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Soviet Lunar Landing Plans

Soviet Lunar LandingThe Americans started their project in 1961 and landed on the Moon in 1969, but Korolev was only in 1964 ordered to overtake them and carry out the expedition in 1967-68. A "Moon race" did take place, but it was not the USSR and the USA that competed in it, but the main Soviet designers competed with each other. The development of heavy rockets and space complexes involved significant funding, and in addition to SP Korolev, the main designers MK Yangel and VN Chelomey, who had the opportunity to influence the decisions of NS Khrushchev, claimed their participation in the future space programs and other leaders of the Soviet state and the domestic military-industrial complex.

In March 1959, in OKB-1 under the direction of S.P.Korolev began preparations for the creation of a new spacecraft, which was to replace the "Vostok" at the next stages of development of Soviet cosmonautics. In this ship, which later received an index of 7K in technical documentation, and in the open press - the name "Soyuz", a descent vehicle of much larger dimensions was envisaged than that of the "Vostok". It was supposed that it would be possible to send cosmonauts to the Moon: either two in spacesuits, or three - without spacesuits. To deduce this ship on the trajectory of flight to the Moon, Korolev assumed with the help of a superheavy rocket, later classified as the N-1 ("Carrier-1"). The general design of this product from the Chief Designer, by his own admission, arose in 1956.

The Soviet lunar program fell apart at once for several reasons. After 1961, the paths of Korolev and Glushko dispersed, the latter wanted to develop new promising engines using heptyl [a storable propellant useful for ballistic missiles], while Korolev insisted on kerosene-oxygen, less suitable for missiles. As a result of Korolev's ambition, common sense won and he was left without the best engine developer at that time in the USSR. The Soviets did not build big engines, so in the first stage of the von Braun's moon rocket there were only five of them, and in the Soviet's there were 30, with all unpleasant consequences for reliability.

At once three design bureaus began to compete with each other, which led to unnecessary dispersion of resources. And they won in this competition not by means of the best technical solutions, but by means of hardware games and intrigues. Coordination of the organizations involved in the project turned out to be far from ideal, the contractors did not keep within the deadlines, they broke technical requirements.

A department was set up which, on the basis of these developments, was engaged in the project "N1-L3", providing for the landing of one astronaut on the moon. Since May 1960, to launch TMK first and then L3, a series of N carrier rockets was being developed: the N-1 capable of launching 40-50 tons of cargo into orbit with launch in 1963 and allowing the manned spacecraft to be launched on the flight path of the moon and "N-2" - with a payload of 60-80 tons and launch in 1967 to launch the Martian ship. In connection with the fact that Chelomey was instructed to carry out the program of flying the moon, work on the "N-1" rocket was not very urgent, the term of the first technological launch was postponed to 1965, and work on the "N-2" was suspended altogether.

Korolev and all of his deputies could be excused by the fact that in 1960 they did not yet consider a piloted landing expedition to the Moon to be the main, top-priority mission and they had not imagined all the problems that they would have to deal with. Secondly, back then, Korolev was already thinking about the possibility of a multilaunch lunar flight plan. On 13 May 1961, the order went out to produce the N-1 rocket in 1965.

The lunar landing expedition was still not the launch vehicle’s primary mission in the draft plan [in 1962]. Korolev reported that the missions that such a launch vehicle would carry out included defense missions, including a permanent system (several hundred satellites) for tracking, detecting, and destroying enemy missiles. In 1962, in his report, Korolev referred to a similar system as an “orbital belt.” The hundreds of satellites comprising this belt could have been used for global monitoring and to observe everything happening on Earth and in near-Earth space.

But similar to the grandiose projects in the field of space exploration, the organizations of Korolev, Yangel and Chelomey were engaged in a competition. There was no general state space program in the country. Each of the leading Chief Designers in the private competition tried as much as possible to "stake out" the range of their interests.

