 10mm deep is attached to Mir by a 6mm diameter, 35mm length of plastic tubing.

Kvant 1

Kvant 1 is the same diameter as the core module with a conical front end and an eight sided Instrument Section at the rear (see figure 1). The cone shape was constructed from the rear end of an Airfix 1/144 Saturn V second stage with the engine attachment points filed away and the resulting gaps filled. The rear Instrument Section was constructed from plastic card and detailed with parts from the spares box. This rear section also sports a docking port. Initially I made all the docking ports from inverted Airfix Command Modules taken from the Saturn V kit, as I had the notion of having detachable Soyuz TM and Progress M spacecraft but ultimately this did not prove possible due to the eventual weight of both. Therefore these are not strictly necessary. A similar male/female system as used at the front end of Mir could then be used. Kvant 1 has two small structures protruding from each side of the body which are supported by four V-shaped struts (fig. 1). These protrusions are intended to accept the Kristal solar arrays after they were repositioned to Kvant 1 by cosmonauts during several EVA's. The rear view of Kvant 1 in figure 1 also shows dotted lines running from these structures to the hull of Kvant 1. These represent plastic tubing, which although not present on the real spacecraft, are necessary for attaching the solar arrays to. Finally two girder like structures require to be added to the top of Kvant 1. The largest of the two is known as the Sofora structure and at the top is an engine block (14mm x 14mm x 30mm) which helps the attitude control of the station. I was unable to find girder work to the correct scale despite hunting through catalogues of brass etched parts and model railway material. I therefore used crane girder parts from the recently re-released Revell Shell/Esso North Cormorant Off Shore Platform (excellent source of spare parts, although very pricey). The length of the Sofora is 200mm with a side of 10mm. Note however that this structure is canted forward at an angle of about 11 o. There is also a smaller structure named Rapana (90mm long by 5mm wide) directly behind this which was constructed from more lineside fencing. Both these structures are best left unattached until near the end and after painting.

Kvant 2 , Kristal, Spektr and Priroda

I shall deal with these four modules together as they are constructed from a standardised design, with minor differences. Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5 show the basic design and dimensions needed to construct these. All modules were constructed with conical forward ends made from Revell 1/72 shuttle Spacelab end cones. A section of plastic tubing (docking port diameter) was glued directly in the centre of the cones. As the cones themselves are a bit too flat, the angle was steepened with filler. The four panels running half the length of each module were cut from the body of the Spacelab (with ribbed detail removed) from the same 1/72 shuttle kit. On Kristal, the two panels which bridge the two large gaps between these panels were constructed from a Revell 1/96 scale Apollo Service Module (fig. 3). These panels have coollant piping which can be replicated with the similar piping on the SM. Similar panels on Kvant 2 (fig. 2) were also constructed from the Apollo SM but with all surface detail removed (this was one of the few outlays of cash when I had to purchase two 1/96 Apollo CSM/LM models. Also a good source of small parabolic antennae for Soyuz and Progress). However the panels on Spektr and Priroda have a different type of coollant piping in the form of open rectangles. These were replicated using 1/64" Letraline.

Located at the aft end of Kvant 2 is the EVA hatch and attached to the hinge line is a tall truss structure upon which the cosmonauts berthed the Russian equivalent to the US Manned Manoeuvering Unit. Like it's US equivalent it is basically redundant and has never been used beyond its test flights several years ago. Therefore to save space in the airlock the MMU was moved to the top of this structure to be stowed there permanently. This was constructed from spare parts in the form of a large flat chair shape and painted tan.

At the forward end of the Kristal module are the docking ports to which Buran was originally intended to dock. These are placed within a similar sphere to that of the core module. Again two of the 31 mm diameter EMA hemispheres were employed to create this sphere. Figure 3 shows a strange spherical shape which I assume to be some sort of housing for a science instrument. The blanket insulation gives the effect of a peeled orange.

Apart from the previously mentioned (Spacelab) paneling, the remainder of the four modules were covered in chocolate foil wrapping to replicate the blanket insulation. The modules were then detailed with parts from the spares box best approximating the detail found in photographs of the real spacecraft.

Holes were drilled in the Kristal, Kvant 2 and Spektr modules as per the core module to accept solar arrays. The solar array attachment point on the left hand side of Kristal was covered over when the array was moved to Kvant 1. However the other array was nearly completely retracted, but at time of writing, still attached.

Note that Spektr sports four solar arrays, two of which are located on the flattened cone shape at the aft end of the module. Also located on the aft section is (as far as I can ascertain) a deployable scientific instrument which I built in the stowed configuration (fig. 4). Ringing the module at the juncture where the cylindrical hull meets the flattened conical section are various instrument housing boxes (again obtained from the spares box).

