Apollo vs N1-L3
Apollo CSM / LM vs L3 Lunar Complex
Credit: © Mark Wade
Status: Cancelled 1974. Gross mass: 95,000 kg (209,000 lb).
The Soviet system, consisting of the LOK Lunar Orbiter and LK Lunar Lander, that was to have beaten the American Apollo program to the moon. The L3 design authorized for development in August 1964 was supposed to be capable of accomplishing the mission in a single N1 launch. The late start - over three years after Apollo - and delays in development of the spacecraft and booster meant that the Soviets were still years behind when Apollo 11 made the first moon landing in 1969. Charged with fulfilling the Party's orders, rather pointless testing of L3 components continued, but by 1972 any Soviet manned lunar landing would have used the more capable L3M.
On 3 August 1964, Command number 655-268 issued by Central Committee of Communist Party gave Korolev the objective of putting one man on the moon and returning him safely to earth - ahead of the Americans (who had begun over three years earlier, in April 1961). To achieve this aim a large part of the industry had to be mobilized. It would require design of what was designated the L3 complex, with the combined launch vehicle/spacecraft termed the N1-L3. The L3 would utilize the same lunar orbit rendezvous method to achieve moon landing as was selected for the Apollo program. By upgrading the N1 from a 75 metric ton to a 95 metric ton payload capacity it was felt possible that a single N1 launch could accomplish the mission. The L3 complex itself, with a total mass of 95 metric tons, would consist of a fourth stage (Block G) for the N1 to take the L3 from low earth orbit to trans-lunar trajectory; an LOK lunar orbiter with a Soyuz re-entry capsule for return to earth; an LK lunar lander for the landing of a single cosmonaut on the surface of the moon; and a Block D deceleration stage which would brake the L3 complex into low earth orbit and then take the LK lander to near zero velocity above the surface of the moon.
The N1-L3 complex was designed not just for a quick initial moon landing, but also for exploration of the moon and near-lunar space for both scientific and military purposes.
In what was only to be the first stage of a sustained campaign, single cosmonauts would land on the lunar surface. However this would be just part of a larger mission with the following objectives:
The work for the L3 project was split as follows:
The original N1 with its payload of 75 metric tons to a 300 km, 65 degree inclination orbit would require two to three launches to assemble a lunar landing expedition in earth orbit. One result of the draft project was the decision to increase the N1 payload to 95 metric tons to allow the L3 to be launched toward the moon in one launch. The following measures would increase the N1 payload to 91.5 metric tons:
Then the following measures would increase the payload to 95 metric tons:
By September 1964 construction began of the first N1 launch pad (LC110R). On October 13, while Voskhod 1 was in orbit, Khrushchev was removed from power and Brezhnev's faction assumed control of Politburo. The advance design project for the N1-L3 was completed in collaboration with Kuznetsov's OKB-586 on 30 December 1964. The decree for production of 16 shipsets of spacecraft and boosters was issued on 26 January 1965. The N1-L3 was to manufactured to the following schedule: 4 in 1966; 6 in 1967; and 6 in 1968. The plan was for the first launch of the N1 to be in the first quarter of 1966, with the first lunar landings in 1967 to 1968, ahead of the American goal of 1969.
On January 14, 1966 Korolev died in Moscow during colon surgery. His successor, Mishin, did not have the forceful personality and political connections of the original Chief Designer. Korolev also had a legendary ability to motivate his staff and cajole co-operative design bureaus to prioritize work for OKB-1 that Mishin was never able to duplicate.
The project continued. In February 1966 construction started of the second N1 launch pad (LC 110L). By November the first N1 hardware arrived at Baikonur and construction of the 1M1 full-size mock-up of the launch vehicle began. On 16 November 1966 another Keldysh-headed expert commission considered the state of the program. With Korolev dead, once again Glushko, Chelomei, and Yangel advocated development of the UR-700 or R-56 in lieu of the N1. Chelomei, smarting from cancellation of his LK-1 project, offered an LK-700 direct flight manned lander in lieu of the L3. While it was agreed that engine development and studies of these alternate approaches could continue, the February 1967 government decree approved Mishin's draft plan for the first lunar landing.