In 1962 NS Khrushchev instructed Yangel and Chelomey to develop their heavy missiles by separate orders, dividing the already meager (in comparison with the United States) financing of these works for three (and, apparently, forgetting that nine women can not bear a child per month). It was in these conditions that the "lunar race" began between the main designers - mainly in whose "paper" Nikita Sergeyevich made the most favorable impression in terms of time and cost.

There were different approaches to the development of rocket and space technology. The leadership in the upper echelons divided. Some supported Chelomey, others - Yangel. Khrushchev said: "It seems to me that this rocket is better. Comrades, what do you think?" And what can comrades consider in that situation? Of course, they said: "Yes, Nikita Sergeyevich."

Everyone understood that three practically identical missiles for one program are an unacceptable luxury. Chelomei managed to convince Khrushchev that his "lunar project" could be realized in just three years. Neither Korolev nor Yangel did not guarantee such terms and ... paid for their honesty: work on N-1 of Korolev and the R-56 of Yangel were discontinued. In April 1962, the work on "N-1" also stopped. In September 1962, an updated project of the "N-1" rocket was reviewed by an expert commission and a decision was taken to create by 1965 a missile with a payload capacity of 75 tons, as well as a launching position at the Baikonur cosmodrome by 1964. Soon the insolvency of the Chelomeev project became obvious, but time and money went away irrevocably.

In this situation, MK Yangel took the liberty of speaking at the state level with a global proposal - how to organize the rocket and space industry, based on the economic interests of the entire Soviet Union. Deeply and comprehensively penetrating into all the peculiarities of the situation that emerged, having analyzed the developed tendencies in the development of rocket technology and the capabilities of the existing design teams in the country, MK Yangel made a fundamental conclusion about the inadvisability of any project organization to independently lead the entire program in a complex from start to finish.

Having come to a firm conviction about the need to concentrate the efforts of existing collectives in certain areas, relying on technical and economic arguments, he proposed his own vision of an integrated missile development program. There was no place for duplication, all are engaged in their own business, and the general "team" is moving in one direction. Proceeding from the intellectual potential of the collective and the production capacities of the largest factory in the country at that moment, he proposed to designate carriers for his own design office, to give manned spacecraft to SP Korolev, and automatic and interplanetary stations to V.N.Chelomei. It was assumed that the specialization would improve the quality and shorten the time for the development of space systems. And everything in the complex will provide an opportunity to consistently increase the tasks of developing near and far space.

Taking upon himself the whole burden of creating combat missile systems, Yangel to a certain extent "helped" Korolev to concentrate on the exploration of outer space. On 3 August 1964, a decree was issued that mentioned for the first time that the N-1 rocket’s most crucial objective in space exploration was to explore the Moon by landing expeditions on its surface and then returning them to Earth. The second most important item of the decree was new deadlines. The year 1966 remained in place as the starting date for flight-developmental tests, and a new date appeared for the expedition to the Moon—1967 to 1968. The implementation of the program for the flight of the moon was entrusted to OKB Chelomey.

The "N1-L3" originally provided for a manned flight to the moon on a three-start scheme. The program provided for the launching of two blocks into the Earth's orbit with the help of two LV "N-1" with a carrying capacity of 75 tons, which after docking formed a lunar ship. With the help of the Soyuz rocket, a crew was delivered on a special ship, and the whole bunch had to make a direct flight to the Moon. Started from the moon, the take-off part made a flight to Earth, and the cosmonauts returned in the descent vehicle. Other variants of the Lunar expeditions were also worked out.

On 13 October 1964, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was dismissed. The displacement of NS Khrushchev changed the alignment of forces in the rocket and space industry, and OKB-52 Chelomey was "overboard". The leadership of the lunar program was completely transferred to Sergei Korolev, and moreover he was able to use all the developments of Chelomey on a manned flight to the Moon and, in particular, the UR-500K missile for his tasks.