Priroda is something of an enigma as very few clear photographs were available when I built the model and a certain amount of educated guesswork was involved in constructing this last module. It appears to be a straight forward cylinder measuring 135mm in length. The forward end of the module conforms to the standard of the other modules however. The most obvious difference is the large synthetic aperature radar antenna. Figure 5 shows the location of this antenna while figure 12 gives the correct dimensions. At first glance the antenna looks very complicated, but broken down into its component parts, is relatively easy to construct. There are two lattice work frames, one placed behind the other and held 8mm apart by lengths of plastic strip around the perimeter. The lattice frames were cut from rhombus shaped brass etched sheet. I was unable to obtain a sheet with large rhombus', so ended up having to cut out the centre 4 shapes of each diamond to make a larger, more open structure. Attached to the front lattice work is a fine wire mesh. This was obtained from an aquarium fishing net with the finest mesh I could find. The antenna was first painted steel and when the paint was still tacky, the mesh laid in place. Upon drying the mesh was held in place. There may be edges where the mesh will lift but it is an easy task to repeat the process at these points. This method bypasses the need for unsightly glue. A large feed horn was constructed as per figure 12 and located in the centre of the antenna. The mounting rod runs through the antenna and is attached to Priroda at the position shown in figure 5.

A small parabolic antenna is located near the SAR antenna as shown in figure 5 which was obtained from the spares box. At the very aft end of Priroda are located various boxes which are presumably housing for some of the scientific instruments Priroda carries. Again these came from the spares box and some artistic license was taken with their shape and position but as much as possible matches those in distant photos of the real spacecraft. Priroda is the only module which does not have any solar arrays (although in the original blueprints it did).

Docking Module

As mentioned previously the DM was attached to Mir by the shuttle Atlantis to alleviate problems in docking. Figure 11 shows the appropriate dimensions and details with the docking port intended for Kristal at the top of the page. The side facing out of the page lines up with the solar array still attached to Krista!. The trunnion pin attachment points were taken from the 1/72 Lindberg Hubble Space Telescope kit, but could obviously be scratchbuilt. These are painted red. The shuttle docking port is another upturned Insulin bottle top with three tiny docking petals made from plastic card. Attached to the DM when launched were two solar arrays packed in containers. One was built in the US and the other array constructed in Russia as part of a joint venture. These were to replace the two Kristal solar arrays which had been intended to be relocated to Kvant 1. When I built this model the Mir crew had only got round to moving one. Therefore one of those containers was left in the stowed position on the Docking Module. The other array having been attached to Kvant 1 opposite the old Kristal one. These boxes measure 42mm long, 8mm high and 9mm wide. You will notice from the accompanying photographs that the DM sports many handrails running longitudinally, and around the diameter at both ends as well as on many of the struts. Also noticeable are small squares with black spots (also on the ends of the solar array containers). These are used in a new visual method developed by the Canadian Space Agency to aid the astronauts in the use of the shuttle's Remote Manipulator System (robotic arm).

Soyuz TM and Progress M Spacecraft

These two spacecraft proved a bit of a challenge. Unlike the rest of the model, parts of these are not easily produced tubular sections. Of course if your sculpting skills are up to it, the bell shaped re-entry/cargo module and the sphere shaped forward module can be hewn from balsa wood or a similar material. However my modelling skills are limited in this department and I therefore devised an alternative method. The basic shape of each module (see fig. 6 and 7) was drawn on 30 thou plasticard. Several templates were made of the two shapes and slits cut up the centre of each. Four of each were then slotted together (see photo). This produces a three dimensional representation using two dimensional cutouts. The gaps were then filled with filler which was later sanded to produce the basic shape. A negative of each template was cut out and the finished parts passed through them and further sanding was carried out until each part could rotate freely within the negative templates.

The Progress equivalent of the re-entry module is not as bell shaped as that of Soyuz and blends in with the orbital module. Therefore once the three Progress modules are glued together it is necessary to apply filler around the "neck" of Progress to merge the two modules together. Figure 8 shows the difference between the two spacecraft.

Once completed three quarters of the craft are covered in blanket insulation (i.e. chocolate foil wrapping). This is painted a very dark (almost black) green. Finally two small parabolic antennae are added to each spacecraft.

Both Soyuz and Progress are equipped with solar arrays (50mm x 17mm each) and these were constructed in similar fashion as the Mir ones described below.

Solar Arrays

All arrays were made from 20 thou plastic card with fine plastic strip for the multitude of paneling effects (which also tends to strengthen the arrays). Plastic rod of sufficient diameter to fit snugly in the holes previously drilled to accept the arrays was glued to the ends of the arrays.

