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Chelomei, Vladimir Nikolayevich
Credit: © Mark Wade
Soviet Chief Designer 1955-1984 of OKB-52. Leading designer of cruise missiles and ICBMs. Fought for lead role in space launchers and manned spacecraft. Led work on UR-100, UR-200 ICBM's, Proton LV, Raketoplan, Almaz, TKS manned spacecraft.

Born: 1914-06-30. Died: 1984-12-08. Birth Place: Sedlets, Ukraine.

Chief Designer and General Designer 1955-1984 of OKB-52.. Led work on cruise missiles, ICBMs, and spacecraft.

Chelomei was born on 30 June 1914 in the small Ukrainian city of Sedlets into a family of teachers. When he was three months old the family moved to Paltava due to the start of the first World War. In Paltava Chelomei was nurtured and influenced by intellectual neighbors – most importantly Sofia Nikolayeva Danilevskaya, who was the daughter of Gogol and great grand-daughter of Pushkin. When Chelomei was 12 years old the family moved to Kiev. There he studied auto mechanics.

In 1932 Chelomei entered the Kiev Polytechnic, the same school Korolev had attended eight years earlier. Chelomei was a prodigy, a brilliant student. The instructors noted that where Korolev was hyper-active and in love with aircraft, Chelomei was quiet and analytical. At age 22 Chelomei published his first book, Vector Analysis. By the age of 24 he had published 14 papers. He completed his candidate dissertation in 1939. In 1940 he received one of 50 Stalin Scholarships issued annually. In 1941 he joined the Communist Party, completed his doctoral dissertation, and was named Chief of the Jet Engine Group at the P I Baranov Central Institute of Aviation Propulsion (TsIAM).

Chelomei independently invented the pulse jet engine in 1942. With support of Aviation Minister Volikov, Chelomei was allowed to form a small research group to develop the technology. As group leader he put the name ‘Professor Chelomei' on his office door. This created a minor scandal since he had not yet been awarded his doctorate. Chelomei's group managed to build an extremely noisy prototype pulse-jet but the performance was disappointing.

Chelomei was called to the Kremlin by Malenkov on 14 June 1944 to see the remains of a V-1 provided by Britain. Marshall of Aviation Novikov was charmed by the engineer and he was tasked with duplicating the V-1 for the Soviet Union. By the end of 1944 he had duplicated the V-1 pulse jet, and by spring of 1945 was conducting first tests of the 10-Kh missile. The pulse jet unit was demonstrated mounted to an La-11 fighter at the Tushino Air Show in 1947. Meanwhile development of the 10Kh continued, with prototypes launched from both ramps and Pe-8 carrier aircraft from at test center at Dzhizkaz in Uzbekistan (well before Kapustin Yar). Unlike the V-2 work of Korolev and Glushko, this was all accomplished without German assistance. Chelomei was given his own design bureau on 17 September 1949 (incorporating part of Polikarpov's old bureau).

Chelomei's bureau was seized from him due to various political intrigues (Chief Minister Mikoyan wanted his brother's MiG bureau to handle Soviet cruise missiles, and Secret Police Chief Beria wanted his son to design the guidance). In 1952 Chelomei became a professor at the Baumann University (MVTU), where he specialized in machine dynamics, vibration theory, dynamic stability of elastics, and servomechanism theory. After the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1953, Malenkov remembered the talented Chelomei. Chelomei had conceived a fantastic new scheme -- winged jet-propelled anti-ship missiles that could be launched from submarines or small vessels. This seemed to the new Soviet leadership to be a revolutionary means of countering American naval dominance. Malenkov arranged for Chelomei to take over a small mechanical factory in Reutov and set him to work developing a new generation of naval cruise missiles.

Beginning in the late 1950's, Chelomei began studying use of his encapsulated cruise missile technology for spacecraft. A whole family of unmanned spacecraft, dubbed Kosmoplans, would be built using modular elements. These would include highly maneuverable high performance storable liquid propellant engine modules; nuclear reactor modules for high power space applications; ion engine units for inter-orbital transfer and interplanetary flight; and re-entry vehicles permitting return of payloads from space with landing at conventional airfields.

Development of the P-5 cruise missile had not yet been completed before Chelomei sought a massive expansion of his design bureau's work into other areas. It was apparent that for strike against fixed targets the ballistic missile, for which no defense could be developed for decades, would win out over the cruise missile as a weapon system. Furthermore intercontinental ballistic missiles opened up the possibility of the exploration and colonization of space. Chelomei was anxious to be involved in the much more exciting arena of space flight. When Korolev's R-7 experienced a long string of launch failures in the summer of 1957, Chelomei was quick to criticize Korolev and asked to be put in charge of the development. But the decisive event in Chelomei's career was a meeting with Khrushchev in early 1958 and his subsequent hiring of Nikita Khrushchev's son, Sergei, on March 8, 1958. This gave Chelomei sudden and immediate access to the highest possible patron in the hierarchy. Chelomei's innovative approaches for standardization and mass production of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and spacecraft were in complete accord with Khrushchev's plans to and reduce the size and expense of the Soviet military through the use of revolutionary new technology.

