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Energia Launch Vehicle -Wetern Views

Following the Sheldon system, this Saturn V-class heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV) takes the designation K. Sheldon would quip that the G, for the large booster developed in the sixties to land cosmonauts on the Moon and which, after several launch attempt failures was abandoned, stood for "giant." In a similar vein, K could be taken to indicate "king-size"!

DOD's SL-W designator was not very helpful, lacking a numeral, possibly because of the uncertainty of which version, with or with out a space shuttle orbiter, would appear first. Even the X-designator, indicating that it was in the experimental stage, was not employed. DOD's booklet "The Soviet Space Challenge" employs a standard SL-X-17 designation for the first time. (51)

In 1980 it was reported in the West that work had resumed on a Saturn V-class vehicle.(52) The facilities had been mothballed after three attempts with the G-vehicle had failed in the late 1960s. (53) The forecast that the work "could result in a launch attempt as early as 1983" (54) was far too optimistic. The first edition of Soviet Military Power, reporting the development, cited its capability to launch heavy payloads into orbit, including very large permanently occupied space stations. (55) A payload capability to LEO of between 175 and 210 tonnes, some 50 per cent greater than the U.S. Saturn V Moon-rocket, was linked to a possible first test flight of the new HLLV in 1983. (56)

The 1983 edition of Soviet Military Power expressed the payload capability of the new HLLV as at least 6 to 7 times that of the U.S. space shuttle. (57) It estimated that the HLLV would move from the developmental to operational stage in the latter half of the 1980s. (58) An accompanying diagram depicted the HLLV in two versions; one with two strap-ons and a delta-winged vehicle attached to the side of the core and the other with 2-3 strap-ons attached to the core and an upper stage mounted on top of the core. Payload capabilities to LEO were given as 60 tonnes and 130-150 tonnes respectively. (59)

The first of the 100-meter tall HLLVs was reported to be on the launch pad at Tyuratam in October 1983, shrouded in camouflage nets to prevent U.S. reconnaissance satellites from taking detailed pictures of it. (60)

The diagram in DOD's 1984 Soviet Military Power was a revision of the previous year's and showed the winged vehicle looking much more like the U.S. space shuttle. The payload capacity of this version was increased to 96 tonnes + 30 tonnes shuttle payload capacity. The caption to the other version postulated 6 or more strap-ons and set the payload capability at 150 tonnes. (61) It was claimed that the Soviet shuttle "differs from the U.S. shuttle only in the respect that the main engines are not on the orbiter." (62) The 150-tonne payload capability was said to be "about 5 times the maximum U.S. capability." (63) An artist's impression showing the MLLV and HLLV in the background of a shuttle lift-off was also provided. (64)

In March 1984, the Soviets were said to be "on the verge of flying liquid oxygen and hydrogen high-energy propulsion stages." (65) Basic weight calculations based on estimated fuel tank volumes and propellant densities supported this contention. (66)

The HLLV was designated SL-W in both versions in a diagram in the 1986 edition of Soviet Military Power, reproduced as figure 2. (67) The shuttle payload to LEO was still estimated as 30 tonnes but the weight of the shuttle itself was omitted. The HLLV was shown in a configuration very much like that of the first Energiya when it appeared it 1987 (see below) but the payload capability to LEO was reduced to 100 tonnes. The caption to an artist's impression showing the shuttle mated to the HLLV on the launch pad contained the phrase "soon-to-be-tested." (68)

The 1987 edition of Soviet Military Power used the same drawings and artist's impression as the previous year's but changed the note for the HLLV from "in final stages of development" (69) to "inflight test" (70) Its payload capability to LEO was revised to some-

thing in excess of 100 tonnes. (71) The text speculated that launch pad compatibility testing of an orbiter attached to the SL-W vehicle might have already taken place and that a launch could come in 1987 or 1988. (72)

A flight readiness firing consisting of a live countdown and static firing, lasting several seconds, was reported in March 1987, but indication was given of the date when it took place. (73) The firing involved the large core stage and at least four liquid-fuel strap-on boosters arranged to allow placement of the Soviet shuttle orbiter or an automated cargo pod on the side of the vehicle.(74) The prediction for an automated flight by midsummer soon proved to be correct.

