Encyclopedia Astronautica
Spiral 50-50

Spiral 50-50
Credit: © Mark Wade
Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. The Soviet Air Force had an enduring interest in a horizontal takeoff/horizontal landing, manned, reusable space launch system that could ferry crews and priority supplies between earth and space on the same basis as conventional aircraft. Between 1960 and 1976 Mikoyan developed this manned partially reusable space launch system. It consisted of a reusable hypersonic air-breathing booster; two expendable rocket stages; and the reusable Spiral manned spaceplane. The effort was never properly funded by the government, and by the mid-1970's had only reached the stage of flight tests of subscale versions of Spiral. Development was discontinued in 1976 in favor of the Buran, a copy of the US space shuttle. However it was resurrected in improved form in the 1980's as the MAKS spaceplane.

Mikoyan GKAT OKB-155 began work in 1960 on the Spiral combination aerospace system. In 1965 the advanced project was approved, laying out an ambitious work plan leading to operation of a regular earth-orbit-earth reusable transportation system by the mid-1970's. Go-ahead to actually proceed with development of the manned orbital vehicle was given on 26 June 1966 and Lozino-Lozinsky was selected as project manager.

The Spiral system consisted of three main components:

  • GSR reusable hypersonic air-breathing launch aircraft
  • RB expendable two stage rocket
  • OS orbital spaceplane

The project plan for Spiral was as follows:

  • 1967 - Subsonic test flight of OS (article 105-11)
  • 1968 - Hypersonic test flight of OS (article 105-12)
  • 1970 - Unpiloted orbital flight of OS (Soyuz-launched - article 105-13)
  • 1970 - Construction of GSR to begin
  • 1972 - First rollout of LH2-propelled experimental GSR
  • 1977 - First piloted orbital flight of complete system

Interest in the project at higher levels of the Soviet hierarchy was difficult to maintain, due to the massive funding requirements, technical difficulties, and multi-year development program which could not promise quick results. Underfunded from the beginning, the project was finally reoriented to a simple test of the analogue systems without using these as the basis for a flight system. This was now designated EPOS (Experimental Piloted Orbital Aircraft) and would be flown by Soviet Air Force test pilots rather than cosmonauts. In February 1976, with the beginning of work on Buran, the project was effectively ended except for the test of the subsonic 105-11 article already built. The 105-11 incorporated the airframe and some of the systems of the planned orbital version.

Technical Description

The GSR reusable hypersonic air-breathing launch aircraft was powered by four turbo-ramjet engines, and two variants were planned. The conservative first variant would use kerosene fuel and accelerate to Mach 4 and 22 to 24 km altitude before releasing the RB+OS. The longer-term second variant would use liquid hydrogen fuel, which would allow it to reach Mach 6 and 28-30 km altitude before releasing the upper stages. The GSR would return to its launch base after completing its mission.

The layout of the GSR was that of a large arrow-shaped flying wing. Vertical stabilizers were mounted at the wingtips. The engine bay was under the fuselage, with high bypass engine inlets. On the top of the wing was the launch pylon for the OS+RB, with the nose and tail portions of the pylon enclosed by ogival fairings for aerodynamic reasons.

The RB rocket that would take the OS from the back of the GSR to orbit consisted of a two-stage rocket. The conservative early version would use Liquid oxygen/kerosene propellants; the later advanced version would use Liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen.

The OS orbital spacecraft was a flat-bottomed lifting body, triangular in planform, with a large upturned nose that earned it the nickname 'Lapot' (wooden shoe). A unique feature of the OS were the variable dihedral wings. These were set at a 60 degree angle above horizontal during launch, orbit, and re-entry, where they served as vertical stabilizers. After becoming subsonic, dual electric actuators moved them to a horizontal position, where they served as wings, substantially increasing the lift of the spaceplane for air-breathing operations.

The OS would be inserted into an initial 130 km altitude orbit by the RB, where only 2 to 3 revolutions could be maintained before orbital decay. Orbital propulsion consisted of a 1,500 kgf primary engine, with two 40 kgf backup engines. Orbital attitude control and translation were provided by two reaction control system (GDU) pods at the rear of the spaceplane flanking the backup engines. There were a total of six 16 kgf engines for coarse adjustment and ten 1 kgf engines for fine maneuvers. Fuel tanks for these system were located in the centre of the spaceplane. All engines worked on N2O4/UDMH. After completing its mission the OS would enter the earth's atmosphere at a high angle of attack. After losing most of its velocity, the wings would have been moved to the horizontal lifting position, and the OS would fly to a landing at a conventional airfield.

