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More Details for 1962-02-01
Pitsunda Conference - Decision to start design of UR-500 and N1 lunar boosters

The Soviet leadership attends a secret exhibition of Soviet rocket technology in a sporting hall at Pitsunda, on the Black Sea. The Chief Designers offer competing designs. It is decided that the R-16, R-9, UR-200, UR-500, and N1 will go forward. Yangel's R-56 is rejected.

The entire Soviet leadership attended, including Malinovskiy, Grechko, Biryuov, Zhukov, Moskalenko, Gorshkov, Kozlov, Kosygin, Mikoyan, and Ustinov. Each chief designer was allowed to bring two aides (Chelomei naturally bringing Khrushchev’s son as one of his aides).

Gorshkov made the first presentation, showing Soviet plans to utilise cruise missiles on light vessels and submarines to neutralise the US advantage in aircraft carriers. He was followed by Makeyev, who reviewed progress in SLBM development but confirmed that Soviet capability would be limited compared to that of the United States for another decade at least. Chelomei briefed his plans for an integrated system to use the UR-200 rocket to attach enemy ships anywhere on earth. The UR-200 would be equipped with the UB guided warhead. The rocket would put the warheads into orbit, where they would be deorbited when needed, and bank and lift during re-entry in order to strike their targets. At the time of this briefing the UR-200 had no ‘home’ - the RVSN didn’t want it, the VMF had no mandate to operate long-range rocket forces, and it survived only through the support of Khrushchev.

Chelomei next presented his UR-500 design. The rocket would have a lift-off mass of 500 tonnes, a throw weight of 12 tonnes, which would consist of a single 30 MT warhead. Ustinov was shocked - this was the first he had heard of the project. He wanted only Korolev to be working on large rockets. But Khrushchev pointed out, where would they be if they had listened to him and didn’t have Yangel’s R-16 instead of Korolev’s useless R-7? Malinovskiy supported Khrushchev. The decision was made to go ahead with the UR-500.

Moskalenko briefed the status of actual ICBM deployments next. The R-16 was being fielded, but it took several hours to prepare for launch. It could stand armed, fuelled, and readied for launch for only a few days before the corrosive fuel degraded the tanks and lines. Then it had to be sent back to the factory for rework. Therefore the R-16 could only be considered a first strike, not a retaliatory weapon. Development of the competing R-9 rocket was dragging on without result.

Korolev defended the R-9 and guaranteed that the technical problems would be solved. He then presented plans for his N1 super rocket, with a 2500 tonne lift-off mass and a 75 tonne orbital payload. He revealed that Kuznetsov would build the engines for the rocket since Glushko had refused to take on the job. This resulted in a furore, with Ustinov ordered to investigate and resolve the situation. The N1 would be used to deliver a 100 MT warhead anywhere on earth. Chelomei privately observed after the meeting that the N1 could never fly with so many engines in the first stage.

Yangel discussed his plans for the R-16. It was in production, but a new design would be required to provide a quick-reaction retaliatory weapon that could be launched before enemy ICBM warheads struck the launch sites. The R-16 had to be stored ‘dry’ and only fuelled before launch. However the time required to fuel it could be reduced further to a couple of hours, or even less than an hour.

Yangel next presented his plans for his own super rocket, the R-56. This would have a 1200 tonne lift-off mass to boost a 30 tonne, 50 MT nuclear warhead. The leadership indicated Yangel should concentrate on development of ICBM’s - larger rockets should have lower priority.

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