UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Space


Soviet Manned Lunar Program - Western Views

Although the Soviets still have not sent cosmonauts to the Moon, statements by Soviet authorities during the "Moon Race" period of the 1960's , certainly created the impression that they were trying to beat the United States to our nearest neighbor in space.

There was also empirical evidence that a manned lunar program was underway. Five Zond flights from 1968 to 1970 were identified by the Soviets as having been engineering tests related to development of a manned spacecraft to go the Moon, and it is generally concluded that this would have been for circumlunar flight (see table 12). One Kosmos flight in 1971 has been identified as having been a test of a lunar cabin, and it had similar orbital elements to two other flights prior to that time. The exact nature of these flights remains unknown, but they could have been testing propulsion systems and/or a module for landing on the lunar surface. A fourth flight in 1971 may have been a test of an orbiter and a lander.

The most significant obstacle which the Soviets apparently could not overcome was development of a suitably powerful launch vehicle equivalent to the Saturn V rocket used in the U.S. Apollo program, the so-called "G" vehicle described in part 1 of this study.

Despite the prevailing wisdom that the race to the Moon was a race to be first, and once they lost, the Soviets put their plans aside indefinitely, it appears that they kept their plans alive at least for 2 years after that. The Kosmos flights related to development of a "lunar cabin" were launched in 1970-71, after the 1969 landing of Apollo 11.

THE ZOND MISSIONS AND RELATED KOSMOS FLIGHTS

From 1968 to 1970, the Soviets launched five missions, designated Zond 4 through 8, which were probes designed to test a spacecraft for circumlunar manned flight. (Zond 1-3 were related to other planetary targets, and are discussed in the space science chapter in Part 3 of this study.) There may have been unreported failures as well. For example, Newsweek magazine claimed that on November 22, 1967 and April 22, 1968, Zond flights to the Moon were unsuccessfully attempted. There are no official statements to prove or disprove that contention.

KOSMOS 146 AND 154

For many years, Kosmos 146 and 154, launched March 10 and April 8, 1977 respectively, have been thought to have been Zond precursors that failed. (194) Both were launched by D-l-e boosters, and never left low Earth orbit. There were four objects associated with each launch, two of which decayed after 1 day in the case of Kosmos 146, and three of which decayed after 2 to 3 days in the case of Kosmos 154. Two objects associated with Kosmos 146 and one with Kosmos 154 remained in orbit for several days.

The conclusion that these were failed Zond missions was questioned in a 1980 article by Sven Grahn and Dieter Oslender. (195) While acknowledging the temptation to place these in the Zond category based on orbital parameters of the shorter-lived objects, Grahn and Oslender ultimately conclude that the two spacecraft carried out missions different from each other based on their analysis of the frequencies used by, and the orbits of, the longer lived objects. Kosmos 146 used typical Soyuz frequencies, according to the authors, and could have been a complete test of the Soyuz propulsion system in preparation for the first Soyuz flight 5 weeks later. Kosmos 154 did not use Soyuz frequencies, per se, but did use the same frequency as Kosmos 133, often regarded as the first Soyuz precursor, and may have been another Soyuz test.

The real mission of these flights remains obscure, but since they were launched in successive lunar windows, they are listed here in the lunar-related category.

KOSMOS 159

Another ambiguous mission possibly related to the Zond program is Kosmos 159, launched May 16, 1967. Launched by an A-2-e vehicle the main part of the soacecraft remained in orbit until Nov, 1977. it used a much smaller launch vehicle than Kosmos 146 and 154, it would have been limited to testing one or more subsystems.

Others have concluded that this mission was a test of the Soyuz propulsion system; its true nature remains unknown.

ZOND 4

On March 2, 1968, Zond 4 was launched and it is considered to have been a diagnostic engineering test for subsequent Zond flights. In 1971, a drawing was released which showed the ship to be virtually identical (externally, at least) to a Soyuz spacecraft with out the forward work module. The Royal Aircraft Establishment estimated its weight at 4,820 kg, with a length of 5 3 meters and diameter of 2.3 meters.

Zond 4 was launched by a D-l-e booster one-half lunar month away from the ideal time to launch toward the Moon, and was sent in a direction opposite from the location of the Moon at that time. The Soviets stated that it had been launched to the "outlying regions of near Earth space," and presumably was intended to go out as far as the Moon's orbit. By not going directly to the Moon, its return path would not be affected by lunar gravity. Considering the significance of a new program of such magnitude and portent, the failure of the Soviets to give any further report on the flight suggests that it was not successful; there is no evidence in the public domain on which to base a definitive judgment regarding the mission's success.