This integrated L1/L3 project plan indicated a landing on the moon by the end of 1968 - still ahead of the Americans. The N1 test plan envisioned third quarter 1967 as the beginning of flight hardware construction. The first N1 launch was still set for March 1968. A moon landing would not come until the third quarter of 1969 at the earliest.
In February assembly of the first N1 began at the Progress plant in Samara. By the end of summer the first N1 launch pad (LC110R) was completed. Assembly of the first 1M1 mock-up was nearing completion at the MIK assembly building at Baikonur. In September 1967 the EU-28and EU-29 test models of the second and third stages began hot firing tests on their test stands at Samara. On 25 November 1967 the 1M1 mock-up was first erected on LC-110R.
A decree in November had recognized yet further slips in the schedule, with a first flight test of the vehicle not expected until the third quarter 1968. By March 1968 it was recognized that no Soviet manned lunar landing would take place until 1970. On May 7, 1968, N1 booster 4L was erected at launch complex 110R. Under its shroud was the 7K-L1S spacecraft. This modification of the 7K-L1 circumlunar Soyuz incorporated the Isayev forward propulsion module that would be used on the LOK and LK. A mass model representative of the LK lander was also included. A September 1968 flight test was planned. However the first stage oxidizer tank developed cracks during ground tests, and 4L was removed from the pad in June 1968. It had to be scrapped and improvements made to 3L, the next vehicle.
The first N1 countdown began in January with the roll-out of 3L to the pad. Finally, on February 21, 1969, N1 serial number 3L rose into the sky, thundering over the roofs of the assembly worker's apartments as they cheered it on. But immediately after launch a fire broke out in the tail compartment. The engine monitoring system detected the fire, but then gave an incorrect signal shutting down all engines at 68.7 seconds into the flight. The vehicle was destroyed by range safety 1.3 seconds later. The SAS escape tower worked as designed and the 7K-L1S capsule was recovered.
Against this failure, the Apollo program was achieving success after success in bimonthly missions. While beating the Americans to a moon landing was now clearly impossible, a dual unmanned mission was devised, which, if successful, would have stolen a little of the American's thunder. The plan was for the next N1 to launch an unmanned 7K-L1S spacecraft on a loop around the moon. It would take multi-spectral photographs of the lunar surface and far side. Meanwhile, a Proton rocket would launch an unmanned Ye-8 soil return spacecraft. This would soft land on the moon, deploy a core drill which would take a small sample of lunar regolith. Deposited in a small spherical re-entry capsule, this then would automatically be returned to earth.
N1 vehicle 5L was launched on July 3 1969, just two weeks before the Apollo 11 first moon landing. It was a catastrophe. 5L already began to fail at 0.25 second after lift-off when the oxidizer pump of engine number 8 ingested a slag fragment and exploded. A fire ensued as the vehicle climbed past the top of the tower. The KORD reacted and engines were shut down in pairs until the acceleration dropped below 1 G; then the vehicle began to fall back to the pad at a 45 degree angle. The escape tower fired at the top of the brief trajectory, taking the L1S descent module away from the pad. 5L exploded with the force of a small nuclear bomb, destroying launch complex 110R. To compound the failure, the Ye-8 robot made it to the moon but crashed onto the surface as the Apollo astronauts rested after the first moon walk.
With the moon race lost, the rationale for further development of the limited 7K-LOK and LK spacecraft for a dash to the moon disappeared. However project momentum resulted in several test flights of N1-L3 hardware. These were:
By 1972 any thought of using the original N1-L3 hardware for a manned lunar mission had been abandoned. Instead it was planned to surpass the Americans after the Apollo flights were completed. This would be accomplished by flying N1M-L3M long-duration manned lunar landing missions and establishing the DLB lunar base.
Crew Size: 1.
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Unusual alternate diagram of LOK and LK lunar craft in docked configuration, with bottom view of LK. Korolev School.
Credit: Jakob Terweij