With Khrushchev's support Chelomei's bureau grew quickly through consolidation of other bureaus and factories dissolved in the Khrushchev defense downsizing. In 1959 Chelomei was given the elite title of General Designer of OKB-52. The Myasishchev, Lavochkin, and Tsybin aviation design bureaus were wound up and incorporated into Chelomei's. The plumb acquisition was the Khrunichev factory that had earlier worked on Myasishchev's heavy bombers and the Buran cruise missile, and had one of the highest levels of metallurgical and airframe expertise in the Soviet Union.

This quick ascent naturally created bitter opponents. Boris Chertok quotes a ‘secret joke' of the time:

Have you heard, they're closing the Bolshoi Theatre?

How's that?

It'll became a whorehouse for OKB Chelomei.

Under Chelomei's direction the P-5 and P-6 (SS-N-3 Shaddock) naval cruise missile was being developed. These missiles were made for long-term storage in environmentally-controlled capsules aboard Soviet warships. Chelomei saw that this technology could be applied to ballistic missiles and spacecraft as well.

Chelomei proposed use of this container approach for the UR-100 light ICBM, the Soviet answer to the US Minuteman. This most numerous of Russian ICBM's was a sealed unit, which could be stored fuelled for ten years before being fired within three minutes of launch command.

Beginning in the late 1950's, Chelomei began studying use of his encapsulated cruise missile technology for spacecraft. A whole family of unmanned spacecraft, dubbed Kosmoplans, would be built using modular elements. These would include highly maneuverable high performance storable liquid propellant engine modules; nuclear reactor modules for high power space applications; ion engine units for inter-orbital transfer and interplanetary flight; and re-entry vehicles permitting return of payloads from space with landing at conventional airfields.

These re-entry vehicles were of unique concept and consisted of a high-fineness oblique conical heat shield with petal-like maneuvering flaps at the base. These were capable of very large cross-range maneuvers (up to 3000 km) at hypersonic speed as well as controlled re-entry at very high velocities from planetary return trajectories. The external shell enclosed an adaptation of Chelomei's naval cruise missiles, a cylindrical fuselage with snap-out wings and a cruise turbojet. After re-entry, the conical shield would explosively separate at Mach 2. The internal craft would deploy its wings and turbojet air inlet, start its engine, and then cruise to a radio-guided precision landing at an airfield on Soviet territory.

This approach eliminated the very difficult hot structure problems encountered by other chief designers in their spaceplane designs of the same period. Since the hot heat shield would be jettisoned, the contents did not have to be designed to handle thermal equilibrium temperatures of 400 degrees or more. The same vehicle could also deliver a larger payload under a parachute, or a nuclear warhead.

Kosmoplans were to be launched by Chelomei's equally modular family of 'UR' universal rockets, capable of both ICBM and space launch missions. Chelomei proposed variants of Kosmoplans for studies of the earth's upper atmosphere, television communications, meteorology, military photo-reconnaissance, naval radar and signals reconnaissance, and interception and destruction of enemy satellites. Civilian Kosmoplans would engage in exploration of near earth space and the planets. The same modular principles but larger re-entry vehicles would be used for manned interceptor combat Raketoplans. While the UR-200 rocket would be used for launch of smaller earth orbital Kosmoplans, a cluster of UR-200's would create the much larger UR-500 launch vehicle. The UR-500 would be used for launch of manned, lunar landing, and interplanetary Kosmoplan / Raketoplan designs.

In 1959, as Chelomei laid out these plans, he knew a tremendous struggle would be required to wrest a piece of the space program from Chief Designer Korolev. The opening shot was contained in a letter sent by Korolev to the Central Committee of the Communist Part in January 1960. Korolev proposed an aggressive program for Communist conquest of space - entirely by Korolev's OKB. He pledged to place before the Central Committee in the third quarter of 1960 comprehensive plans for development of the new projects. This letter was followed by a meeting with Khrushchev on the subject on 3 March 1960. Korolev believed it would be truly possible with backing from the very top to have a large rocket in the USSR in a very short span of time. Unfortunately at the meeting Korolev made a slip of the tongue he would always regret, admitting that his plan had not been agreed among all of the Chief Designers. This resulted in Khrushchev throwing the matter back for a consensus plan.

