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G-1e / N-1 / 11A52

The Soviet manned lunar program received formal government approval in 1964, and one of the key components of that program was the rocket called the N1, comparable in size to the American Saturn 5 Moon rocket. These tests had significant impacts on key Apollo Program decisions. Work on the N1 complex was carried out under the direct supervision of S.P.Korolev, who headed the Council of Chief Designers. After the death of S.P.Korolev in 1966, the leadership of the work on N1-L3 took over his first deputy VP. Mishin.

Korolev wanted to completely avoid the need to build new and very expensive firing test rigs for the rocket stages. He hoped that the firing test rigs for all the stages could be limited to single-unit firing tests on engines after adapting the already existing rigs of NII-229. In actuality, the first stage of the N-1 rocket would first be manufactured and then assembled in the new “large” MIK at the firing range. It was not transportable. For that reason, they also needed to build a firing test rig at the firing range near the launch sites.

Ustinov tasked NII-88 to conduct an objective comparative assessment of the lunar exploration capabilities of the N-1 (whose military index was 11A52), UR-500 (8K82), and R-56 (8K68) to sort out the design controversies of Korolev, Chelomey, and Yangel. The deadlines specified in the decrees for the beginning of flight-developmental tests in 1965 looked absurd. Everyone up and down the chain of command understood this. On 19 June 1964, the Central Committee and Council of Ministers issued a decree allowing the deadlines for the beginning of flight-developmental tests to be postponed to 1966.

The N1-L3 rocket space complex consisted of the three-stage N-1 rocket and the L3 lunar complex. The N-1 was a three-stage rocket with transverse division of structurally similar stages. Intermediate trusses connected the stages, ensuring the free escape of gases when the engines of the subsequent stage started up. Liquid-propellant rocket engines operating on oxygen and kerosene developed at OKB-276 were used on all three stages of the rocket. The rocket’s load-bearing structure was a braced shell taking up the external loads. Spherical propellant tanks were housed inside this frame. In all the stages, the fuel tanks were in front. The height of the rocket including the L3 nose cone was 105.3 meters. The launch mass was 2,820 tons. The mass of the oxygen was 1,730 tons, and the mass of the kerosene was 680 tons.

Finally, as 1964 was drawing to a close, a distribution of work assignments for N1-L3 was devised, which for the most part continued throughout the next decade of the program’s existence. A government decree put this in writing. The statistics of the last few years showed that even among the well-tested engines of missiles that had been put into service, the frequency of failures caused by propulsion systems was at least two per 100 launches. Now they would have to figure the reliability for the N-1 with 42 engines. Consequently, for the N-1 there would certainly be at least one failure every two launches. The system that monitored engine operation, performed diagnostics, and shut down the engine when signs of an emergency situation arose was called KORD (Engine Operation Monitoring [System]).

On Nov. 25, 1967, less than three weeks after the first Saturn 5 flight during the Apollo 4 mission, the Soviets rolled out an N1 rocket to the newly constructed launch pad 110R at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Soviet Kazakhstan. This particular rocket, designated 1M1 and also called the Facilities Systems Logistic Test and Training Vehicle, was actually a mockup and designed to give engineers valuable experience in the rollout, launch pad integration and rollback activities, reminiscent of similar tests conducted with a mockup Saturn 5 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in mid-1966. While the crawler transported the Saturn 5 to the pad vertically, the N1 made the trip horizontally and was then raised to the vertical at the pad – a standard practice in the Soviet space program. On Dec. 11, after completion of various tests, the N1 rocket was lowered and rolled back to the assembly building. The 1M1 mockup would be used repeatedly in the coming years for additional launch pad integration tests.

Although this test was carried out in secret, a U.S. reconnaissance satellite photographed the N1 on the pad shortly before its rollback to the assembly building. NASA Administrator James Webb had access to this and other similar intelligence that showed that the Russians were seriously planning manned lunar missions. That knowledge influenced several key U.S. decisions in the coming months. The satellite imagery appeared to show the Soviets were close to a flight test of the N1, but could not reveal whether this particular rocket was just a mockup and that the Soviets were many months behind the U.S. in the race to land a human on the Moon. At this time, the Soviets were hopeful that they could carry out a test flight of the N1 in the first half of 1968, but for a variety of technical reasons the attempt would not occur for more than a year.

Charles Sheldon of the Science Policy Research Division of the Congressional Research Service of the U.S. Library of Congress produced a series of unclassified reports on the Soviet space program over the years. In his 1966-1970 report, he included an illustration of the family of Soviet space boosters. He had developed a nomenclature for them: alphabetical for each booster class as they had appeared chronologically, plus a number for each new set of upper stages for each booster class, and an “E” designation for those boosters that had an additional Escape Stage for deep space missions. For example, the Sputnik booster was A, Vostok was A-1, Soyuz was A-2, and Molnyia used for deep space missions was A-2-E. He gave the N-1 booster a designation of G-1-E.

Sheldon could not show the actual classified configuration of the N-1 booster seen in the Corona imagery. However, he felt that if he depicted his G-1-E concept as simply an enlarged version of a Soyuz booster, that he could get that past any censors. Therefore he showed the N-1 with a conical base and cylindrical upper section, all with dashed lines to indicate that this was only a concept. Nevertheless, he was able to show its correct shape, height, and base diameter.

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Page last modified: 26-11-2021 16:01:40 ZULU