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Russia: Key Meetings in Soviet Spaceflight
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The key meetings, the main decisions that led to the Soviet loss of the moon race and shuttle race.

Korolev
Chertok
Mishin
Barmin
Afanasyev
Tyulin
Kamanin
Ustinov
Chelomei
Keldysh
Smirnov
Here are summaries of the key meetings where the decisions were made that set the course of the Soviet Union in the space race.

These summaries demonstrate the clash of engineers and managers working within the system they dubbed 'space feudalism'. The chief designers would agree to impossible schedules, often based on political anniversaries, in order to get a project approved. But getting a go-ahead was only the beginning. The engineers had to rely on their network of friends and supporters within government and industry to actually implement the projects. Soviet aerospace projects were incredibly chaotic compared to those in America, with their clear-cut management, funding, planning, and monitoring systems. The reality was very far from the top-down monolith NASA believed it was facing in the space race.

The context for these meetings is as follows:

In early 1961 America announced the Apollo programme to put a man on the moon by 1970. The Soviet response was hesitant. Chief Designers Chelomei and Korolev managed to get a go-ahead in 1962 from Khrushchev to start design activities for launch vehicles that could support manned lunar flyby and lunar landing projects But the original rationale for these UR-500 and N1 boosters was purely military.

It was not until 1964 that the chief designers managed to get backing to start development and construction of the lunar spacecraft, booster hardware, and launch facilities. Even then Korolev was told to limit the number of N1 superboosters built. This forced him to propose a single-launch lunar orbit rendezvous mission profile. But Korolev knew from the beginning that the single launch mission was not technically possible with the N1 booster. His objective was to get the booster and spacecraft built at all costs. He figured he could break the bad news later, and then convince the leadership to provide more resources.

Just after the lunar decision Khrushchev was ousted from power and Chelomei lost his main patron. Chelomei's circumlunar spacecraft was cancelled and Korolev took over the project. It would now be achieved using Chelomei's booster but Korolev's L1 spacecraft. In January 1966 Korolev died unexpectedly. After months of argument within the leadership his deputy, Mishin, was placed in charge of the L1 and L3 lunar programmes.

The L1 circumlunar programme foundered in a horrendous series of failures of both Chelomei's booster and Korolev's spacecraft in 1967-1968. At the end of 1968 Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit, and it was clear to the Soviets, that barring an Apollo disaster, the moon race was lost. The N1 was just being prepared for its first launch, years behind schedule.

Keldysh, head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, had conceived a back-up plan in 1968 for the Lavochkin bureau to develop an automated lunar soil-return robot. This was based on the Ye-8 lunar rover lander already in development to support the N1-L3. These could be flown alone or in parallel with whatever manned lunar orbital missions might be flown in 1969. The claim could be made that the Soviet Union was never in the moon race, that they wouldn't jeopardise the lives of their cosmonauts like the Americans.

However these robot probes relied on the same Chelomei booster that had so many failures on the L1 program. Launch after launch was made in 1969 in attempts to steal Apollo's thunder. The final cliff-hanger came while the Apollo 11 crew rested in their lunar module at Tranquillity Base. The Luna 15 soil-return spacecraft crashed as it attempted to soft land on the surface, ending the last chance to beat the Americans. The Ye-8 and Lunokhod robot rovers were finally flown successfully from late 1969 to 1970. The Western media accepted the party line that the Soviet Union had never been in the moon race.

The post-Apollo American project was the Skylab space station. Dissenters within the bureau of Mishin and Chelomei created the 'DOS Conspiracy' - a plan for the two bureaux to co-operate and conduct a crash program to build the Salyut space station before the American Skylab. This ultimately succeeded, but triumph turned to despair when the first crew to the station died - their capsule depressurised on the way back to earth.

Meanwhile the Soviet manned lunar programme continued to play out, through two more N1 launch failures. It was on the brink of finally launching a reliable booster, leading to a Soviet lunar base in the late 1970's, when it was cancelled in 1974. The Soviet Union instead embarked on the enormous Energia-Buran project, an attempt to copy and improve on the US space shuttle.

Both space powers abandoned useful heavy launch systems in-being for the chimera of a more advanced, supposedly less costly system. The decisions in both countries led their manned space programmes to withdraw to low earth orbit, never to leave again. The era of manned space exploration was ended.




During February 1962 - 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.


1964 July 19 - Korolev obtains preliminary approval for a single-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous, manned landing.

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.

The original plan was for three N1 boosters to assemble a 200 tonne payload in low earth orbit. This would launch the original L3 to a direct landing on the moon and return. By comparison, Chelomei's UR-500 for the manned lunar flyby mission put only 20 tonnes in low orbit. However the leadership was only willing to fund N1 production at the rate of four per year, and Korolev concluded the only moon mission he could propose at such a rate was the single-shot lunar orbit rendezvous scheme selected by the Americans.

It was commonly believed that the N1 was inadequate for the one-shot moon mission proposed by Korolev, and there was no time to develop enhancements to it to make it suitable for such a mission. Kalmykov (Minister of the Radio-Technical Industry) sent a letter to Military-Industrial Commission Chairman Smirnov pointing this out. Feoktistov and the other spacecraft designers knew the mass of the payload was absolutely critical, with no margin for growth. But Mishin wanted to go ahead with development of the rocket anyway. Bushuyev said they needed 100 tonnes payload in LEO to accomplish the one-shot moon mission, not 75 tonnes, and that the only way to get this was to develop Lox/LH2 second and third stages for the N1 (the growth version outlined in the draft project). But there was no authority from the government to pursue this development. Korolev and later Mishin wouldn't admit they had miscalculated the minimum payload mass needed, and couldn't admit that Soviet engines were not as good as the Americans -- that would result in the whole project being killed. They wanted to see the N1 built at any cost, even that of failure. Chertok observes that after all, chief designers are only people too.

This was difference between 'upstairs' and 'downstairs' at a design bureau. At the stroke of a pen, Korolev increased the N1 payload from 75 to 93 tonnes, upgraded the gross lift-off weight to 2750 tonnes, and moved the LK production schedule up to 1965. This led to the absurd project schedule in the 19 July 1964 decree, which imagined first flight test of the as-yet-undesigned small LK in 1966. All involved downstairs knew that to achieve a 93 tonne payload for the booster, and a one-shot moon landing payload no larger than 93 tonnes, would require enormous effort.


1964 July 21 - Korolev's single-launch lunar scheme reviewed by the Chief Designers

How to achieve the additional N1 payload was a key point of discussion.

Isayev was working on an 8 tonne thrust Lox/LH2 engine, and Lyulka on a 40 tonne thrust engine using the same propellants. 6 to 8 of these could be clustered in a new third stage for the N1, thereby achieving the payload. Glushko again raised the issue of why Korolev was using low-reliability 150 tonne thrust Kuznetsov engines in the N1 rather than Glushko's already-developed RD-253. Keldysh dismissed this comment as having already been decided long ago. Kuznetsov retaliated to Glushko's comments by pointing out that he had asked for Glushko's assistance in improving the reliability of the engines, and had asked for the use of one of Glushko's test stands, but Glushko had refused to co-operate. Glushko remained silent and did not respond to this charge.

Pilyugin pointed out that an entirely new guidance system would be required for the N1-L3 mission. It could not possibly be designed within the schedule given. Barmin pointed out that ground units at Tyuratam had no experience in dealing with Lox/LH2 propellants. It would be impossible for his engineers to master the technology, develop the new equipment, and have it installed at the launch site at the schedule given.

The inevitable conclusion was that the N1 would have to be upgraded using the existing Lox/Kerosene propellants; the one-shot scenario was the only one achievable within the budget and schedule set; and that everyone would have to develop details supporting that schedule.

The designers set to work negotiating the wording of the final decree. Glushko alone refused to participate, even sending a formal protocol to the leadership declaring he did not believe in the reliability of Kuznetsov's engines. Keldysh took the draft decree to Smirnov, who in turn met with Khrushchev, how would not be hurried in the decision. There was no radical technical solution to the problem of beating the Americans to the moon. Only a brute force approach would work: to build an enormous factory, launch complex, and city in the remote desert of Kazakhstan; and to develop the LK lunar lander using a concentrated and unprecedented engineering effort. Khrushchev posed the question to Ustinov: the decision is simple, do we fly to the moon or not? We simply will not give the moon up to the Americans! What resources are needed? They simply must be provided. Locate them and simply do it!


November 1964 - Korolev's admits that N1 cannot attain payload needed for single-launch mission

Korolev speaks privately to Chertok. Kozlov has told him it will be impossible to build an N1 with the 93 tonne payload capability until the fourth flight article. The L3 concept was still the same as in the August decree - 2 cosmonauts aboard the LOK orbiter, one aboard the LK lander. Korolev asks Chertok to take 800 kg out of the weight budget for the L3. Chertok informs him that they are already 500 kg over the August budget. This is still without all the unknowns of the automated lunar landing being solved.

Korolev informed Chertok he was coming under heavy criticism from Keldysh. Keldysh said putting a single man on the moon was no solution at all, and if Korolev couldn't deliver that he would throw his support to Chelomei's alternate UR-700/LK-700 deign. The only support Korolev had in the government at that time was from Khrushchev. Ustinov and the military were not interested in lunar spaceflight. Brezhnev, a Ukrainian, backed Yangel, since it would put work into the Ukraine. The military had a saying: "Korolev works for Tass, Chelomei makes shit, and Yangel works for us". Korolev viewed Chelomei as an insidious 'Fifth Column', working to undermine and hinder everything Korolev was trying to do. He found it interesting that Keldysh, the smoothie, split his endorsements -- supporting Yangel for ICBM's, Chelomei for the UR-500/LK-1 manned flyby, and Korolev for the N1/L3 lunar lander. Korolev found it troubling that Yangel was working on his R-56 competitor for the N1 at the same time he was working on the Block E lunar landing stage for Korolev's LK. Returning to the original point of the meeting, Korolev again pleaded for Chertok to come up with an 800 kg reduction in the L3 - or the lunar landing project would be taken away from Korolev and given to one of his competitors.