During the development phase three single-place experimental reusable prototypes of the OS would be built. These would be built in the same configuration as the Spiral OS, but have somewhat smaller dimensions, so that they could be orbited by a Soyuz launch vehicle. For testing the OS in the subsonic terminal approach phase, aircraft-analogues were to be built, powered by a turbojet or rocket and air-launched from a Tu-95 bomber. Two were planned, one to be flown subsonic (article 105-11), and the other up to Mach 6 to 8 (article 105-12). The single reusable orbital manned prototype was designated article 105-13.

An important characteristic of the Spiral was its large usable payload, two to three times greater than that of a conventional launch vehicle of the same mass. Cost per kilogram of payload to orbit would be 3 to 3.5 times less. In addition the system, by using air launch, could reach any orbital inclination, maneuver in space, and return, even in adverse weather conditions.

Status: Cancelled 1975.
Gross mass: 115,000 kg (253,000 lb).

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • Spiral OS Russian manned spaceplane, developed 1965-1980s, including subscale flight article tests. Evolved into the MAKS spaceplane. The Spiral was an ambitious air-launched manned space system designed in the 1960's. More...
  • MiG 105-11 Russian manned spaceplane. 8 launches, 1976.10.11 to 1978.09.15 . Atmospheric flight test version of the Spiral OS manned spaceplane. The 105-11 incorporated the airframe and some of the systems of the planned orbital version. More...

See also
  • Winged In the beginning, nobody (except Jules Verne) thought anybody would be travelling to space and back in ballistic cannon balls. The only proper way for a space voyager to return to earth was at the controls of a real winged airplane. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • MiG Russian manufacturer of rockets and spacecraft. Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau, Russia. More...

  • Matthews, Henry, The Secret Story of the Soviet Space Shuttle, X-Planes Book 1, Beirut, Lebanon, 1994.
  • Pesavento, Peter, "Russian Space Shuttle Projects 1957-1994", Spaceflight, 1995, Volume 37, page 226.
  • Belyakov, R A and Marmain, J, MiG-Fifty Years of Secret Aircraft Design, Airlife, England, 1994.
  • Butowski, Piotr, "Black Reds", Air Forces Monthly Special, X-Planes, February 1998, p. 35.
  • Kamanin, N P, Skritiy kosmos, Infortext, Moscow, 1995.
  • Lozino-Lozinskiy, G E, editor, Aviationno-kosmicheskiye sistemy, MAI, Moscow, 1997.
  • Siddiqi, Asif A, The Soviet Space Race With Apollo, University Press of Florida, 2003.

Spiral 50-50 Chronology

1962 January 13 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • VVS Military-Scientific Conference at Monino - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Spiral OS. Recommendations made by Kamanin's space unit included:
    • A KLA aerospace vehicle should be developed. This could be flown in a sub-orbital version at altitudes of 60 to 150 km and as an orbital aero-spaceplane at altitudes of 1000 to 3000 km.
    • An aircraft-launcher should be developed to allow air-launch of the KLA as well as air-to-space and space-to-earth missiles
    • Navigation, reconnaissance, guidance, and environmental control systems should be developed for the KLA suitable for flights of up to 30 days duration
    To achieve this it will be necessary to conduct research and development in air-launch and landing of the KLA, and train cosmonauts in engineering, medicine, and other specialties. The IAKM and TsPK would both need improvements.

1965 January 1 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Spiral development at MiG bureau authorised. - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MiG 105-11. Summary: Decree 'On plan of work on Spiral at OKB-155' was issued..

1965 July - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Spiral cosmonaut team formed - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Titov; Dobrovolsky; Filipchenko; Kuklin; Matinchenko. Spacecraft: Spiral OS. In 1965 the advanced project of the Mikoyan Spiral aerospace system was approved. The ambitious work plan indicted operation of a regular earth-orbit-earth reusable transportation system by the mid-1970's. With Gherman Titov as its head, a Spiral cosmonaut training group was formed (Titov, Dobrovolskiy, Filipchenko, Kuklin, Matinchenko) to train to fly the spaceplane.

1965 September 2 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
1965 November 23 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Spiral spaceplane - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Gagarin; Belyayev; Leonov; Brezhnev; Titov; Filipchenko; Matinchenko; Mikoyan. Spacecraft: Spiral OS. Gagarin, Belyayev, and Leonov are preparing for a meeting with Brezhnev. Nothing controversial is to be raised. The real issue now is to develop a winged, manned orbital spacecraft, and a winged booster stage for space launches. This will be essential to future manned military activities. Mikoyan's MiG bureau has been working on the orbital spaceplane, and Tupolev the winged booster stage. Titov, Filipchenko, and Matinchenko and a few other cosmonauts will coordinate with Mikoyan on development of the spaceplane design.