The array which is attached to the top of the Mir core module is actually four arrays, two either side of an extendable truss structure. This truss was made from cross sectioned etched brass which was wrapped around a pencil and the edges glued in place with superglue. The pencil was then carefully removed leaving a cylindrical truss structure to which the arrays can be superglued. The arrays are in a flattened concertina form.

The two Kvant 1 arrays, previously located on Kristal, are also in concertina form (36 panels). This was achieved by scoring alternative panels on either side then bending to the correct position. Liquid glue was then brushed into the gaps to strengthen the individual panels. At the Kvant 1 end of each array is an open box shape from which the array deploys. It is to this box that the plastic rod for attaching the array to Kvant 1 was added. Finally running the length of the underside of each of these arrays is a narrow box like truss constructed from fine square sectioned etched brass. Figure 9 shows the dimensions of all the solar arrays. The array remaining on Kristal is nearly completely rolled up so only the last six or so of the panels need to be built and then glued in such a way as to indicate that the system has concertina'd up.

Painting

The colour scheme for Mir is fairly straightforward. All blanket insulation material is a cream/very light tan off-white shade. As this colour varies from photo to photo you can choose which shade you prefer. The panelling on Kvant 2, Kristal, Spektr and Priroda is white as is most of the core module and Kvant 1. The rear half of the large cylindrical section of the core module is streaked with a light tan colour. The only decal on Mir is "MIR" in Russian and this was made from 4mm tall red Letraset. Figure 1 shows both the position and how it can be achieved with the English alphabet. This is located on the port side of the streaked rear portion of the core module.

The conical and Instrument Section of Kvant 1 are a mid gray/green. The last one third of the cylidrical body is reddish/brown

The upper surfaces of the solar arrays were painted matt black for photographic purposes. In reality these are extremely reflective and can alternatively be painted gloss blue/purple. The reverse surfaces are pale tan.

Detailing

As mentioned previously much of the detailing on Mir was obtained from the spares box. Therefore anyone attempting a project such as this will end up with a unique model as no two modellers will obviously have at hand exactly the same spare parts. For instance the EVA hatch on Kvant 2 is the front of a steam railway engine boiler and the two docking ports on Kristal are upturned Insulin bottle tops.

It is now time to glue all the individual elements together. Although Kristal has been located at different docking ports in the past, what follows is the final configuration. Kvant 1 is attached to the rear docking port of the core module. Kvant 2 is situated at the top docking port of Mir whilst Spektr is placed directly opposite. The Docking Module is attached to the forward docking port of Krystal which in turn is positioned on the starboard docking port of the Mir core module. Priroda is attached to the final port. Figure 10 shows a schematic representation of Mir looking back along the length of Mir.

Two additions which are best left to last, are the booms which the cosmonauts use whilst on EVA to move around the station. Known as the Strela booms, these act like cherry pickers moving the cosmonauts to some of the more inaccessible parts of Mir. Both were made from 2mm diameter plastic rod, 1 50mm in length. Each boom was attached to one side of the core module (see fig. 1 for position) while the other ends were held in place on the side of Kvant 2 with a spot of superglue. This appears to be the "parked" position of the booms.

Finally the Soyuz TM and Progress M spacecraft were attached to the station. I positioned Progress at the rear docking port of Kvant 1 and Soyuz was attached to Mir's forward facing docking port. However, unlike Progress, Soyuz docks askew by about 45 (see fig. 10).

Obviously with a model of this complexity a stand is a necessary requirement. This was constructed around a base obtained from an Ogonjek 1/30 scale Soyuz with additional supports for the increased weight of Mir.

It must be stressed that Mir is constantly changing and every time the shuttle returns photographs of the spacecraft, additions can be seen to have been made. Therefore, by the time this article is published, there may have been many small changes in detail. However, this essentially completes Mir, which once all the solar arrays are added, measures roughly 18 inches in all directions. Quite a large model, but one, which completed, looks the part.

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Debra Dodds, NASA at the Johnson Space Center for providing much of the research material.

References

  • Soviet Space 1990 published by Matson Press
  • Cosmonautics 1991 published by Matson Press
  • Space Station Handbook: The Cosmonaut Training Handbook published by Matson Press
  • Space Station Handbook Vol 2: Mir User's Manual published by Cosmos Books
  • Cosmonauts: A Colorful History published by Cosmos Books
  • Various issues of the British Interplanetary Society's Spaceflight magazine
  • Various issues of STS Mission Profiles
  • Figures

    Click on image for a larger version

    Figure 1

    Figure 2

    Figure 3

    Figure 4

    Figure 5

    Figures 6, 7 & 8

    Figure 9a

    Figure 9b

    Figure 10

    Figures 11 & 12