Korolev then reviewed the issue of the test stand for the N1's first stage. There was no way to move the immense stage to Zagorsk for testing. On the other hand, the military refused to spend any funds to build a test stand at Tyuratam. He had tried to convince Dimshits, the Tyuratam base commander, but Dimshits refused to budge without authorisation from the Centre. Therefore Korolev went to Gosplan, but they wouldn't allocate any money for the stand. He was sent to Ustinov, who said it wasn't his responsibility the whole project was a 'Kremlin matter'. Korolev simply couldn't find out whom to call who could authorise the work. Voskresenskiy, head of ground test at OKB-1, was considered by Korolev as one of his most reliable comrades. But he opposed him endlessly on this question of the test stand. Tabakov at Zagorsk was building stands for the second and third stages. But there was not even a full-up test stand planned for the KORD system that was to control the first stage engines.

Korolev had agreed to moving future work on lunar and planetary robotic spacecraft to Babakin and Lavochkin. After the string of failures of OKB-1's E-6 lunar landers, he had to admit that a fresh perspective was needed. Korolev had been told that how the hell was he expecting to build enormous N1-launched robot probes, let alone the TMK manned Mars expedition, if he couldn't even solve the problem of reliably navigating between the earth and the moon with the simple E-6?

This concern had moved Keldysh to call for an expert commission to examine the N1 guidance system design. Korolev wouldn't allow this --as he saw it, the "others" were just waiting for the slightest opportunity to kill the N1. Who was really pushing for this commission?, Korolev had asked. Keldysh claimed not to know -- he had not yet fathomed who was in charge in the new Kremlin line-up after the overthrow of Khrushchev.

This ended the remarkable conversation with Chertok, which summarised Korolev's inner concerns.


1965 February 10 - L3 single-launch spacecraft draft project approved.

Interdepartmental Scientific-Technical Council on Space Research (MNTS-KI) Decree 'On approval of the L3 draft project' was issued. The decree followed a review by a Keldysh-led Academy of Sciences state commission the previous December. The decree moved the first flight of the N1 to the end of 1966.

The L3 development plan was not approved by the VPK Military Industrial Commission.until February, and by then the schedule dates were even less realistic than they appeared in October 1964. Meanwhile all during 1965 Pilyugin refused to accelerate work on development of the guidance work. He complained of the 'hysterical' pressure from OKB-1, and their over-concentration on reliability as the dominant design criteria. The N1 guidance system consisted of three gyro stabilised platforms, 9 accelerometer in 3 groups perpendicular to the normal axes, 18 normal and yaw stabilisers, three digital computers, and analogue-digital, digital-analogue converters. Everything was dual or triple redundant. Due to the high temperature and vibration environment, every engine controller and its cabling was duplicating. This increased cabling problems to the nth degree. The number of control units increased to 200, and the mass of the cables went from 2 to 3 tonnes. These complex systems were tested only once on the iron bird, once in type trials, once on the functional mock-up of the rocket, and then finally on the first launch. The N1 alone had 2000 black boxes, all developed in a rush without proper development documentation. The situation with the spacecraft was even worse. Pilyugin insisted on developing a guidance system using the latest digital computer technology. He concentrated on this from 1965 to 1967. He ignored the instructions of the state decree and used a gyro platform developed in his own bureau, instead of one from Viktor Kuznetsov at NII-944. Kuznetsov platforms were already proven and used on all military missiles and the Soyuz spacecraft.


1965 December 20 - Decision to use analogue guidance in early N1 launches

Pilyugin called Keldysh to tell him he had heard that Keldysh again wanted to form an expert commission to study guidance system development problems with the N1, with Bushuyev as the head.

Keldysh wielded enormous power. Publicly he was President of the Academy of Sciences at Lenin Prospect 14. But he was also Director of the top secret Institute of Applied Mathematics at Minsk Square. He would spend the first half of each day at the Academy, then hold necessary press conferences and public events, then go over to the Institute and work until one in the morning. So he was working both sides of the street, and had more knowledge and power than any other. The threat of the expert commission led to Korolev's desperate plea - 'give me 800 kg payload and I can solve all of the problems'. It was clear there was no way to make the October 1967 first launch that was Korolev's personal objective. Pilyugin and Ryazanskiy were both having development problems. They reviewed the technical issues, the weight problems, the delays in development of the digital computers. It was decided the first N1-L3 launches would have to be accomplished using analogue control systems - the digital systems would simply not be ready. However the flight to the moon and return could not be accomplished using the planned fuel cells without the digital computers, since the analogue systems consumed too much power. The merits of the competing fuel cell contractors were discussed. The question was again raised -- why not use radioisotope thermal generator RTG's from the Design Bureau of the Ural Atomic Machinery Factory? This organisation had a long track record with Korolev on development of nuclear electric propulsion. But it was decided, again, there was not enough time to develop the new technology -- there was no experience in operation RTG's in a vacuum environment.


1967 March 14 - Lunar flyby/landing program plan reviewed

UR-500K/L1 project will consist of three phases. Phase I will be dedicated to development of the Block D translunar stage, using prototype, incomplete L1 spacecraft. Phase II will conduct lunar flybys with complete but unmanned L1 spacecraft. Phase III will fly Soviet cosmonauts around the moon. The N1/L3 project will consist of five phases. Phase I will use the N1 and the 7K-L1A spacecraft. This will be used primarily to test out the Block G translunar and Block D lunar orbit insertion stages, but will also conduct lunar flybys, returning photographs of the lunar surface to the earth. Phase II will use N1's to fly L3 spacecraft with an unpiloted LOK lunar orbiter and an unpiloted LK lunar lander. Phase III, the first manned missions, will use N1's to fly L3 spacecraft with a piloted LOK lunar orbiter and an unpiloted LK lunar lander. Phase IV will fly a piloted LOK lunar orbiter and an unpiloted LK lunar lander, that will be landed on the lunar surface. In Phase V N1-L3 number 10L is to launch the first manned landing on the moon in September 1968. N1-L3 numbers 11L and 12L were back-ups, in the event any of the planned earlier missions failed.

The detailed schedule was as follows:

UR-500/L1 flights

Phase I:
Vehicle 2P - Complete manufacture: 1966 December; Launch: 1967 February (delayed to March 10)
Vehicle 3P - Complete manufacture: 1967 February; Launch: 1967 March
Phase II:
Vehicle 4L - Complete manufacture: 1967 February; Launch: 1967 May
Vehicle 5L - Complete manufacture: 1967 March; Launch: 1967 June
Phase III:
Vehicle 6L - Complete manufacture: 1967 April; Launch: 1967 July
Vehicle 7L - Complete manufacture: 1967 May; Launch: 1967 August
Vehicle 8L - Complete manufacture: 1967 June; Launch: 1967 August
Vehicle 9L - Complete manufacture: 1967 July; Launch: 1967 September
Vehicle 10L - Complete manufacture: 1967 August; Launch: 1967 September
Vehicle 11L - Complete manufacture: 1967 August; Launch: 1967 October
Vehicle 12L - Complete manufacture: 1967 September; Launch: 1967 October
Vehicle 13L - Complete manufacture: 1967 September (back-up)

N1 flights

Phase I:
Vehicle 3L - Complete manufacture: 1967 June; Launch: 1967 September
Vehicle 4L - Complete manufacture: 1967 December (back-up)
Phase II:
Vehicle 5L - Complete manufacture: 1967 October; Launch: 1967 December
Vehicle 6L - Complete manufacture: 1967 December; Launch: 1968 February
Phase III:
Vehicle 7L - Complete manufacture: 1968 February; Launch: 1968 April
Vehicle 8L - Complete manufacture: 1968 April; Launch: 1968 June
Phase IV:
Vehicle 9L - Complete manufacture: 1968 June; Launch: 1968 August
Phase V:
Vehicle 10L - Complete manufacture: 1968 August; Launch: 1968 Sep
Vehicle 11L - Complete manufacture: 1968 October (back-up)
Vehicle 12L - Complete manufacture: 1968 December (back-up)


1968 January 23 - Three-launch Soviet lunar expedition pitched

The 'big' Soviet of Chief Designers meets and the three-launch landing concept developed a month earlier is presented in detail. Pilyugin pointed out that this was a typical contradiction. Mishin had just made a presentation to the expert commission justifying that the one-launch scheme was safe and reliable. Now they wanted to put forward a new scheme because the one-launch scheme was unsafe and unfeasible.

Glushko piled on by reiterating that the Kuznetsov engines for the N1 were rotten and the effective payload of the N1 was actually zero. The engineers had admitted as much by now saying they needed three launches to accomplish what they said could be done in one launch before. Chelomei was opposed to the new scheme as well. He did not want to see the subject of the design of the lunar spacecraft opened up again. Yangel was also not tempted by the scheme. All at the meeting agreed - Mishin was unable to cope with such development work.

Andrei Grechko was categorically against the three-launch scheme. There was no money in the budget of the Ministry of Defence for such an enterprise. It was only due the political machinations of Ustinov that the Ministry of Defence even ended up paying for such nonsense. This whole programme was a matter for the Academy of Sciences and their budget. The defence department had no need for the moon. He pointed out that here they were again, arguing about whether it was necessary to go to the moon or not - the same argument as five years ago with Khrushchev, and still not resolved. There was no money spent for the N1 until the end of 1964. Now the Ministry of Defence had built the rocket, the buildings, the spacecraft, and trained the astronauts -- and they were still arguing whether to go or not, together or alone, and asking now for even more money.

It was the same situation as with the ICBM's. Despite enormous efforts, the Americans still had more. Instead of building a single reliable model, they were now deadlocked, arguing whether to build Chelomei or Yangel missiles, and now Ustinov was supporting Nadiradze's designs! The decision to go to the moon or not, he declared, rests with Deputy Minister of Defence Andrei Grechko.