By 30 May 1960 Korolev was back with a plan that now included participation of his rivals, Chelomei and Yangel. The consolidated plan included the following elements allocated to Chelomei:

Chelomei was authorized by Decree 715-296 of 23 June 1960 'On the Production of Various Launch Vehicles, Satellites, Spacecraft for the Military Space Forces in 1960-1967' to complete a draft project on unpiloted Kosmoplans. Chelomei managed a first flight test of a subscale unpiloted version of the Kosmoplan / Raketoplan re-entry vehicle on 21 March 1961.

The Kosmoplan's UR-200 (8K81) launch vehicle was approved for production on 16 March and 1 August 1961 by the Central Committee and Politburo. The UR-200 was designed not only to send a thermonuclear warhead over a range of 12,000 km, but also to orbit all of the Kosmoplan military variants: the IS ASAT; the US nuclear-powered naval intelligence satellite; and the Kosmoplan combat re-entry vehicle. The Kosmoplan and UR-200 draft projects were completed in July 1962. The rocket's technical characteristics would be similar to those of Korolev's R-9 and Yangel's R-16. Trial flights of the ICBM version ran from 4 November 1963 to 20 October 1964.

Approval to proceed with the UR-500 (8K82) was provided in the Central Committee decree of 24 April 1962. The draft project UR-500 was completed in 1963. The fundamental technological problems of the project had been solved by the end of 1964. In the early fall of that year, Khrushchev and the political leadership of the country visited Baikonur. Chelomei with great pride guided Khrushchev around a dummy UR-500 installed in its launch gantry at the new launch complex, presented the heavy transporters for the launch vehicle and showed a scale model of the launch silo planned for the combat version. Khrushchev's comment was 'what should we build - communism or silos for the UR-500?" It was clear that Khrushchev was not very supportive of the military version of the UR-500.

On October 13, 1964, Khrushchev was ousted from power by a retrograde clique headed by Brezhnev. Chelomei had made a critical error of slighting Ustinov, Chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission, when riding high with Khrushchev's backing. Under Brezhnev Ustinov was elevated to the position of Secretary to the Central Committee of the Communist Party for Defense and Space. Furthermore Ustinov idolized Stalin and despised Khrushchev for having torn down Stalin's memory. The new leadership was adverse to all projects Khrushchev had supported. These included those of Chelomei and his OKB-52. An expert commission under Keldysh was directed to examine all of Chelomei's projects and make recommendations as to which should be cancelled. Keldysh found that Yangel's R-36 universal rocket and fractional orbital bombing system was superior to Chelomei's UR-200 / Kosmoplan combat re-entry vehicle. The UR-200 and Kosmoplan were accordingly cancelled. The IS and US Kosmoplans were assigned to KB Arsenal and redesigned for launch by the R-36. The UR-500 development was continued, but only in the 8K82K space launch version for sending the sole surviving Raketoplan, the LK-1 manned circumlunar spacecraft, around the moon.

The LK-1 was in turn cancelled in late 1965 as Korolev finally regained control of all manned lunar projects. However Chelomei was not finished yet. His UR-100 was the backbone of the Soviet strategic deterrent. His naval cruise missiles were the only Soviet counterweight to the US Navy. Chelomei received some cover from Ustinov's direct wrath by having his bureau placed under Afanasyev's MOM (Ministry of General Machine Building). Although Afanasyev didn't show any preference to Chelomei over Korolev or Yangel, Chelomei was able to obtain support in the hierarchy from Deputy Minister of Defense Andrei Grechko. Fighting constant resistance, Chelomei was able to proceed with his Almaz military space station and TKS manned ferry. His alternate proposals for manned moon landings (LK-700), Mars missions (MK-700), reusable shuttle craft (LKS) were all rejected by the leadership (although often technically and objectively superior to the selected designs from other bureaus).

Soon after Phase 2 of the Almaz was approved in January 1976 Marshal Grechko suffered a heart attack. With this Chelomei lost his most active patron and was unable to withstand the slow strangulation of his projects by Ustinov and Glushko. Ustinov was finally able to cancel the entire remaining Almaz program on 19 December 1981. Manned flights of the TKS were cancelled, and work on the Almaz-T was halted. Ustinov officially wanted Chelomei's TsKBM to concentrate on ICBM development. Chelomei hid the three Almaz-T and OPS-4 space stations in a corner of his factory, labeling them as 'radioactive material'.

Chelomei nevertheless persevered. He was still in good health when he suffered a bizarre accident at his dacha in December 1984. While closing the garage door, his Mercedes slipped into gear and crushed him. At first it seemed nothing more serious than a badly broken leg. Chelomei was taken to the Moscow district hospital closest to his dacha. While in the hospital he heard that Ustinov was on his death bed. Even at this stage Chelomei dreamed of a renaissance in his design bureau and was making big plans for future space missions. Then, while on the telephone with his wife, he died suddenly of a massive thrombosis.