1966 June 26 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Development of Spiral spaceplane authorised - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Spiral OS; MiG 105-11. Summary: Lozino-Lozinsky was selected as project manager. The Spiral system consisted of three main components: the GSR reusable hypersonic air-breathing launch aircraft; RB expendable two stage rocket; and the OS orbital spaceplane..

1967 December - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
1968 December 12 - . LV Family: N1. Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Kamanin catalogues the reasons the Soviet Union is losing the moon race - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Biryuzov; Ustinov. Program: Lunar L1; Lunar L3. Spacecraft: Soyuz 7K-LOK; LK; Soyuz 7K-L1.
    • Fighting between the VVS and its 'enemies' (Ustinov etc.)
    • No single state organisation is responsible for civilian spaceflight.
    • Various entities are responsible for various aspects of military spaceflight (RSVN, VMF, General Staff, VVS). Kamanin notes that the state has poured 10 billion roubles into the N1 without visible effect. He believes reusable systems are needed to reduce the cost of spaceflight. The death of General Biryuzov in a plane crash meant that the Soviet Union lost a strong supporter of a robust military space program.
    • Kamanin believes the VVS should be in charge of piloted spacecraft, not the RVSN.
    • Furthermore the entire design approach to manned spacecraft is incorrect -- what is needed is piloted spacecraft, not cosmonauts flying as passengers in automated spacecraft. The result of the automated philosophy was that the Soyuz was not man-rated until 1968. While the qualification process was going on, the American Gemini flew ten times. The Apollo-Saturn V has flown twice, while the L3 was still just a mock-up. In effect, the Soviet Union gave the Americans a two to three year lead, allowing them to beat the Russians.

1970 April 7 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Spiral spaceplane programme stalled - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Goreglyad; Frolov; Titov; Mikoyan; Afanasyev, Sergei; Dementiev; Kutakhov. Spacecraft: Spiral OS. Kamanin reviews the Spiral manned spaceplane program with Goreglyad, Frolov, and cosmonaut Titov. Work on the KLA orbiter began in 1961-1962. In the following eight years Kamanin has tried to push the leadership many times to accelerate the project, but without result. Still, the work is proceeding, albeit very slowly. Mikoyan has decided the first phase of the project will use rocket launch only - the air-breathing winged first stage will only be introduced later. Afanasyev has finally responded to the project, only to declare that the KLA must be not only for military missions, but serve as a transport shuttle for civilian space missions as well. Dementiev is holding the whole project up because he doesn't want to overburden the aircraft design bureaux and factories. And Kutakhov won't push the program without Dementiev's support.

1970 April 25 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • Spiral project not raised with General Staff. - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Dementiev. Program: Soyuz. Flight: Soyuz 9. Spacecraft: Spiral OS. Kamanin has been working for seven years on operation and improvement of the TsEZ Central Experimental Facility of he VVS. This includes the Volchok trainer, which simulates launch to orbit; the centrifuge facility; and numerous special test stands. The facility employs 120 engineers and 300 technicians. Later the Spiral project is discussed by the General Staff. It has been two weeks since Kutakhov promised to clarify Minister Dementiev's position on the project, but he never did talk to him. What is Kamanin expected to tell the cosmonauts training for the program? He is also trying to get a flight plan and press kit together in preparation for the Soyuz 9 mission, but there is no Central Committee resolution allowing this work. The KGB and Central Committee want to keep everything secret.

1976 October 11 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • MiG 105-11 first flight - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MiG 105-11. Summary: The EPOS spaceplane made its first flight, taking off from an old dirt airstrip near Moscow, flying straight ahead to an altitude of 560 m, and landing at the Zhukovskii flight test center 19 km away. Pilot was A. G. Festovets..

1977 November 27 - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • MiG 105-11 first air-drop - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MiG 105-11. Summary: The first air-drop launch from a Tu-95K (used previously for Kh-20 air to surface missile tests) was made from an altitude of 5,000 m, with landing on skids on a beaten earth air strip..

1978 September - . Launch Vehicle: Spiral 50-50.
  • MiG 105-11 final flight - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MiG 105-11. The eighth and final flight resulted in a hard landing and the write-off of the aircraft. First and last flights were made by test pilot A. G. Festovets. The eight flights were considered sufficient to characterize the spaceplane's subsonic aerodynamic characteristics and air breathing systems.

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