Sputnik-1 replica used to test the real thing goes under the hammer

If you've got a lazy US$100k to $150k, a piece of history can be yours on Wednesday

A replica of Sputnik-1 used to test the real thing's performance goes to auction this week.

Auction house Bonhams has listed the proto-satellite for sale at its Air and Space Sale this coming Wednesday.

Expected to fetch between US$100,000 and $150,000, the replica is billed as a “test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, one of only a few made to test ground Electromagnetic Compatibility and Electromagnetic Interference testing.” This one was made by “OKб-1], the Experimental Design Bureau-1 factory, also known as the S. P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia”, the sale note say.

Sputnik-1 was the first artificial satellite launched by humanity. It went into orbit on October 4, 1957 and while it lacked any sensors, it did include a radio. Measuring the strength of broadcasts gave scientists a chance to understand more about Earth's atmosphere, as did observations of the R-7 Semyorka rocket that lifted Sputnik-1 into orbit.

But the satellite's real significance was geopolitical, as it demonstrated that the Soviet Union was more technologically advanced than the United States. By 1957 both nations had substantial nuclear arsenals. Achieving orbital flight meant the Soviet Union had a way of deploying those nuclear weapons the United States could not match or counter.

The “space race” followed, with both nations trying to outdo the other. Just four years later, in 1961, president Kennedy set the US the goal of reaching the moon. The rest, as they say, is history. And while that history has its roots in conflict and space remains of enormous strategic significance, space programs from many nations now also conduct scientific endeavours that expand our knowledge of the universe while also showcasing human ingenuity.

Whoever buys the Sputnik-1 replica will therefore acquire a remarkable piece of technology, but also a remarkable symbol that catalysed the last 60 years of human history. ®

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