Tolubko, First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, said that the generals were exasperated. Here the Minister in charge of the Soviet ballistic rocket and space industries, Afanasyev, must decide first on these more pressing ICBM issues, and you're wasting your time talking about lunar problems. Let Keldysh fund this work himself from the Academy of Sciences budget. Keldysh should go and talk to the Politburo. The problem was not only technical, but political.

But who would want to be the bearer of such bad news? No one volunteered. The meeting was inconclusive but clearly showed the lunar program had no priority. Pilyugin was a creative individual, but he was concentrating on the Temp mobile ICBM, not the lunar project. Chelomei and Yangel both said that their ICBM projects were more important than the lunar program. The military had made it clear that the first priority at TsKBEM was the RT-2 ICBM, not the lunar program. This Nadiradze missile would be developed into a whole series of missiles that would serve Russian into the 21st Century - the Temp, Temp-2S, Pioner, Kuryer, Topol, and Topol-M. Pilyugin was under different reporting lines than the other designers. He was directly controlled by the Ministry of Defence with an absolute priority on missile guidance systems. Keldysh was preoccupied with the Sakharov issue and was working with Suslov to get Sakharov expelled from the Academy of Sciences. Such political issues had higher priority for him than the lunar program.

The meeting degenerated into a session where everyone harped on the failures of the L1 programme. Pilyugin pointed out his guidance system worked perfectly on Zond 6 - only to have the parachute fail at the end of a voyage to the moon and smash the capsule.


1968 October 24 - N1 - lost opportunity in 1961

Glushko has a private conversation with Isayev at the N1 MIK during the Soyuz 3 launch preparations. Glushko revealed to Isayev that in 1961 he had offered Korolev a compromise - if Korolev would use the same 'packet' scheme for the N1 that he had used on the R-7, so that the individual engine modules could be individually tested on the ground before flight, Glushko would give up his insistence on the use of storable propellants. However, after checking with Mishin, Korolev would not compromise.

Glushko decided then to go ahead on this own and develop a 600 tonne thrust storable propellant engine within six years. If Korolev had agreed in 1961, Glushko would have provided the necessary engine for the N1 to be launched in 1966 - and Russia would have beat the Americans to the moon... However instead of engaging in a quiet discussion with Glushko on the matter, Korolev gave the whole thing to Mishin for analysis.


1968 December 23 - Soviet crisis meeting mulls response to Apollo 8

Following the success of Apollo 8, Ustinov calls a crisis meeting at the Ministry of Defence. His question - how to reply to the American's success?

Ustinov points out that the Americans obviously had a better moon landing programme than the Soviets, as well as better management skills. He estimated there were 1.5 million Americans working on the Apollo programme, as opposed to only 500,000 Soviet citizens working on the Russian counterpart programmes. The American programme was under firm state control by a single Agency (NASA) as opposed to the Communist system, based on comradely co-operation between many entities. What then shall we do? asked Ustinov. It was suggested that he order Pilyugin to give priority to development of the N1-L3 guidance system. Currently the guidance for Yangel and Nadiradze ICBM's had priority in his bureau. Pilyugin himself suggested abandonment of the single-launch profile for the two launch variant for the N1-L3. This would mean it would take 4 to 5 years to land a Russian on the moon rather than 3 to 4 years. Who will care anyway? said Pilyugin. The Americans will have been there already.


1968 December 25 - Soviets consider lunar landing alternatives

A 'small Soviet' of designers was held to review whether to continue pursuing the N1 launch vehicle or not. Although a first manned lunar landing was not achievable, the N1 could still be used to establish a lunar base by the beginning of the 21st Century.

It was pointed out that the Saturn V put 135 tonnes in low earth orbit, sent 45 tonnes on translunar injection, including the 30 tonne CSM lunar orbiter and the 15 tonne LM lunar lander. It was just impossible for Russia to achieve the same thing with the 30 tonne translunar injection payload of the N1. So a return to the two-launch scenario was proposed, but without the dockings in low earth orbit or during the translunar coast. Instead it was suggested an unmanned three-crew LK lunar lander be placed in lunar orbit. This would be followed by a piloted LOK. The rendezvous and docking would take place in lunar orbit. The new-design LK would have room for three cosmonauts and the spacecraft would be equipped with a docking tunnel, allowing transfer of the crews without having to go through free space.

Another suggestion was a three launch scheme. First an unpiloted shelter would be landed on the surface of the moon. This would be followed by a new 4-5 crew lunar orbiter. Finally a new version LK would be launched, rendezvous and dock with the LOK in lunar orbit. The crew would descend to the surface for a long-term stay in their nascent lunar base. The shelter would be equipped with a 2 to 3 kW power generator, a radio station, television transmitter, a lunar rover, and sufficient oxygen, water, and food for a one-month stay on the surface. The shelter would be landed automatically, but be equipped with a beacon so the manned LK could make a precision landing in a safe area nearby.

The latter was the agreed approach, but there were several problems. It would mean going back to the drawing boards to make completely new designs for the LOK and LK, negating five years of work on the existing designs. Pilyugin would have to redesign his guidance system to allow programming of flexible trajectories to the moon and the lunar surface. This would duplicate 2 to 3 tonnes of payload in the Block D and G stages, which would still have to be equipped with the old guidance system. The engineers decided this was the only way ahead, but that Mishin had to be approached by the 'back door' with the idea.


1968 December 30 - Meeting of the VPK Military-Industrial Commission to discuss how to beat the Americans to the lunar landing

Ustinov called the meeting to order. Mishin was 'sick' again -- Okhapkin represented TsKBEM and gave a summary of the programme to that date:

  • The project had only been authorised on 3 August 1964. It consisted of two parts, circumlunar flights using Chelomei's UR-500K booster and LK-1 spacecraft, and a lunar landing using Korolev's N1 booster and L3 spacecraft.
  • On 25 October 1965 the programme was redirected. Military support was ordered and the decision was made to cancel Chelomei's LK-1 spacecraft and instead use the L1 version of Korolev's Soyuz for the circumlunar flights. This was ordered by the resolution 'On organisation of construction units for support of rocket-space systems for the lunar flyby'. That resolution ordered a manned L1 flight by the end of 1967 or early 1968.
  • The program actually took three years to implement rather than the two planned. Nine launches of he L1 had been made since March 1967, but it had not been possible to man-rate the UR-500K/L1 booster/spacecraft combination due to failures in both the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Flight trials of the N1 booster had not even begun yet.

Keldysh proposed that further work on the L1 be abandoned, and Proton boosters instead be used to launch the Ye-8-5 lunar soil return robot spacecraft being developed by Babakin. Babakin had been accelerating this programme since the beginning of 1968 with the support of Keldysh, even though it would only return around 100 g of lunar soil, versus the tens of kilograms the Apollo manned flights would return. However it now offered an interesting possibility - he proposed obtaining lunar soil and returning it to earth before an American manned landing. The government's organs of mass communication would say that the Soviet Union's lunar program only consisted of robot probes, emphasising that his was much safer and that Russia would never risk it's citizen's lives for mere political sensation.

This seemed attractive, but how could the direction be changed? The L1 and L3 projects were enshrined and funded in the state's Five Year Plan, and could not be simply abandoned or altered. It would be necessary to obtain approval of the Central Committee, the Soviet Ministers, the Military-Industrial Commission, and other involved ministries. This was simply not possible, and it would be impossible to keep the planned deception secret. New decrees would have to be formulated and approved to change direction. This had been done before, by Korolev in 1961, but it was no simple task. Pilyugin again reiterated that all of the state's priorities in any case must remain on development of solid propellant ICBM's.


1969 January 8 - Plan for Soviet lunar and planetary launches to answer America's Apollo program during 1969 approved.

Central Committee of the Communist Party and Council of Soviet Ministers Decree 19-10 'On Work on Research of the Moon, Venus and Mars by Automatic Stations--work on automated lunar and interplanetary spacecraft' was issued.

The decree sets forth the plans for Soviet lunar and planetary launches to answer America's Apollo program during 1969. There will be Ye-8-5 soil return launches in April, May, June, August, and September. Ye-8 lunar rover launches will be made in February, October, and November. Two Venera-69 launches to Venus will be made in January. Launches of Mars-69 will be made in March and April. This compared to American plans for Apollo 9 on 28 February, Apollo 10 in April, followed by the Apollo 11 moon landing in June or July. Kamanin notes that this is a very grandiose plan, but not backed up by the necessary reliable boosters, spacecraft, or trained launch crews. Meanwhile Soviet manned space plans for 1969 have not even been agreed. There will be perhaps 3 to 4 Soyuz earth orbital flights and 1 or 2 L1 manned lunar flybys. Kamanin views all of this as the result of the mistakes of the last 3 to 4 years, chief of which was the reliance on automated systems. Chertok observes that Babakin's team was suited to be handed the torch -- they were young and enthusiastic, while the engineers at TsKBEM were tired, burned out, and dispirited.


1969 February 9 - Final meeting held to review the N1 before the launch.

Marshal Krylov, Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, headed the meeting. The conference room was mobbed - many unfamiliar faces were in attendance - everyone wanted to witness the historic event. General Kurushin, Commander of Baikonur, stated that he was against proceeding with the launch, due to the many unresolved technical issues, unless he could somehow be persuaded otherwise. He pointed out that Mishin had made a large number of changes to the N1 to increase its payload. However these at the same time negatively impacted the booster's reliability.

These were done in response to expert commission recommendations, and not been properly documented. The changes included:

- Adding six NK-15 engines to the base
- Reducing the inclination of the L3 parking orbit from 65 deg to 52 deg and its altitude from 300 km to 220 km
- Extending the propellant tanks, and chilling the propellants - the fuel was now loaded at -15 deg C to -20 deg C, and the oxidiser at -191 deg C
- Increasing the thrust of the engines by 2%
- Lightening the panels of the booster's body

Mishin countered that test versions of all four stages except the first stage had been successfully tested on stands at Zagorsk. Furthermore, all electric, hydraulic, and structural tests had been completed on the 1M mock-up on the pad. The launch should go ahead with the 7K-L1S circumlunar payload and a launch date of 18 February 1969. Barmin declared his launch complex was ready for the firing.

