A true rarity of the Space Race is up for auction at Bonhams in the form of one of the few surviving Soviet Sputniks. The ground test version of the first manmade satellite to go into orbit in 1957 that shocked the world in the coldest days of the Cold War is part of the auction house's Air and Space Sale that takes place at 1:00 pm EDT on September 27.
In 1957, the USSR threw the Free World into a panic with the launch of Sputnik-1 into orbit in a propaganda exercise intended to demonstrate the communist state's technological superiority. Despite the US government's being aware of the Russian satellite efforts, the result was a political embarrassment for the West that sparked the Space Race that ended with Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon in 1969.
Despite its success, Sputnik-1 was something of a lash up. The Soviet Union intended to launch a much more complicated satellite, but when the architect of Sputnik, Sergei Korolev, learned that the planned payload wouldn't be ready in time, he ordered a simpler version built. This suited the Soviet leader Khrushchev's desire for a propaganda victory and that of Korolev, who faced the threat to his freedom and even his life after a string of failures to provide the communists with a functioning nuclear ICBM.
Like the Sputnik-1 that flew into orbit on October 4, 1957, the test replica is a polished aluminum sphere 23 in (58 cm) in diameter with four spring-mounted external whip antennas. It consists of an outer shell to protect the satellite against heat and an inner pressurized shell to protect the pre-solid state electronics made up of a simple radio transmitter and a 12-V battery. The replica includes a 57-in (1,448 mm) manganese brass stand and an anti-static o-ring. All together, satellite and stand weigh about 100 lb (45 kg) and stand 78 in (1,981 mm) tall.
The Sputnik was previously part of the collection of Heinz Miller of Austria and was originally built for electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference testing. Only three of the original Sputniks remain in private hands. Of the other two, one is outside Moscow at the Energia Corporate Museum, while the other is at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
(Update (Oct. 2, 2017): After publication of this article New Atlas was contacted by a representative from the Cosmosphere SciEd Center and Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, who pointed out that an authentic flight-ready back-up Sputnik is housed there. The Sputnik 1 on display there is a fully functional artifact that was the next in line to go into orbit if a problem occurred to the one that was launched into orbit. We apologize for the oversight.)
The asking price for the Sputnik is US$100,000 to US$150,000.
Update (Oct. 2, 2017): The Full Scale Sputnik-1 EMC/EMI Lab Model sold for $847,500, making it the top lot of The Air and Space Sale, which achieved a total of $1,221,888.