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Original Sputnik-1 test model could skyrocket to $600,000 at Bonhams


Sputnik test model to auction at Bonhams

An original test model of Sputnik-1, the world’s first satellite, could sell for up to $600,000 during a space and aviation sale at Bonhams in New York next month.

The full-sized test model is one of only five surviving examples, and will go up for auction on September 17 with an estimate of $400,000 – $600,000.

The model was built in 1957 by OKB-1, the special design bureau of the Soviet space industry, and used for testing by the Soviet Ministry of the Radio Industry in Moscow.

Soviet satellite Sputnik-1 launched in October 1957, causing panic in the U.S and sparking the space race between the two nations.

It also set into motion the rapid development of technologies which completely changed the course of human history.

According to Paul Dickinson, author of 2001 book ‘Sputnik: The Shock of the Century’:

“The Russian satellite essentially forced the United States to place a new national priority on research science, which led to the development of microelectronics…. Many essential technologies of modern life, including the Internet, owe their early development to the accelerated pace of applied research triggered by Sputnik.”

(Images: Bonhams)

As the world’s first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1’s journey around the globe was clearly visible in the night sky and its signal could be picked up by anyone with a shortwave receiver.

During its three months in space the satellite travelled a distance of 43 million miles, completing 1440 orbits of the Earth before it burned up on re-entry on January 4, 1958.

Today all that remains of the original Sputnik 1 satellite is the metal arming key which prevented contact between the batteries and the transmitter before launch.

However, the Experimental Design Bureau also produced several full-sized models during the testing process, to study the effects of Electromagnetic Compatibility and Electromagnetic Interference.

Of the five original surviving models, three examples remain in private hands and two are permanently housed at aviation museums in Moscow and Seattle.

The model for sale at Bonhams was originally owned by Dr. Mikhail Ryazansky, director of the NII-88 institute which collaborated on the design on Sputnik 1 and designed its radio transmission unit.

It will now hit the block after spending years on loan and display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin.

Another of the surviving test models sold at Bonhams back in 2017 for $847,500, skyrocketing past its original top estimate of $150,000.

“We are honored to bring this world-changing piece of history to auction,” said Bonhams specialist Adam Stackhouse. “There are only a handful of known working examples of the Sputnik-1 and this one comes with excellent provenance.”

In addition to Sputnik, the Bonhams auction will feature items spanning the entire breadth of aviation history.

Amongst the more unusual lots on offer will be a deactivated HFL Kholod surface-to-air missile, once the fastest object to fly within Earth’s atmosphere, estimated at $80,000 – $120,000; a transcript of the first phone call made to the Moon, signed by the crew of Apollo 11 and former U.S President Richard Nixon; and a piece of fabric from the wing of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer.

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