Therefore the session concluded with the State Commission approving the roll-out of N1 booster 3L to the pad for electrical trials. In discussing the schedule delays, it was revealed that TsNIIMASH/NII-88 had conducted exhaustive tests on models of the N1. They had discovered problems with embrittlement of the new aluminium alloy used in the booster's tanks in place of the more ductile alloy used in the R-7, R-9, and N1 side panels. Existing tank parts that had been fabricated had to be scrapped and new articles built with a heavier alloy. And this had taken place simultaneously with efforts to reduce weight in the booster! Ten different alternative alloys were subjected to long, gruelling durability tests using partial structural articles built at Kuibyshev and Tyuratam before the correct substitute material was found. Furthermore, the high-altitude versions of the NK-15 planned for the second stage were not yet available. Therefore 3L would fly using the same low-altitude nozzle as the first stage engines. This change in turn meant that the planned new digital guidance system from NIIAP could not be used. A back-up analogue guidance system would have to be used in all three stages instead. Therefore, in truth, 3L would represent only a partial test of the rocket stages, not a test of the all-up booster.


1969 February 21 - N1 3L launch

N-1 serial number 3L was the first N-1 launched. The vehicle ran into trouble immediately at lift-off. A fire developed 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. British intelligence detected the launch attempt, but the CIA's technical means for some reason missed it and they denied for years that it had ever occurred. In retrospect the launch team at Baikonur pointed to a grave mistake - at the christening of the first N1, the champagne bottle broke against the crawler-transporter rather than the hull of the rocket. After the 3L failure everyone knew there was no chance at all of beating the Americans to the moon.

On the day of the launch the assembly building and worker's villages at Areas 112 and 113 were completely evacuated on the principle that 'God helps them what helps themselves'. The launch directors at the Sixth Control Centre were: Colonel Pavel Katayev, Yevgeniy Moiseyev, Launch Complex commander Colonel Anatoliy Kirillov, N1 Chief Designer Boris Dorofeyev, Afanasyev, and Mishin.

The payload was the 7K-L1A adaptation of the 7K-L1 spacecraft. This had a modified engine block and a total mass of 6900 kg. The planned mission was a lunar orbital flight. The L3 assembly would have been placed into a 204 x 287 km orbit of the earth at 597 seconds after lift-off. Total mass in earth orbit would have been 70.56 tonnes (the Block G, Block D, and 7K-L1A). The launch window for the lunar launch was open from 18 to 21 February; the launch was made on the last possible day. The N1 had a total mass of 2762 tonnes at ignition and 2756 tonnes at lift-off. Lift-off thrust was measured at 4,590 tonnes. The propellants had been densified before loading by chilling the Lox to -191 deg C and the fuel to -15 deg C. The mission plan called for the Block G to put the Block D and 7K-L1A on a translunar trajectory. After a 3.5 day coast to the moon, the Block D would fire and place the assembly into lunar orbit. After two days of photography of the lunar surface, the Block D would fire again and place the 7K-L1A on a trans-earth trajectory. The Block D would separate and the 7K-L1A would use its own engines for mid-course corrections on the return leg. After re-entry in the atmosphere, the 7K-L1A would be recovered on Soviet territory.

Chertok's account:

Launch came at 12:18:07 local time. The heat of the exhaust vaporised the top few meters of the launch pad's concrete. The booster rose into the sky on a pillar of flame 3 to 4 times longer than its own 110 m height. However telemetry later revealed the vehicle had run into trouble immediately at lift-off. As a result of a rising high frequency oscillation in the gas generator of engine number two, some engine components tore off their mounts, resulting in a forced leak of propellants, setting in motion a fire in the tail compartment. The BKS 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 70 seconds into the flight. The escape tower worked as designed. The remains of the N1 crashed 52 km downrange from the pad.

In the control room gloom prevailed. 'Everything has ended' - 'All those years of work down the drain..' Only Barmin was upbeat - 'don't worry, my launch complex is note damaged'. Barmin had said the same thing on the first R-7 launch on 15 May 1957. But that first ICBM had run for 100 seconds, which was an enormous accomplishment at that time, but nothing today. There was much more at stake. Five years of enormous and costly effort may have died with the booster.

The preliminary investigation into the cause of the failure took several days, but Mishin was impatient to know the cause. Preliminary word was that the problem was a turbogenerator, but it took until March for a more complete analysis to be available. A turbogenerator had leaked hot 340 deg C gas. This had started a fire in the compartment. The KORD engine control system was affected, and a 1000 Hz vibration of the booster, in harmony with the operating frequency of the system, stimulated an erroneous shut-down command to all engines. The operating voltage of the system had increased to 25 V instead of the 15 V design voltage. The solution implemented for the next booster was to reroute the KORD sensor and command lines, and to insulate them with asbestos. However the leadership still refused to pay for a test stand at Tyuratam to ground-test the Block A first stage! The project budget just couldn't accommodate the expense...

After the 3L failure everyone knew there was no chance at all of beating the Americans to the moon. The revised programme included further unmanned L1 flights, automated return of lunar soil by Babakin's robot landers, a crash programme of Soyuz 7K-OK earth orbit manned flights, and development of new versions of the Soyuz for military space programmes. 5L was scheduled for the next test launch. Booster 4L had always been seen as a back-up booster for the failed 3L, and there was no manpower available to complete it.

Kamanin's account:

At 41 seconds after launch, one of the 32 engines of the N1 first stage shuts down, followed by all of the others. The KORD should have only shut down one engine opposite the failing engine -- and the launch vehicle could still continue with the loss of six engines. The booster reached its peak altitude of 27 km at 50 seconds into the flight, then continued to impact 23 km down range. The L1 spacecraft capsule was pulled away by the SAS escape tower, and landed under its parachute successfully. Kamanin observes that the Soviet lunar program is depending on the success of the N1, but a series of UR-500K launches could be used as well to assemble the lunar spacecraft in low earth orbit. In his opinion the N1 may one day fly, but it can never be a reliable booster due to the inherent design flaws.


1969 May 29 - N1 State Commission

Over two days a State Commission reviewed all of the conclusions of the N1 3L failure investigation and the readiness of N1 5L for flight. All of the fixes identified to remedy the 3L failure had been incorporated into 5L. It was felt that the behaviour of the systems in fire conditions were understood and appropriate measures had been taken. The wiring had been rerouted and insulated. Barmin wanted the system not to shut down any engines under any conditions during the first 15-20 seconds of flight, so that the booster would clear the pad and there would be no risk of the pad's destruction. But there was no time to develop such measures before the 5L launch; it could only be added in vehicle 6L.

6L was planned to have the first real payload, not an L3S mock-up as on 3L and 5L, but a functional LOK lunar orbiter that would travel to the moon. The members discussed the new aspect in 6L of fuelling the Lox/LH2 into the LOK fuel cells. This had never been done during trials, and would only be accomplished for the first time on the pad prior to 6L's launch. The launch site troops were nervous about handling LH2, even in such small quantities, and wanted the safety of the fuelling set-up to be guaranteed.

3 July was selected as the date for the 5L launch. Whereas 3L had launched in -25 deg C, 5L would be launched in the heat of high summer. 6L was pencilled in for launch by the end of the year as an LOK test. Key new systems that had to be ready by then included the fuel cells, the NIIAP digital computers, the Kontakt docking system, and its associated optical sensors by Geofizika. Keldysh declared that if 5L failed, the LOK would be removed and 6L and 7L would be used solely as tests of the launch vehicle. Even if 5L succeeded, Keldysh felt the LOK and LK wouldn't be reliable enough in time to challenge an American lunar landing. 6L and 7L should still be used primarily to work out the launch vehicle subsystems at an accelerated launch rate.

The L3S was no LOK lunar orbiter, just an 'ersatz' replacement. Keldysh pointed out that the engineers had been unable to solve the problems of a lunar flyby using the L1. What guarantee was there that the L3S would even work? The immediate concern had to be accelerated testing of the launch vehicle.

Deputy Minister Tyulin supported Keldysh in this approach. There was a need to test the 'insurance' versions of the N1 with only a dummy payload. Mishin strongly disagreed. He wanted the LOK to fly on 6L, followed by 7L with an 'all-up' L3 - a functioning LOK, LK lander, Block D crasher stage. The LK would make an automated landing on the moon.

Bushuyev declared that this was flatly impossible. The 5L and 6L realistically only be equipped with an L3S, and even then a lunar flyby could not be guaranteed --it was only planned to be sent on an escape trajectory or high elliptical orbit, nothing even close to the moon. Serbin countered that the orders of the Central Committee were for 5L to fly around the moon. They could not unilaterally make a decision to deviate from that objective without going back to the Central Committee and asking their permission. Smirnov nodded heavily in agreement. Afanasyev scribbled in his notebook. The Central Committee was to be asked to release the mission planners from the flyby objective for 5L and 6L.

The commission next discussed the use of the N-11 for unmanned Mars probes and the N1 for manned Mars expeditions. Okhapkin presented the case for the use of the N-11 to launch such missions. Mishin had, not very tactfully, placed a model of the vehicle on the table before the commission. Neither Keldysh nor Afanasyev had seen the proposed booster before, and they did not like surprises. Mishin plunged ahead with his presentation anyway:

"At the this time we would like to begin work on the N11, which will replace Chelomei's UR-500 Proton while having better safety features. The N11 will use the second and third stages of the N1, which has already been developed. The Americans used a similar concept with their Saturn IB, which uses the upper stage of the Saturn V. Those of you who support Chelomei's UR-500/UR-700 building-block concept will have to support this as well -- it is the same approach".

