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Part of Soyuz Family
L3 -1963
L3 -1963
1963 L3 manned lunar lander using earth-orbit rendezvous method. Configuration based on description and lander configuration of early L3M design.
Russian manned lunar lander. Study 1963. Korolev's original design for a manned lunar landing spacecraft was described in September 1963 and was designed to make a direct lunar landing using the earth orbit rendezvous method.

Status: Study 1963. Gross mass: 200,000 kg (440,000 lb).

The 200 metric ton spacecraft requiring three N1 launches and a single Soyuz 11A511 launch to assemble in low earth orbit. When the decision was finally made to race the Americans to the moon in August 1964, this design had to be scrapped and replaced with the L3 single-launch version using lunar orbit rendezvous.

Korolev's first version of the L-3 manned spacecraft was described in a 23 September 1963 letter setting out the space exploration plan for 1965 to 1975. The L3 was designed to make a direct lunar landing using the earth orbit rendezvous method. It was a 200 metric ton spacecraft requiring three N1 launches and a single Soyuz 11A511 launch to assemble in low earth orbit. The first N1 launch would place the 75 metric ton partially-fuelled TLI stage and L3 spacecraft (except the L1 manned return craft) into low earth orbit. Two further N1 launches would orbit 75 metric ton tankers which would rendezvous and dock with the first payload and top off its propellant tanks. Then the Soyuz would be launched for an automated rear-end docking with the entire L3 stack.

The L3 spacecraft thereby assembled consisted of:

  • Translunar injection stage, with a total mass of 138 metric tons
  • The lunar braking stage, which included a separate midcourse correction section cast off before the braking burn. Midcourse maneuvers would be made at 100,000 and 150,000 km from the earth to ensure a landing near the site pre-surveyed by the L-2 robotic lunar rover, which would be providing a homing signal for the L-3. The lunar braking stage had a total mass of just under 40 metric tons. The main braking burn would start 200 to 300 km above the surface.
  • The lunar soft landing/ascent stage, which had a total mass of 21 metric tons landed on the moon. The stage would use variable-thrust engines to make a soft landing at 2-4 m/s on the surface. The landing leg structure and soft landing engines would be left behind on the moon.
  • The ascent stage, which would separate from the landing legs and propel the manned capsule back toward the earth. This included the guidance system for the entire L-3 complex.
  • The Soyuz L1 manned spacecraft, which consisted of a 2.5 metric ton equipment module and 2.5 metric ton re-entry module. It could accommodate a crew of two to three.
The total L3 mission would take ten to seventeen days. 2.5 to 3.5 days would be spent on the translunar and transearth legs of the mission Five to ten days would be spent on the lunar surface.

The L3 was not authorized in this form and it would over two years before a very belated start was made to beat the Americans in the moon-landing race. The L3 reformulated for the crash program would require only a single uprated N1 launch and use the lunar-orbit-rendezvous method, with a single-man lander.

Family: Lunar Landers, Moon. Country: Russia. Launch Vehicles: N1 1962, N1, N1 1969. Agency: Korolev bureau. Bibliography: 283, 367, 376.
Photo Gallery

Soviet Lunar LandersSoviet Lunar Landers
Landing stages for Soviet lunar expeditions. Top row, left to right: L3 original version; LK; LK-3; LK-700; two versions of the L3M; LEK for Energia-launched lunar landing. Bottom row, lunar base elements: Chelomei KLE; Chelomei Heavy Lunokhod; Barmin DLB base module; LZM, LZhM, Lunokhod, and LEK for Glushko LEK Vulkan-launched lunar base.
Credit: © Mark Wade

1963 April 28 - . LV Family: N1. Launch Vehicle: N1 1964.
  • N1 Plans - . Nation: Russia. Spacecraft: L3-1963, OS-1 (1965), TMK-1.

    An Inter-Institution Soviet considers Korolev's N1 plans. He believes the first booster will be launched in 1965. The N1 is to have a payload capability of 75 tonnes to a 250 km altitude orbit, 50 tonnes to a 3000 km altitude orbit, and 16 tonnes in geostationary orbit. It could launch spacecraft capable of landing men on the moon and returning them to earth, or manned flybys of Mars or Venus. Three to ten launches would be needed for such missions, with the components being docked together in low earth orbit. The N1 can also be used to launch a large space station for military research. After the N1 discussion a decision is made that cosmonauts will not have to spend more than three to four days in a spacecraft mock-up on the ground to prove their readiness for flight. A simulation of the entire flight duration is not necessary.

1963 September - .
  • Korolev earth orbit rendezvous L3 manned lunar lander design. - . Nation: Russia. Spacecraft Bus: Soyuz. Spacecraft: L3-1963. This L3 design was a 200 tonne direct-lander requiring three launches of his giant N1 rocket and assembled in low earth orbit..

1963 September 23 - .
1964 February 12 - . LV Family: N1. Launch Vehicle: N1 1962.
  • Kremlin meeting on lunar landing plans - . Nation: Russia. Program: Lunar L3. Spacecraft Bus: Soyuz. Spacecraft: L3-1963.

    VVS officers meet with O G Ivanovskiy for two hours. The Communist Party plans a lunar expedition in the 1968-1970 period. For this the N1 booster will be used, which has a low earth orbit payload of 72 tonnes. The minimum spacecraft to take a crew to the lunar surface and back will have a minimum payload of 200 tonnes; therefore three N1 launches will be required to launch components, which will have to be assembled in orbit. However all of these plans are only on paper, and Kamanin does not see any way the Soviet Union can beat the Americans to the moon, who are already flying Apollo hardware for that mission.

1964 February 18 - .
1964 July 19 - .
  • Korolev obtains preliminary approval for a single-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous, manned landing. - . Nation: Russia. Related Persons: Bushuyev, Chelomei, Feoktistov, Glushko, Korolev, Mishin, Smirnov, Yangel. Program: Lunar L3, Lunar L1. Spacecraft: L3-1963, LK, LK-1, Soyuz 7K-LOK.

    Work on the original N1-L3 had begun in 1963. This had been preceded by two years of working on a draft project for the LK lunar lander and its propulsion system. But there was no money for full scale development -- no code name from Gosplan against which to charge such work. It was annoying that Chelomei, Glushko, and Yangel were wasting resources on alternate designs at the same time. Additional Details: here....

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