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Credit: © Mark Wade
Russian manned Mars flyby. Study 1972. Chelomei was the only Chief Designer to complete an Aelita draft project and present it to the Soviet government.

Status: Study 1972. Gross mass: 1,400,000 kg (3,000,000 lb). Specific impulse: 900 s. Height: 140.00 m (450.00 ft). Span: 20.00 m (65.00 ft).

He proposed two launches of the enormous UR-700M launch vehicle to assemble a 1400 metric ton MK-700 spacecraft in earth orbit. Nuclear thermal stages allowed a net functional payload (living quarters, Mars landers, earth return capsule) of 250 metric tons.

A government expert commission reviewed the preliminary draft project for the UR-700M launch vehicle and MK-700 spacecraft in 1972. Based on the decades worth of development and tens of billions or rubles required, the state commission recommended that further work on manned Mars expeditions be deferred indefinitely.

In the post-Apollo moon landing euphoria, NASA was pressing for funding for a manned expedition to Mars. The Soviet leadership reacted in kind. Development of an advanced project for the MK-700 was authorized in Ministry of Defense decree 232 of 30 June 1969. The TTZ specification document was written by the TsNIIMASH and NIITI institutes, and the project was given the code name 'Aelita'. The TTZ called for a Mars expedition spacecraft of 1,500 metric tons mass.

Analysis of the requirement indicated a larger launch vehicle than that required by the TTZ would be optimum. Opportunities for launches to Mars had limited launch windows at two year intervals. The combined probability of successfully launching, docking, and assembling a half dozen payloads in low earth orbit was relatively low. The optimum chance for mission success was to use no more than one or two dockings in earth orbit. (NASA came to a similar conclusion in the early 1960's, leading to the Nova launch vehicle studies). Chelomei used a modular approach to the launch vehicle design in order to achieve payloads of 300 to 800 metric tons. By the advanced project stage the MK-700 assembly sequence had been reduced to two variants:

Further studies by Section p/Ya A-1233 of Chelomei's TsKBM managed to reduce the mass of the spacecraft for the Mars expedition to 900 to 1,.000 metric tons. This allowed the PA variant booster to be used with just two launches and one docking.

Planned flight trials before the Mars expedition would include moon base tests, ballistic and re-entry tests of the MK re-entry capsule in near-earth space, and a final shakedown flight of the complete complex to the moon and back.

A government expert commission reviewed the preliminary draft project in 1972. Two variants were presented:

The first variant was the preferred option. The MK-700 spacecraft design was represented by a model in the TsNIIMASH museum. This indicates that it consisted, from fore to aft:

Since the project began in 1969 it had become apparent that the United States was not going to be making any more moon landings, let alone fund an expedition to Mars. The expert commission therefore found no pressing need for the project and faulted it on various grounds:

Based on these considerations, the state commission recommended that further work on manned Mars expeditions be deferred indefinitely. However Soviet development of nuclear-thermal propulsion was allowed to continue. NPO Luch had begun tests of prototype engines at a test stand 50 km Southwest of Semipalatinsk-21 in 1971. Tests continued there through 1978. Simultaneously a more elaborate facility was built 65 km south of Semipalatinsk-21 for comprehensive tests of the Baikal-1 prototype engine. Thirty simulated flights were conducted from 1970 to 1988 without failure. It was eventually proposed that two engines would be derived from this work: the RD-0410, a 'minimum' engine, of 3.5 metric tons thrust; and later the RD-0411, a 70 metric ton thrust engine.

Some sources indicate Chelomei proposed yet again a single-launch Mars flyby expedition in 1974. This would be launched on the UR-900 or a more modest version of the UR-700M, with a low earth orbit payload of 250 metric tons. A crew of two in an MK-700 spacecraft would spend two years on a flight to Mars and then return to earth using the re-entry capsule developed for Chelomei's TKS orbital ferry.

MK-700 Mission Summary:

Crew Size: 2.

Family: Mars Expeditions, Mars flyby. Country: Russia. Launch Vehicles: Mars tactical rocket, UR-700, UR-700M. Propellants: Nuclear/LH2. Projects: Mars. Agency: Chelomei bureau. Bibliography: 122, 367, 443, 474, 73.
Photo Gallery

MK-700 Mars craftMK-700 Mars craft
MK-700 manned Mars spacecraft designed by Chelomei in 1970's
Credit: Andy Salmon

RD-0410 NTP EngineRD-0410 NTP Engine
RD-0410 Nuclear Thermal Engine
Credit: © Dietrich Haeseler

Salyut and MK-700Salyut and MK-700
Salyut and MK-700 models
Credit: © Mark Wade

Manned stationManned station
Large manned space station or interplanetary spacecraft, probably Chelomei design, with launch escape tower, TKS-type re-entry capsule, large windowed pressurized module at rear.
Credit: Andy Salmon

1969 June 30 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700M.
1969 July 30 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700M.
1972 During the Year - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700M.
1975 January 1 - . Launch Vehicle: UR-700.

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