The reaction was swift. Right now the leadership wanted nothing to do with such a scheme. The military already had all of the programs needed in hand. There was no point to spend hundreds of millions of roubles on an alternate solution to a military problem that had already been solved.

However VPK Deputy Chairman Pashkov pointed out correctly that the 'Little Grand Alliance' of Yangel and Chelomei had no trouble in forcing the military to accept duplicate solutions in the field of strategic rockets. The government was spending billions of roubles to develop and deploy both designer's replacements for the UR-100 ICBM. Meanwhile Makeyev received funds for endless development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles of ever-increasing technical sophistication - in fact, more advanced than the rockets of any other bureau. At the same time Ustinov supported Nadiradze in the development of alternate solid propellant ICBM's. Afanasyev supported any rocket system that would be developed and built by enterprises under his ministry. And every single one of these duplicate projects had greater priority than the exploration of the moon and Mars.

Keldysh, however, supported Mishin's plans for the MEK Mars expedition. This ambitious project would use the MPK Mars spacecraft, which in turn consisted of the MOK; MPK; ZA return capsule; and the EU nuclear propulsion unit. Missions of two to three years duration were envisioned, at a time when there was no medical support for any missions in excess of two to three months! This Mars declaration of Mishin did not enjoy great support within OKB-1. There was simply no time to devote to it with all the rest of the programs on the plate. But Keldysh lent his support, however qualifying that with 'not at the expense of the L3'. He summarised his position: he supported development of a Lox/LH2 third stage for the N1 as soon as possible. Then two N1 launches could orbit sufficient payload for manned flight to Mars. However he did not support the N11 just now. The UR-500 was already in place, and development of the N11 would be an unnecessary luxury.

Mishin replied that there were not L3 workers assigned to the Mars projects. Furthermore development of a Lox/LH2 stage had not been neglected - a fourth stage using these propellants was already in development, and stand tests would begin within the year.

VPK Chairman Smirnov turned to the spectacular mission planned for that year's October Revolution anniversary. Three manned Soyuz spacecraft would orbit the earth simultaneously. Two would dock while the third transmitted television of the event to earth. He was advised that the success of the mission depended on the Igla automatic rendezvous and docking system functioning correctly. Afanasyev noted, that in the wake of a possible successful American moon landing, this was an important mission for the Communist Party. He fastened his eye on Chertok and instructed him to make sure the docking system functioned - using Chertok's own bare hands to assemble it if necessary.

Finally the decisions were made. The day was set for the launch of N1 5L. Chelomei would be asked to draw up a draft project for a manned expedition to Mars.


1969 July 3 - N1 5L launch

N-1 serial number 5L began to fail at 0.25 second after liftoff 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. Engines were shutdown 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 dummy descent module away from the pad. Upon impact of the base of the N1 with the pad, the vehicle exploded, destroying launch pad 110 east, which would take over 18 months to repair. This was the end of a slight Soviet hope of upstaging the US Apollo 11.

N1 5L had barely lifted off when peripheral engine number 8 shut down at 0.25 seconds into the flight. The booster had climbed to 200 m at T+12 seconds, when all engines shut down except number 18. The booster began to fall back, except the thrust of engine 18 tipped it from the vertical. At T+15 seconds the SAS abort tower fired, pulling the upper shroud and re-entry capsule off into the darkness. At T+23 seconds the base of the N1 hit the launch pad, and 2500 tonnes of liquid oxygen and kerosene exploded, illuminating the steppe for dozens of kilometres. At Leninsk, 35 km away, an enormous bright light burst in the north, and the residents knew the unthinkable had happened. All of the windows were blown out of the apartment buildings at area 113, and at the back-up N1 launch complex 6 km away. Everyone was ordered out of the bunker except Afanasyev, Dorofeyev, Kirillov, and Moiseyev. 'It rained kerosene' one witness said. 'At least no one was hurt,' said another. 'Not true,' intoned Barmin, 'we who built this launch complex will have to rebuild it'. He demanded an investigative commission to fix the blame for the catastrophe.

The cost was not so much in roubles as in the years of time it would take to rebuild. But the left N1 launch pad was intact and available for further launches. Further preparations for N1 launches were cancelled until the disaster investigative commission had completed its report. Barmin stated flatly he would never again allow one of his pads to be used for launch of a rocket that was capable of shutting down its engines. It must be designed to crash away from the launch pad.

Kuznetsov was pushed from the first moments after the launch to accept responsibility based on the hypothesis of a foreign object in a turobpump. The KORD had commanded shutdowns of engines 7, 19, 20, and 21 - but telemetry indicated this did not occur. Number 18 had chaotic performance parameters before it shut down. In that engine's lox pump's steel diaphragm a sensor spiked with incredible force. Kuznetsov blamed this pump as the source or another 'external object'. Mishin believed the failure was due to a defective pump rotor, which disintegrated at start-up. However Mishin couldn't state his position publicly -- after all, he had defended use of Kuznetsov's engines to a state commission at the end of 1967. So Kuznetsov, his engineers, and the military inspectors all blamed a 'foreign object'.


1969 July 22 - Soviet post-mortems after Apollo 11

Two sequential N1 failures could not just be blamed on the poor reliability of the first stage. It was apparent that, compared to the Americans, both the management and the development practices of the Soviet space programme were inferior to the Americans. Politically there was no consensus within the Soviet state of the need for a space programme. Glushko and Ustinov waged a perpetual struggle against Afanasyev, Keldysh, and Mishin. RVSN Commander Kirillov wrote a letter to Smirnov on behalf of Afanasyev on the root causes of the failures. His faction believed these were the continued use of artillery/military rocket development practices for large, complex systems. These outdated practices required 20 to 60 flight tests to achieve reliability before a rocket could be put into production.

The poor results of all of the current generation of space programmes - Luna, Mars, Venera, L1, and L3 - showed that new development methods were required. Extensive ground test was needed prior to first flight trials. New, extensively qualified basic spacecraft and rocket components were needed.

Ustinov's reply to this letter was dismissive. This was nothing new, even his ministry had proposed such measures, which were the ones the Americans were using. The Ministry of Defence had not approved funds for development of reusable Kuznetsov engines (which could be static tested prior to launch, as American engines), or a test stand for the Block A first stage, or N11 rocket tests (the basic booster without Block D or payload). This lack of funding, not the method of development, was the reason for the problems.


1969 August 1 - VPK hearing on N1 improvements

The VPK Military-Industrial Commission and the Central Committee of he Party discussed the matter of delaying further N1 tests until completely redesigned engines became available. Back came the ritual reply -- a Soviet manned lunar landing must be achieved by the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Lenin (April 22, 1970). On that date a Soviet man would plant the Red Banner and unveil a bust of Lenin on the lunar surface. Unlike the US President, Brezhnev would never get to see a manned launch to the moon.

Measures identified to rectify the N1's problems were:

- improved engine control systems
- Redesign of the oxidiser pumps, with sensors providing more data on performance during operation
- filters in the pumps to keep out foreign objects from the propellant tanks and lines
- use of nitrogen gas to flood the engine compartment prior to launch, which would continue during ascent
- instrumentation cables and all critical elements of the booster structure to be insulated against high temperatures
- removal of critical engine control components to a safe area, away from the engine compartment
- block any possibility of an engine shutdown being commanded during the first 50 seconds of flight
- development of means to prevent destruction of the launch pad in case of failures in the first few seconds of flight. This required some fundamental changes. Since the V-2, all rockets had been programmed to ascend vertically during the first 5 to 6 seconds of flight before pitching over toward the target. The final solution was a guidance system that controlled the rocket of even a failing rocket from the first second of motion to its crash into the steppes of Kazakhstan. The same approach was used 15 years later for the Energia booster.

OKB-1 engine specialists Melnikov, Sokolv, and Raikov had developed the restartable engine for the N1's Block D and collaborated with Kuznetsov on the N1 engines. They confirmed that the only way to achieve absolute engine reliability was to completely redesign the engines to be reusable. But the new engines would not be available until 1972 at the earliest


1969 September 1 - Soviets study NASA's ambitious plans

NASA gave the US President a 130-page programme outlining plans for America's future space programme. The thing read to the Soviets like a science fiction novel, with reusable space ferries, huge orbital stations and lunar bases, nuclear rocket stages, and manned Mars expeditions. There was no way the Soviet Union could compete with such a programme -- and that was leaving unconsidered the massive American military space progamme.

In 1969 NASA had 301,745 employees, including 13,700 senior engineers and scientists. Another 218,435 contractor staff worked on NASA projects. NASA's charter was to pursue all non-military space activities with a clearly defined budget separate from the military. By comparison, in Russia, every General Designer had his own ideas and agenda. The space budget and authority was spread over ten different ministries and entities - the Ministry of Defence, the General Staff, TsUKOS, RVSN, the Central Committee, the VPK, the Politburo, the Soviet Ministers. In the VPK and Kremlin this system of space exploration was known as 'state feudalism'. However the Soviet engineers were but soldiers in the Cold War and could but only occasionally serve on the second 'space' front.

The US plan foresaw a permanent manned space station by 1977, a 50-man space bridgehead in low earth orbit by 1980-1984, increasing to 100 staff by 1989. Eight Apollo lunar expeditions would be flown in 1970-1972, to be followed by a permanent lunar base station in 1980-1983. A manned expedition to Mars would be accomplished in 1981.

If this read to the Soviets like science fiction, that's because it was. America would not even achieve its completed permanent space station until well into the 21st Century (if the ISS is ever completed). Chertok observed: what a historical paradox! In the USSR, the lunar program was in crisis due to a series of crashes and disasters. In America, their program was in crisis at the moment of greatest triumph because they couldn't decide how to proceed further...