General Secretary Gorbachev visited Leninsk and the Baikonur cosmodrome from May 11-13, 1987. The report of his visit stated that the Space Center was preparing for a launch of a new all-purpose carrier rocket capable of delivering to LEO both reusable ships and large-scale research and commercial craft, including modules for orbiting space laboratories. (75)

News of the launch was delayed until the following day (76) and gave the time of launch, from the Baikonur cosmodrome, as 1730 GMT on May 15. The two-stage multi-purpose launch vehicle was said to have a mass at launch in excess of 2,000 tonnes and be capable of orbiting a payload of more than 100 tonnes. The announcement went on to say that the first-stage engines, after they had ceased firing, separated and landed in Soviet territory as planned. The second stage followed the flight plan precisely and delivered the payload, a full-size and weight mock-up of a satellite, to the calculated position and at that time separated from the payload and fell into the pre-planned area of the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, the payload should have injected itself into orbit by means of its own engine but, because of a malfunction of its onboard systems, failed to do so and also fell into the Pacific. The payload was observed as "an "intense' hot object for an unusually long period of time" by U.S. early warning satellites. (77)

Although the mission was something less than a success since the payload did not achieve orbit, the launch announcement claimed that the "launch and flight of Energiya had demonstrated the soundness of the concept and the technology, and the high reliability of its design, the engines of both stages and the control systems. The equipment and apparatus of the automated control of the launching complex had functioned normally. The aims and objectives of the first launching have been fully met."

The unprecedented openness surrounding this launch continued with the release of television coverage of the launch preparations and the nighttime launch itself. Viewers of the evening news bulletins of ITN and the BBC in the United Kingdom were treated to a brief daylight glimpse of the vehicle on the launch pad, taken from the side away from the dummy payload, and the burst of flame and smoke as the vehicle climbed clear of the large towers flanking the launch pad. Examination of a video-recording revealed a black, conical shape peeping over the top of one of the strap-ons. It subsequently transpired that a full length feature, running for nearly 10 minutes, had been transmitted from the Soviet Union, but that Saturday night program time, always reduced in comparison with mid-week news bulletins, was competing for coverage of the run-up to the General Election and the afternoon's football Cup Final. It opened with a shot of an automobile and pulled wide to reveal that

it was at the base of a large flame pit. Descriptive extracts from special correspondent, Aleksandr Tikhomirov, follow. (78)

We took this shot at the beginning of this week, so that you could better under-stand the scale of the work. . . . This launch pad can be seen tens of kilometers away in the Baikonur steppe . . . each of the eight engines had passed captive and firing control tests. . . . [Shot inside control room with electronic and monitoring equipment] . . . there is much to be checked. Telemetric controls monitor 2,000 parameters in this system. . . . Our cameras are now 12 kilometers from the launch pad, which is perhaps a safety zone 10 times further away than when a rocket with cosmonauts is launched. But that time again, the engines . . . are more than 10 times more powerful. [Shot of tulips and horses in the steppe] . . . the power of the rocket that is to go into space today is 170,000,000 h.p. [Shot of vehicle on launch pad] Its launch weight is more than 2,000 tonnes. It is 60 meters high . . . There are four engines in the central unit and one engine of each of the side units, which are also four in number. These . . . are the most powerful in the world today. . . . [Shot of control room showing launcher on monitor] New materials have been developed in its construction, along with new technologies and production units.

You can see on the monitors various sections of pipeline and tanks. This is the moment of filling the rocket with fuels. The fuel is being fed from a cryogenic center. First, tanks in the central unit are filled with nitrogen forcing the air out, then with hydrogen gas forcing the nitrogen out—this goes on for hours as if rinsing. [Shot of launch pad] Liquid oxygen is going to tanks along another circuit; they will meet only in the combustion chamber for detonation. [Shot of Tikhomirov With microphone in front of monitor showing launcher] The new launcher is shrouded in hoar-frost. . . . Remote-control cameras positioned near the launch pad are working now, while (the cameras of Central Television) can now, at night, only make out the launch pad as a spot of light in the distance.