Soon OKB-1 found the opportunity to increase the carrying capacity of the carrier rocket "N-1" to 95 tons, which allowed landing on the moon on a single-start scheme. The design work began, and on December 25, 1964, SPKorolev signed the pre-design project of the lunar missile complex "N1-L3". It provided for an increase in the carrying capacity of the LV-1 to 95 tons, and this was achieved without a radical alteration of the existing project, which reduced the time and costs for the development of the project. In the same year, work began on Baikonur to create a launch complex and a branch of the Kuibyshev plant for the assembly of the N-1 rocket.

The final distribution of the roles of Chief Designers in the creation of the missile looked like this:

  • Blocks A, B, and C remained for S.P.Korolev.
  • Blocks G and D were given to M.V.Melnikov
  • Block I - A.M.Isaev and
  • Block E - M.K.Yangel.

The success of the expedition, first of all, was to be determined by the highest reliability of the E block. The point is also that at all the previous stages of the flight in the event of the failure of any missile unit in the launch vehicle or when the lunar complex is transferred to the trajectory of an artificial moon satellite, the death of the crew could be prevented by the inclusion of an emergency rescue system both on the launch vehicle and the inclusion of subsequent blocks in the work with the correction of the flight program: refusal to land on the moon, the flight of the moon without transition to o the rate of the artificial moon of the moon, etc. But if the lunar ship descended from the near-moon orbit and the descent to its surface began, the life of the astronaut depended entirely on the reliability of the lunar ship systems and, first of all, the trouble-free operation of the propulsion unit of the E block.

But it was not until September 1966 that the expert commission, chaired by the President of the USSR Academy of Sciences, MV Keldysh, approved the outline design of the L-3 lunar complex and approved a schedule for its development. In December 1966, Yuri Aleksandrovich Mozzhorin — the Director of NII-88 TsNIImash (1961-1990), the head institute of the rocketspace industry — reported on the year-by-year schedules of expenditures that would be needed to support a lunar landing expedition, compared with the actual funds that the state budget was capable of setting aside for all cosmonautics programs. From Mozzhorin’s report, even with the most heroic efforts, it would be impossible to implement the project in 1968. It would be possible to assign tasks for the beginning of flight-developmental testing in 1969, but this would require new decisions to dramatically increase funding for this project. The existing plans and timelines for the N-1 at this time were unrealistic. Ustinov, Morozhin, and Keldysh pointed fingers as to who had presented such unrealistic schedules to the Politburo.

In February 1967, following the decision of the Council of Ministers of the USSR to accelerate the work on the study of the moon, providing for a sharp increase in the pace of work and the amount of allocations of work have finally developed at full speed. Strict terms were established, providing priority to the Soviet Union. They provided for flight tests of the N-1 rocket in the 3rd quarter of 1967, and the astronaut's landing on the moon in the third quarter of 1968.

Thus, the "n1-L3" program was approved and accepted for execution only in 1966, 5 years later than in the USA.

The L3 system consisted of the rocket booster Blocks G and D; the LOK (the vehicle itself and the rocket Block I) and the LK (the vehicle itself and the rocket Block Ye). Two cosmonauts would fly to the Moon in the LOK, and after the vehicle transferred to lunar orbit, just one of them would perform a spacewalk, enter the LK landing vehicle, and descend to the surface of the Moon. He would stroll around on the Moon in sublime solitude, and, a couple of hours later, return to orbit to dock with the LOK, and once again spacewalk over to his waiting comrade. After this, they would undock the LK and jettison it to the Moon, and the LOK, using its propulsion system, would return to Earth.

In the best-case scenario, by December 1965 it would be possible to deliver the systems for the flight vehicles and blocks in late 1967. Thus, flight testing of the vehicles and L3 blocks would begin no sooner than 1968. One was “not supposed” to mention 1968 in official meetings. According to decrees, and also Korolev’s and Keldysh’s promises, flight testing was supposed to begin in 1967 when the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution would take place.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2019 18:34:25 ZULU