1969 October 19 - DOS Conspiracy briefed to wide circle of space planners

In the euphoria after the return of the Soyuz 6/7/8 crews, the problem was how to get Ustinov to meet further with the DOS 'conspirators'. Mishin had prohibited any meetings by TsKBEM staff with the Communist Party Secretary unless Mishin was also present. Another obstacle was that Feoktistov was not a party member; how could his presence at a party meeting be explained to Mishin later?

In any event these consideations were simply ignored. Feoktistov was present at a party meeting with Keldysh, Afanasyev, Tyulin, Serbin, and the Ministry of Defence's party cell: Strogonov, Kravtsev, and Popov. Keldysh was mainly worried how the project would affect the N1, but was reassured that the N1 had a dedicated work force, and the L3 lunar lander spacecraft engineers and workers that would work on DOS were currently idle and had no part of that work. It was finally decided to go ahead with the DOS no earlier than January, to allow time for Ministry Decrees, approval of a work plan by the VPK, preparation of a decree for signature by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Soviet Ministers. Work began on the project in December 1969 under the initial auspices of the Academy of Sciences.

After the meeting, convinced of Ustinov's support, the 'conspirators' were left with just a year to build the station. Engineers immediately started to switch from the dead-end L3 lunar spacecraft effort to DOS. Bushuyev was worried that this only further sealed the fate of the N1. It was in any case important that the matter be formalised quickly. Being discovered working on it would be an embarrassment.

The biggest new development required was the docking collar and hatch unit. Semenov (L1 manager, and later head of RKK Energia) was the obvious project leader - the L1 had only two flights to go and he had demonstrated on that project the ability to maintain good communications and relations with OKB-52 and Chelomei. But how did they know whether he would support the DOS concept?


1969 December 6 - The DOS Conspiracy in the open

Afanasyev met with the Chief Designers - Pilyugin, Ryazanskiy, V Kuznetsov, and Chelomei's Deputy, Eydis. Mishin was 'sick' and Chelomei had sent his deputy, as usual, to avoid having to meet Mishin. Afanasyev started with the demand that an Almaz flight take place within less than two years, before the end of the Eighth Five Year Plan. He asked Eydis to install an Igla passive docking system to permit docking with the station of the existing Soyuz 7K-OK as opposed to the planned 7K-S. If Chelomei's bureau could not meet this requirement, then the 'conspirator's' DOS project could be authorised in its place.

An extensive discussion of the future course of the Soviet manned space program followed. Eydis pleaded that the Almaz program not be infringed upon. If an early station was desired, completion of an Almaz could be started on 1 January. The station would not have any military systems or ECS ready, but could be modified for docking with a 7K-OK. He noted that work on Almaz had been underway since 1965, all based on the requirements of the Ministry of Defence. TsUKOS and the General Staff wanted to conduct research in reconnaissance systems - infrared, wide-spectrum, high resolution, and television transmission. Their objectives went far beyond launch of a simple space station.

Throughout these discussions Afanasyev did not praise or criticise any of the speakers. Obviously he had to formally discuss the matter with Ustinov before any decision could be made - however this was all theatre. Ustinov had approved the concept in principle in a meeting with the 'conspirators' in October.


1971 March 1 - N1-L3 loses remaining priority

The Soviet leadership regained some interest in the N1-L3, after the near-tragedy of Apollo 13. It was felt that the Americans might cancel the remainder of the Apollo programme, leaving the road to the moon clear for the Soviet Union. However the successful flight of Apollo 14 redeemed the project, and the Central Committee lost all interest in the N1-L3.

A completely modernised KORD engine control system had been developed for the booster, but without direction from above many factories refused to complete necessary components. For example, the Zagorsk Optico-mechanical Factory, which reported to the Ministry of Defence, was to have delivered 50 electronic black boxes for each N1. However the only N1 to fly with these units was number 7L, since delivery of these components was not finished until the end of 1971. Similar situations existed at other factories providing components, forcing work-arounds. Controlling the configuration of each launch vehicle became extremely difficult in such circumstances. Finally management was given a simple measure of the problem - percentage of equipment in each vehicle that was according to the bill of material. The balance was workarounds.


1971 April 14 - N1 threatened again

An expert commission met to consider the N1-L3. Keldysh made several categorical demands:

  • the laser-based Kontakt rendezvous and docking system had to either be backed up with redundancy throughout, or an independent back-up system had to be developed
  • the L3 had to be designed with an internal transfer compartment, as was being done for the DOS/7K-T space station system
  • each stage of the N1 had to undergo flammability tests
  • the mission scenario had to be reformulated to provide support by more than one cosmonaut on the moon at a time, and use of automated landers and rovers from Babakin at Lavochkin
  • landings of the capsule in the equatorial oceans of the world had to be eliminated. The capsules had to land on the territory of the USSR

Keldysh's attitude was considered 'very evil'. If TsKBEM did not develop these measures, he would refuse further support for the N1. Mishin told his staff to simply ignore Keldysh. The demands made were simply impossible. Furthermore, Mishin was the only one who could have replaced Korolev anyway, Mishin declared.

Mishin's engineers assessed the changes demanded by the expert commission. To put an internal docking tunnel in the LK would mean a three-year delay. The OTI orientation and manoeuvring engine package would have to be completely rearranged to something like the Americans had on their Lunar Module. It was necessary to convince Mishin, and thereby Keldysh, and thereby Afanasyev, and thereby Ustinov of this. However others said the subject should not be pursued now to avoid antagonising the leadership. Better to wait and see if the launch vehicle ever gets to orbit first.


1971 June 1 - N1-6L launch commission

The review of launch preparations veers off into a discussion of what the booster was now for. Pilyugin questioned the seriousness of intent of the TsKBEM staff. The digital control system priorities within the bureau were with DOS and Almaz -- why wasn't the N1-L3 the priority? Mishin had never been told that the N1-L3 development was lagging. It had no priority with the leadership. Top priority at TsKBEM was Nadiradze's solid propellant ICBM's, followed by the DOS Salyut station, and now Soyuz-Apollo preparations. Meanwhile it was finally recognised that a single-launch scenario was simply impossible, and two N1 launches would be needed to accomplish the lunar landing. But there was no political will to tell the Politburo the bad news -- that two N1's would be needed to be launched to accomplish the landing. The final conclusion was that the bureau needed a new direction, a project with national priority, like the DOS station. Strategic rocket work could be ruled out, as there were already too many players in that field.

So the enormous N1-launched UMOK (Universal Multi-Module Orbital Station) was conceived. Universal subsystem elements common to all modules were identified: a control/navigation system, solar/star sensors for orientation, gyroscopic systems for stabilisation and orientation, environmental control systems, temperature regulation systems, electrical distribution equipment, automatic rendezvous systems, displays, radios, communications, television, digital computers and their digital to analogue interfaces, and finally a common KTDU propulsion system. Isayev was consulted on the issue - how to move to a universal KTDU design that could be used with payloads of a wide range of payload masses. But Isayev suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack. His funeral had to be scheduled between the N1-6L launch on 27 June and the Soyuz 11 launch on 30 June, 1971.


1971 June 26 - N1 6L

Superbooster failure of N1 serial number 6L. This was a substantially improved vehicle, incorporating filters in the propellant lines to prevent any foreign objects from getting into the pumps. The shape of the tail of the booster was modified, and ventilation and refrigeration systems were added to keep the engine compartment cool. It was painted white overall to reduce temperatures while sitting on the pad. After liftoff and ascent, an axial rotation was introduced by gas dynamics interactions of the thirty engines with the air slipstream. The launch vehicle developed a roll beyond the capability of the control system to compensate. and began to break up as it went through Max Q. Control was lost at 50.2 seconds into the flight and it was destroyed by range safety a second later. The engines functioned well and did not shut down up to the point of vehicle destruction. No functional payload was carried. It has been stated that this launch did not have a working launch escape system.

N1-6L was launched on the night of 26-27 June at 02:11:52 Moscow time. All thirty engines ignited successfully, and the first 5 seconds of flight were nominal. But from the first motion off the ground the booster began a slow axial rotation. By 14 seconds after launch this had reached 8 degrees per second. The booster's gyroscopic platform commanded an AUD - energy engine shutdown. But the command was not accepted by the control system - as agreed with Barmin, to save the launch pad, it was blocked until T+50 seconds. By that time the booster had rolled 60 degrees, and as soon as the filter was removed, all 30 engines were shut down. The booster crashed 30 km downrange. Without the signal blocking the booster would have crashed 1 km from the pad, seriously damaging the launch complex. The viewers remembers at V-2 crash commission at Kapustin Yar in 1948., where Pilyugin declared he favoured rocket failures, since nothing could be learned from a nominal launch. But this did little to diminish the gloom, which was exacerbated by the space community attending Isayev's funeral a day later.


1971 July 4 - Soyuz 11 failure investigation

This was a very difficult time for TsKBEM. All work at the bureaus came to a complete halt after the loss of Soyuz 11 and N1 6L. Simultaneous expert commissions investigated the loss of N1 6L and Soyuz 11. TsKBEM was seen as responsible for every failure. A virtually legal process ensued to fix guilt. Every design decision was examined and questioned.

Why didn't the crew wear spacesuits? It was a Korolev decision, the engineers replied, dating back to Voskhod. Only Kamanin had disputed the decision at the time. There had never been a problem with depressurisation in all previous Soyuz and Vostok flights. The valve in question normally would open automatically at an altitude of 2 to 3 km to allow fresh air into the capsule after the heat of re-entry. The valve was difficult to close - it was thought the only eventuality where the crew would need to close it was in the case of a landing in water. For the air to have vented into free space as it did, two valves had to have opened, which could only be actuated by separate electrical commands. The circuits were designed to be fail-safe, and it should have been impossible for them to both to have opened in a vacuum. The Mir magnetic tape system recorded the awful events. This showed the valves opened within only 0.06 seconds at 01:47:26.5 Moscow time. At that moment the cabin pressure was 915 mm. It took 115 seconds for the cabin to vent to 50 mm pressure, where it stabilised.