Throughout this TV report the resemblance between the DOD's drawing of the heavy-lift launch vehicle (79) and the actual rocket with its side-mounted payload was most striking. The dummy payload appeared slightly smaller in diameter and rather longer, terminating in a sharp rather than a rounded nose-cone and the strap-ons had box-like features at top and bottom which caused Western analysts to speculate that they housed recovery parachutes. The dummy payload was painted black and the overall color of the launch vehicle was gray.

By measuring the time between lift-off and clearing its own height it was possible to calculate an initial upward acceleration of approximately 0.7g, implying a maximum force of 1.7g acting on the payload at launch.

This was the first time that liquid hydrogen engines had been used in the Soviet space program and all eight engines were burning at lift-off.

More details emerged from a TASS interview with Guriy Marchuk, the President of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, during the following week. (80) He described Energiya as a two-stage rocket of "package" design, with a strap-on payload. The first stage consists of four strap-on booster engines using kerosene and liquid oxygen, while the second stage is the central core, eight meters in diameter, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. As a multi-purpose system it was able to place into LEO either reusable spaceships (such as the U.S. space shuttle orbiter) or other large-sized space vehicles. It was the basic unit of a reusable space transport system being created in the Soviet Union. It could be used to put heavy

communications satellites into GEO, launch interplanetary stations into deep space and towards the Sun, for the assembly of versatile orbital complexes consisting of large-size modules and structural elements, and putting experimental solar power plants in orbit with a wide spread of solar cell batteries for use in space production, potentially opening up near-Earth space to industrialization.

In an interview for Izvestiya, (81) Academician Avduyevskiy claimed that Energiya had fully accomplished the task assigned to it, both stages being tested in real flight conditions. Although the mock-up satellite orientation system failed regarding the operation of the engine which should have placed it into a higher orbit, this regrettable set-back had no bearing on the Energiya rocket in his opinion.

Aleksandr Dunayev, head of Glavkosmos, was more specific in an interview released at the beginning of June. (82) He stated that the payload, of more than 100 tonnes, could be either a satellite, module of an orbital station or a space shuttle. The aggregate thrust of all engines is 4,000 tonnes and it had the capability of launching spacecraft weighing more than 30 tonnes to the Moon and probes of approximately the same weight to Venus or Mars. He said that, with its aid, a large permanent mobile laboratory could be landed on Mars and that it brought closer to reality the establishment of large extra-terrestrial production units and scientific laboratories, not only in LEO. In an extract released later, (83) he stated that, when it was fully developed, Energiya could be supplied on a commercial basis to foreign partners. Writing in Pravda, Dunayev mentioned that the maximum cross-sectional dimension is 20 motors. (84)

More precise data are given in an earlier interview by Cosmonaut Sevastyanov with Professor Sergey Grishin, deputy Flight Control chief. (85) Payload capability to the Moon was said to be 32 tonnes, and 27 tonnes to Venus or Mars.

An article on the launch control systems for Energiya draws attention to an innovation in the rocket's structure—cryogenic hardening of the metal used for tanks and compressed gas cylinders and their interconnecting units to increase strength and reduce weight by use of thinner metal walls. (86)

Such a spate of information provided Western analysts with an opportunity for speculation and articles were soon forthcoming. One speculated that the payload fell in the Pacific Ocean several hundreds of kilometers to the north-east of Hawaii. (87) Anthony Lawton speculated that versions with 4, 6 or 8 first-stage strap-on recoverable boosters of the SL-16 type could exist and decided that plug nozzles rather than conventional bell-mouthed venturi nozzles were employed. He surmised that the payload engine would have employed nitrogen tetroxide (N204) and unsymmetrical dimethyl-hydrazine (UDMH). He also provided detailed drawings of how the

first stage boosters might be recovered by parachute, using retro rockets to reduce impact velocity on landing with the axis vertical and sacrificing tankage, which would be crushed on impact in order to be able to reuse the engines. (88)