Chelomei was named a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences in 1958 and a full Academician in 1962. He was named a corresponding member of the International Astronautics Academy in 1974. Chelomei was a deputy to the 9th and 10th Soviets, received the Lenin prize in 1959, State Prizes of the USSR in 1967, 1974, and 1982, as well as four orders of Lenin, the order of the October Revolution, the Zhukovskiy Medal for outstanding contributions to aviation theory in 1974, the Lyapunov Medal for outstanding contribution to mathematics and mechanics. Twice Hero of Socialist Labor (1959, 1963).


Chelomei bureau Russian manufacturer of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Located in Reutov, Russia.

Country: Russia, Ukraine. Launch Vehicles: Proton. Projects: Lunar L1. Agency: Chelomei bureau. Bibliography: 443, 5256.
Photo Gallery


Chelomei at age 10Chelomei at age 10
Credit: © Mark Wade

Chelomei's motherChelomei's mother
Credit: © Mark Wade

Chelomei's fatherChelomei's father
Credit: © Mark Wade

Chelomei at age 20Chelomei at age 20
Credit: © Mark Wade

Chelomei with Cosmonaut Yeliseyev
Credit: © Mark Wade


1914 June 30 - .
1954 June 9 - .
1958 March 8 - .
1959 During the Year - .
1959 September - .
April 1960 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-200.
1960 May 30 - .
1960 June 23 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1960 October 3 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-200.
1960 November 1 - .
1961 March - . Launch Vehicle: RS.
1961 May 13 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1961 June 1 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1961 August 15 - . Launch Vehicle: Proton.
1961 November - . Launch Vehicle: Proton.
1962 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
1962 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
1962 During the Year - .
During February 1962 - .
1962 November 1 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1963 During the Year - .
1963 January 18 - .
February 1963 - . LV Family: UR-100. Launch Vehicle: R-26.
1963 March 7 - . LV Family: R-7. Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 11A511.
1963 March 21 - . LV Family: N1. Launch Vehicle: N1 1964.
1963 November 1 - . 08:56 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC31. LV Family: R-7. Launch Vehicle: Sputnik 11A59.
1964 June 18 - .
1964 July 19 - .
1964 August 1 - .
1964 August 15 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1964 September 24 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1964 October 12 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1964 October 13 - .
1964 October 31 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
November 1964 - .
1965 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: R-56.
1965 March 1 - .
1965 March 2 - .
1965 June 1 - .
1965 July 16 - . 11:16 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC81/23. LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: UR-500.
1965 August 16 - .
1965 August 24 - .
1965 September 8 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D.
1965 October 25 - . Launch Vehicle: Proton.
1966 January 24 - .
1966 March 30 - .
1966 July 27 - .
1966 October 13 - .
1966 November 16 - .
1966 December 24 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1966 December 28 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
1966 December 31 - .
1967 April 8 - . 09:00 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC81/23. LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D. FAILURE: Block D ullage rocket failure; no restart.. Failed Stage: U.
1967 June 21 - .
1967 July 21 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
1967 October 7 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1967 October 10 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1967 November 22 - . 19:07 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC81/24. LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D. FAILURE: Second stage - 1 x RD-0210 failure, shutoff of stage 4 seconds after ignition. Launcher crashed downrange.. Failed Stage: 2.
1967 November 30 - .
1967 December 8 - .
1968 January 23 - .
1968 January 27 - .
1968 February 29 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D.
1968 December 30 - .
1969 January 27 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1969 late February - . Launch Vehicle: UR-900.
1969 May 29 - .
1969 July 30 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700M.
1969 August 1 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D.
1969 August 9 - . LV Family: N1.
1969 September 23 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K/D.
1969 October 19 - .
1969 December 6 - .
1969 December 26 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1970 January 19 - .
1970 February 1 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1970 February 16 - . LV Family: N1.
1970 June 16 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: Proton-K.
1970 October 20 - . LV Family: N1.
1970 October 28 - .
1970 November 18 - .
1971 January 9 - .
1971 January 20 - .
1971 February 1 - .
1971 February 27 - .
1971 April 14 - .
1971 April 15 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1971 June 16 - .
1971 September 21 - . LV Family: N1.
1972 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700M.
1975 January 1 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.
1975 April 29 - . LV Family: Proton. Launch Vehicle: UR-500MK.
1977 July - .
1978 - During the year - .
1979 February - .
Late 1982 - .
During 1983 - .
1983 September - .
1984 December 8 - .

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