At separation of the orbital module after retrofire, Volkov was emotional - his pulse was 120. Patsayev's was at 92 to 106, and Dobrovolsky at 78-85. The average for cosmonauts at retrofire in earlier flights was 120, with Tereshkova setting the record at 160. A few seconds later, as the crew became aware of the leak, Drobrovlsky's pulse had increased to 114 and Volkov's to 180. 50 seconds after separation, Patsayev's pulse was down to 42, characteristic of someone suffering oxygen starvation. Dobrovolsky's quickly fell as well. At 110 seconds the hearts of all three men had stopped. Death came at 120 seconds after jettison.

The capsule, with the dead crew aboard, pulled the normal 3.3 G's during re-entry. It experienced a slow rotation due to the air venting through the open valve.

Many tests were conducted, including on a mock-up capsule in a large vacuum chamber at Star City, but the valve failure just could not b e duplicated. Ilya Lavrov, the designer of the environmental control system, became very distraught. He had tried to convince Korolev years earlier that if the spacesuits were deleted, at least the crew should be provided with aviation-style oxygen masks, which would give them at least 2 to 3 minutes time to act in case of cabin decompression. This would have given the crew enough time to have closed the valve (which should have taken 20 seconds according to the engineers, but had actually taken the cosmonauts 30 to 40 seconds during water recovery tests).

Gay Severin at Zvezda developed the lightweight Sokol spacesuits which all future Soyuz crews would be required to wear. An environmental control unit for these suits replaced the third crew position, reducing the Soyuz crew to two. This system would also flood the cabin with air in the case of a leak. The modifications to Soyuz were tested on unmanned flights on Cosmos 496 and Cosmos 573, then the manned Soyuz 12.


1972 August 21 - N1 7L State Commission

The State Commission was held to verify readiness of N1 7L for launch. Mishin was 'sick' the whole week of the hearings and had to be represented by his deputies. However neither Mishin or his first deputy Okhapkin were available - both were in the hospital. The commission nearly ruled that until Mishin was available, no launch could be approved. However the review continued.

Dry runs of the booster on the pad had already started and had already shown 17 serious problems in equipment systems and 100 problems in telemetry systems. These numbers indicated that no attempt should be made to launch 7L in its current condition. This was the first N1 with digital systems in the Block G and D stages (although there was not a complete LOK spacecraft). These had only introduced new problems, and there was no one personally responsible for making them work. Without someone being given such authority the launch schedule could not be maintained.

The first two N1's launched had amounted to only engine tests. Only on the third launch were the first stage dynamics tested. The gas dynamics problems that had led to the uncontrollable roll in that vehicle had now been solved with the assistance of TsNIIMASH and TsAGI. But why hadn't 3L also shown the roll problem? As it turned out, the shutdown of two engines at launch had prevented the problem from developing, whereas in 6L all the engines were operating correctly. The solution in 7L was the introduction of four roll-control engines. These had been developed by TsKBEM and used gas generator gases from the engines. The same design team had already successfully developed the vernier engines of the R-7, the 8D54 engine for the Block L of the Molniya 8K78 booster, and the 8D58 engine for the Block D of the N1 and Proton.

The guidance system for 7L would be essentially new, using the 'Biser' digital computer. Coupled with a three-axis guidance platform, the system would provide terminal guidance for precise orbital insertion. The system included self-test diagnostics and back-up operational modes. One computer was installed in the Block V third stage and controlled the first three stages. Another was in the LOK, and controlled the upper stages during translunar injection, lunar flyby, and return to earth. The Biser used Tropa integrated microprocessors developed by the Ministry of Electronics Industries.

The booster also features a new freon anti-fire system and a massive new telemetry capability with 13,000 separate sensors. Asbestos was used to shield the cables and electronics from heat. It was felt the KORD engine control system had now achieved a high level of reliability after five years of stand testing.

The L3, consisting for this mission of the Blocks G, D, and LOK, were being integrated at Area 2B. There were many problems with the new digital computers, which became the pacing item. Another issue were the VP53 digital-to-analogue units (42 per rocket) that translated the computer commands to the engine control systems. There was a problem with the transformers of these units.

Following these presentations, the state commission, headed by Afanasyev and Lapygin, stated their concerns. They wondered why these new computers were installed in 7L. This amounted to practically starting over again with booster development. It would have been less risky to use the old analogue systems. They noted that the replacement transformers could not be installed until the last minute, meaning they may have not been tested adequately.

The commission noted that despite the new avionics, 7L still used the old engines, which had been blamed for the previous launch failures. The new, vastly improved, Kuznetsov engines would be available in N1 8L. So why fly 7L, with a strong likelihood of another failure? Mishin's team replied that they needed to test the new guidance system, Blocks G and D, and the LOK systems. What was to be done with this rocket if they didn't fly it? Afanasyev finally agreed with this argument and went back to Moscow with the recommendation to proceed.


1972 November 23 - N1 7L

Unmanned test of manned lunar mission launch vehicle serial number 7L. This article incorporated significant changes to the previous model, including roll 'steering' engines to prevent the loss of control that destroyed 6L. The rocket ascended into the sky, and the engines ran 106.93 seconds, only seven seconds before completion of first stage burnout. Programmed shutdown of some engines to prevent overstressing of the structure led to propellant line hammering, rupture of propellant lines, and an explosion of engine number 4. The vehicle disintegrated.

Kerosene fuelling completed at 01:30. Upper stages Block G and D were fuelled between 04:00 and 05:00. They were allowed to reach thermal equilibrium between 05:00 and 06:15. Between 06:45 and 07:55 all lines and umbilicals were removed from the vehicle. The tower was rolled back at 08:15. Launch was on schedule at 09:00. All was normal to T+50 seconds. Centre engine shutdown at T+94.5 seconds was normal. All was normal at T+100 seconds. Then at T+110 seconds all transmissions from the vehicle suddenly ceased. An examination of telemetry showed that the vehicle catastrophically disintegrated at T+106.94 seconds, only 7 seconds before the end of the stage one burn and separation of the second stage. Later it would be alleged the cause was a failure of the oxidiser pump in engine 4. Kozlov, Kuznetsov, and Dorofeyev all blamed the other for the failure.


1974 August 13 - N1 work cancelled

Glushko formally cancelled the N1 within the new NPO Energia on 13 August 1974 with the support of Ustinov, even though he had no decree of the VPK Military-Industrial Commission or the Central Committee authorising such an act. The N1-L3 itself was not officially closed down until the resolution of February 1976 starting work on the Energia/Buran boosters. By that time 6 billion roubles had been spent on the N1 over 17 years.

Looking back in February 1996, Chertok observed that the N1 would have been successful if Korolev had not died prematurely. Either he would not have allowed the first launch to proceed with unreliable engines; or he would have honestly analysed the reason for the failure and not allowed another launch until all the fixes had been made; or after two consecutive failures he would have stopped the trials and turned to Glushko to develop replacement engines. The N1 engines were finally developed into reliable units by 1974, hidden by Kuznetsov for 20 years, and then marketed to the west in the 1990's. The Kistler reusable launch vehicle would have used them, and there were plans to use them in an upgraded Soyuz launch vehicle, which would increase the payload to low earth orbit from 7 tonnes to 11 tonnes.

Glushko was responsible for convincing Keldysh, and then Ustinov, that the N1 could not successfully carry out the N1-L3M program in 1977-1980. Analysis in the 1990's show that he was incorrect, and the program would have been fully achievable. But Glushko wanted to start from scratch, with a new launch vehicle, new engines, and entirely new system. It took 13 years to develop those engines, and Buran proved useful only as a restaurant attraction in Moscow. The Energia was developed without any thought as to what enormous payload would require such a booster. There was a feverish search for a payload to justify it after it had been developed.


1974 August 13 - Glushko briefed his new RLA launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission

These RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked.

Summary of the meeting of the Soviet Military-Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974 - in which the fate of the N1 was sealed and the decision process leading to Energia-Buran was begun...

Glushko, new head of NPO Energia, briefed his new launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974. These met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only non-toxic, inexpensive Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The basic engine would be a four-chamber design with a vacuum thrust of 1,200,000 kgf. The modules had a gross mass of about 800 tonnes kgf each, were six metres in diameter and about thirty metres long.

The new design family was called RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - and Glushko briefed three main members:

RLA-120 - Gross lift-off mass 980 tonnes, single module with a 150 tonne kg upper stage, payload 30 tonnes. Designed to boost reconnaissance satellites and modules of the POS Permanent Orbital Station into a sun synchronous orbit. First flight was to be in 1979, with POS modules to be assembled in orbit in the 1980-1981 period.

RLA-135 - Payload to low earth orbit 100 tonnes using two modules as the first stage and the RLA-120 core. This would begin flight trials in 1980 and allow a lunar expedition to be launched in 1981. It would also be used to launch the MKTS spaceplane.

RLA-150 - Gross lift-off mass 6,000 tonnes, payload to low earth orbit 250 tonnes with six modules as the first stage, and the RLA-120 core. This would begin trials in 1982 and allow a manned Mars expedition to be launched in 1983.

Glushko insisted that a permanent lunar base and Mars expeditions in the 1980's were achievable. What was needed was a reliable heavy lift launch vehicle, and the RLA approach would achieve this. To base these plans on the N1 design would invite catastrophe. The RLA cluster method would allow the modules to be built in the factory and thoroughly tested individually without risking the entire launch vehicle. Total cost of the development program was put at 12.5 billion roubles.

The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked. Brezhnev, Keldysh, and Ustinov would insist in the reformulation that the Lox/LH2 technology and capabilities of the US space shuttle had to be duplicated. The end result would be the Energia launch vehicle and Buran space shuttle, with which neither the military or the Soviet engineering community was happy.

A summary of their discussion provides fascinating insight into the opinions of the Soviet military-industrial leadership following the N1 debacle:

Ustinov: You criticised Korolev's N1 for having 30 engines. Now you are proposing one with 28 engines.