A newspaper article came up with similar concepts but with the first-stage boosters landing horizontally on skids after a radio- controlled landing on parawings and horizontal recovery of the second-stage core with impact cushioned by an air-bag. (89) It reported that studies by Commercial Space Technologies indicated that, even on its first flight, Energiya matched the U.S. shuttle launch price of $3,250 per pound weight and that, after 20 years use, Energiya's launch costs could be as low as $200 per pound. The Spaceflight and Times articles had drawings showing an up-rated version of Energiya with eight first- stage strap-ons and a third stage on top of the second-stage core as did articles appearing around the same time in Flight International. (90) These all appear to have derived inspiration from early DOD speculative drawings. (91, 92)

A more numerical analysis by Phillip dark gives estimated dimensions of the strap-ons as around four meters in diameter and 39 meters in total length, of which 34.5 meters is cylindrical. These dimensions suggest a dry mass of around 42 tonnes and a propellant mass of around 385 tonnes. (93) The excrescences at top and bottom of each strap-on are referred to as panniers which may be part of a recovery system, consisting of a parachute container and stabilizing fins for the descent to Earth. The scaled length of the second-stage, based on the announced eight meter diameter, is close to 57.5 meters, implying a dry mass of around 55 tonnes with a propellant load of around 800 tonnes. It is pointed out that the core ignites 12.3 seconds before the strap-ons. Measurements confirm the 1.7g force at launch stated-above and he reached the conclusion that this first launch of Energiya involved a vehicle loaded with only 77 percent propellant.

Information, which would be of interest but has not yet been published, is the inclination of the intended orbit for the dummy payload, or the locations of the impact points in the Pacific Ocean, from which that inclination could be readily calculated. Some Western analysts have assumed that the inclination would have been close to the 51.6° currently used for piloted Spaceflight and the initial orbits of the majority of the Proton launches. However, it is a fact that the inclinations used for the initial flights of the A, C, D and J-vehicles have all been close to 65°.

Models of Energiya were not ready for the 1987 Paris Air Show, but one was displayed, bearing the Glavkosmos logo, in Moscow at the Space Future Forum to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first Sputnik during the first week of October. (94) It was also displayed on the Soviet stand in the exhibition at the 38 th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in Brighton, England, shortly afterwards. The model revealed that the dummy payload had a single nozzle at the base of the cylinder with two smaller cylinders, which might also be thrusters, on opposite sides at the lower end of the main cylinder. There is a small increase in diameter of the cylinder, approximately one quarter of the way down from the base of the nose-cone. The strap-ons are seen to have four nozzles each. The tip of the central core terminates in a nipple-like feature, just as depicted in the DOD's artist's impression of the Soviet space shuttle on the launch pad. (95)

The questions of total or partial recovery of the first and second stages persisted right through to October. Soviet program officials speaking to U.S. delegates to the Space Future Forum during the first week of October described Energiya as a recoverable vehicle. Leonid Kasperovich of Moscow's Space Research Institute (IKI) said that Energiya is designed to be separated into seven sections which return to Earth by parachute after burning its fuel. The four booster rockets descend separately and the main section breaks into three portions. All the elements could be reused according to this account. (96) It was also said that although the strap-ons and portions of the core were designed to be recovered, the system was not fully exercised on the first flight and no elements were recovered. (97) The report said the large liquid strap-on boosters were designed to be recovered with parachute braking systems, contained in external packs on the forward and aft ends of each booster section, which would orient the booster in a horizontal attitude for the descent. The same report revealed that the second Energiya was being prepared for launch in the coming months, but said that program officials wanted to ensure that anomalies that occurred on the first flight were fully understood and resolved before another launch was made. Lift-off of the first flight was planned for daylight hours, but was delayed by last-minute technical problems.

Soviet delegates to the IAF Congress two weeks later, however, caused confusion with varying statements about total or partial reusability. Soviet officials, including one of Energiya's designers, insisted at the Current Events Session that there had been many design options, but the existing system is not reusable.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2018 13:25:02 ZULU