Glushko: A four chambered motor is not the same as four engines. There are only seven engines in the first stage.

Ustinov: Why do we need a payload of 250 tonnes? The American Saturn V has a payload of only 140 tonnes.

Glushko: Analysis of assembly of a Mars spacecraft indicates that the number of separately-launched modules must be minimised or the chance of mission success becomes low. This is the largest practical launch vehicle using the modular approach.

Ustinov: Does the core vehicle use Tsiklin (Kerosene) or Liquid Hydrogen?

Glushko: Kerosene. Liquid hydrogen would take too long to develop. This propellant could be considered for the core, but it would destroy the whole schedule.

Komissarov: You opposed lox/kerosene propellants as long as Korolev was alive. Now that he is dead, you advocate the same propellants. Explain this shift in position.

Glushko: I opposed these propellants in the 1960's because the required schedule and technology resulted in too many independent Lox/Kerosene engines in the N1 design. Since then there have been many years of development, and now we have the technology in hand for high thrust, four chamber, closed gas cycle, gimballed engines.

Komissarov: How do we answer the space shuttle with this system?

Glushko: For this we can use the RLA-135 mid-weight vehicle. The top stage would be the MKTS aerospacecraft, and it will be ready by 1982. The aviation industry will have to develop it; we don't have the expertise.

Komissarov: How can the schedule be met?

Glushko: The dates depend on the engines. The schedule depends on our success in quickly developing these engines, which don't exist at this time.

Barmin: This is the third variant of this design you have presented in the last two months. Your analysis is fundamentally flawed. We first need to decide our objectives in space, then design the spacecraft to meet those objectives, and only then design the launch vehicles to launch those spacecraft.

Korolev made the same mistake by designing the N1 first. When the time came to make an attempt at a lunar expedition, he had to add six engines, and still couldn't achieve the necessary payload. Then your bureau had to fall back on a two-launch L3M scheme. History is being repeated. Now you want a huge 250 tonne payload vehicle. The Americans abandoned the Saturn V and are building the shuttle because they need only one launch vehicle in this class, and it must be reusable.

Today 140 organisations are working on our lunar base. It must be completed, but not on the basis of unrealistic launch vehicles. You are asking for 12.5 billion roubles, but this is much more than you need to complete the lunar base.

The multi-module launch vehicle scheme is disadvantageous and mistaken. This is why Korolev designed the N1 with the optimum layout after much analysis. We need to seriously modernise the N1 in place of your 'tricycle'. Using engines of 1000 to 1200 tonnes thrust is tempting, but we have to be practical as to the possibility of developing such engines in a realistic time frame.

Your second and third stages use Tsiklin. One kilogram of Tsiklin costs 50 roubles; the same amount of liquid hydrogen, less than 30 roubles. Liquid hydrogen should be our upper stage propellant. We need to build the lunar base, and we need liquid hydrogen propulsion for that.

Therefore the most economical solution is a reusable launch system based on a modernised N1. Such a system needs to deliver 40 tonnes to the lunar surface and return 20 tonnes to earth.

Serbin to Barmin: And how long will it take to produce a modernised N1?

Barmin: It will take time, but Glushko's six to seven year schedule is unrealistic anyway. I repeat, we need to design the spacecraft, solve the problems of navigating to and on the lunar surface, and then design the launch vehicle.

Ryazanskiy: I disagree with Barmin. We do not need the huge N1. We need the RLA-120 for planned Zond, Mars, Lunar, and Soyuz spacecraft.

Semenov: We need reliable transportation to build the space station. This is the RLA-120. However I agree with Barmin that we should give up the 250 tonne booster.

Pilyugin: To develop the radio guidance systems alone for the orbital station, the lunar base, a Mars expedition, would require three to five years, plus three years of trials - six years all together. And this only if they are given maximum priority, which has not been the case for space systems in the past.

Feoktistov: It was a tactical mistake to present the 250 tonne payload vehicle. Everyone knows Ustinov's first priority is to achieve reliability, and for this we need time. Our work with the Americans on Apollo-Soyuz shows that new methods are needed to match American reliability.

Morzhorin: We have to follow the path of the Americans in developing the space shuttle. Only in this way can we improve all of our systems. Barmin is correct - we must identify the systems to be deployed first, then the launch vehicles needed to support them.

Trufanov: We need reliable systems to place payloads into sun-synchronous orbit in order to control the planet - we need the RLA-120.

Afanasyev - We need, now, 30 tonne payloads in sun-synchronous orbits for the planned Ministry of Defence reconnaissance satellite. We need 6 m diameter propellant tanks - but Paton says this will be solved in a short time. We long have needed engines of 1200 tf. But one cannot believe that this can be developed in two years. The Soviet Ministers say we need a piloted system, not inferior to the shuttle. This is important and the true solution. I also want to know why we must use Tsiklin and not Liquid Hydrogen. The Ministry of Defence does not agree with this approach - they want development of Lox/Hydrogen systems such as the Americans have.

Barmin is right; we don't need 250 tonne payload vehicles, but to demonstrate reliable docking in orbit to assemble such payloads. But I disagree with Barmin that the N1 could be used with minimal modification for the new launch vehicle - it will need major modifications. To meet MOM requirements will require twice as much money as has been spent to date. Glushko's design bureau is now only responsible for the 8K98 missile and its modernisation. It has no other development work. For the 40,000 staff at NPO Energia and 30,000 at the Progress factory in Samara. Of these, 20,000 will work on the new launch vehicle. Meanwhile we need a test stand for the new launch vehicle - we can't use the N1 pads. We have to handle Soyuz-Apollo, DOS#4., The 7K-T is obsolete; we need a new transport spacecraft - either a transport version of the 7K-S or the Chelomei TKS - and we were not informed of the development of the TKS!

Smirnov: This program doesn't meet the requirements of either the Ministry of Defence or the Academy of Sciences. We don't understand the requirement for 25 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit. The heavy reconnaissance satellites planned will not exceed 12 tonnes. The Americans plan no more than 14 tonnes in such orbits. First the N1, now a new adventure with the RLA. We planned 2 N1 boosters with earth orbit rendezvous for a lunar expedition. Now they want to 'dock on earth' with a 6,000 tonne gross lift-off mass vehicle!. The rouble is officially equal to a dollar. What would the US Congress say, the president spent $ 4 billion, then went back to them and said, NASA couldn't make it work, give us $ 12 billion for a new launch vehicle? The whole world would make fun of them.

Serbin: We don't have 12 billion roubles, but we need to decide quickly how to best utilise 70,000 workers. We need to involve Chelomei. We can't let the Almaz and DOS space station projects continue in parallel. We can't let this huge sum be spent on the RLA. We need an integrated national plan.

Glushko replied point by point to this critics:

This is not a national space plan. This is a method of solving our launcher problem. I've had two meetings with the military. They assisted by indicating their requirements, and this was the optimal solution. General Karas reviewed the RLA on 15 August and approved this approach. The Ministry of Defence set the requirement for a modular design with a 30 tonne payload.

Barmin asks why not use the N1. The short answer - the N1 could only carry air. The Gross Lift-off mass was about that of a Saturn V, but the dry mass of stage 1 was 2.5 x that of Saturn, stage 2, 5 x, and stage 3, 3.5x. There was a fundamental error in gas dynamics in the design of the vehicle. They added more than 750 tonnes to the first stage, and needed five additional engines to compensate.

Barmin wants a moon base, but this 'Barmingrad' cannot be realised. We need first to put 3 to 5 crew on the moon for two to three weeks. This is our objective. It was noted that since there is no magnetic field on the moon, it is too dangerous a place for prolonged activity by man during solar storms. (Glushko was hitting Barmin below the belt, and considered to speak rapidly to prevent interruptions).

We declare that we need not only a launch vehicle to support a minimum base of three to four men. We need not only space suits. We need large volume modules. We need special equipment. These we can only test on the POS space station. To reiterate, we need permanent (POS), not long duration (DOS) space station. The minimum mass for an effective POS is 30 tonnes, and for this the UR-500 is not sufficient. We need the RLA to launch it. A POS with modules of this size will eliminate the need for the MKBS station and larger launchers.

I regret that not everybody agrees with the super-heavy RLA version. We don't have to put together a launch vehicle in such a way - it is only that it is possible to assemble a vehicle using six identical modules for stage 1 and one module for stage 2. I don't support the use of LH2. But if you do, we could use it in the place of Tsiklin. Such a vehicle would cost a lot of money. We can get more for our money through the use of universal modules.

To keep our factories busy, we must pursue a program that keeps man in space every year. We are no working on he 7K-S and its transport variant. The new guidance system is a big challenge, using a digital computer for the first time. We have begun work on an unpiloted resupply variant. Klyuchavev is working on an androgynous docking system for Soyuz/Apollo and 7K-S/DOS.

Ustinov (summing up): Thank you. There was much that was new, and much to think about. We have DOS #5 and #6 in work. The Progress factory is working on 6 m diameter propellant tanks. I don't see further work with the Americans. We know of important breakthroughs, which cannot be discussed or used with them. We have to show Americans our best side - they watch us under a microscope, from space, they know every street, better than we do, and every detail of our launch vehicles. What shall we do after Apollo-Soyuz? DOS#5 needs work. Mishin always held back DOS; it was no secret that Chelomei and Mishin wanted to cancel DOS, follow it up only with Almaz and TKS. Meanwhile the R-7 is our bread and butter; the UR-500K figures in our space plans beginning 2 to 3 years from now.

Long range - Mars expeditions, lunar bases. Here there may possibly be co-operation with Americans. The issue is not just the 30,000 that work for one chief designer, but the correct use of the entire 250,000 employees of the space industry. They must be used effectively. The existing N1 facilities also have to be used somehow. We need a space shuttle. We need, in not more than two months, a rational plan to be presented, which takes into account the positions of the Ministry of Defence and the Academy of Sciences.



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