ZOND 5

Zond 5 was launched on September 14, 1968 in a similar fashion to Zond 4, but this time was directed toward the Moon. On September 17, a mid-course correction maneuver was made to place the spacecraft on a correct trajectory for swinging around the Moon at a distance of 1,950 km and returning to Earth. Another trajectory correction was made enroute to the Moon to place it on a correct trans-Earth route.

The ship was described as having two compartments, one a recoverable cabin with a heat regulating system, power supply, parachute packs, scientific instruments, and radio communications equipment; the other a service module with large solar panels, a radio telemetry system, control equipment, orientation and stabilization systems, batteries, and heat regulation systems. Optical sensors and radio antennas were mounted externally.

Zond 5 returned to Earth after 7 days in space. This was the first time that the Soviets returned a spacecraft from a deep space mission, and their first water recovery. The ship was slowed aerodynamically from 10,900 meters per second (m/s) to 200 m/s, after which a parachute was deployed at 7 km altitude. The approach to Earth was over the South Pole and it landed in the Indian Ocean at 32°38' S., 75°33' E., as it headed north. The capsule was exposed to heat levels of 13,000 "C during reentry.

Not only was this the first time that the Soviets recovered a spacecraft in the water, but it was a night landing, complicating matters further since the recovery team had to search for it in the darkened waters. Recovery was directed by the Academy of Sciences' rescue service and the tracking ship Borovichiy. An oceanography ship, the Vasiliy Golovnin, transported the spacecraft to Bombay where it was transferred to a Soviet AN-12 cargo plane and flown to the Soviet Union.

Although the mission was primarily an engineering test, it also carried cameras and a biological payload. The cameras returned the first high quality photographs (as opposed to radio facsimile pictures). The biological payload consisted of turtles, wine flies, meal worms, a spiderwort plant with buds, wheat, pine, and barley seeds, chlorella in various nutrients, and various types of lysogenetic bacteria. After they were recovered, the turtles had lost about 10 percent of their body weight and had excessive glycogen and

iron in their livers compared to Earth controls. As far as the plants were concerned, the Soviets revealed that changes were noted only in the barley and pine seeds, as had been expected because of their sensitivity to radiation.

ZOND 6

Zond 6 was launched on November 10, 1968 and was essentially a repeat of Zond 5. Three trajectory corrections were made, the first on November 12 and the other two after the spacecraft had passed the Moon at a distance of 2,250 km on November 14. The Soviets announced that equipment was carried to study the effects of radiation on living creatures, although no other details of the biological payload were provided. A photoemulsion chamber to record the paths of cosmic rays was carried, together with a micrometeorite detector.

More lunar photographs were taken with a standard aerial camera which had a focal length of 400 mm, frame size 13 X 18 cm, and a resolution of 50 lines per mm. Each photograph had 134 million data bits, compared with 1.2 million data bits with each Zond 3 facsimile picture. Some of the photographs provided stereo views of both the near and far sides.

Zond 6 returned to Earth on November 17 in much the same manner as Zond 5, but with one important difference—a skip-return trajectory. The spacecraft approached Earth at 11 km per second, and using aerodynamic braking, slowed to 7.6 km per second. Then an onboard control mechanism was used to orient the craft so that it developed lift and skipped outside the atmosphere, followed by a second reentry and a controlled landing in the Soviet Union in the "preset district."

The Soviets explained that the South Pole approach was the only one practical for returning Zond payloads to the Soviet Union because a direct ballistic approach would cause a G-force overload for a human crew. Academician Petrov noted, however, that the prolonged reentry increased the effect of heat flow, and added a considerable strain to the structure of the heat protection system. (196) He also stated that the G-load for Zond 5 reached 10-16 G's, and implied that for Zond 6 it was closer to that encountered with a manned Soyuz mission (3-4 G's). (197)

Following this flight, the Soviets formally announced that Zonds 4, 5 and 6 were aimed at perfecting a manned spaceship to go around the Moon. Although all indications were that Zond 6 per formed well, Academician Blagonravov stated that further un manned tests would be required before men could be sent. (198)

ZOND 7

The launch of Zond 7 occurred on August 7, 1969, with the announced purpose of further engineering tests and more photographs of the Moon's surface. The spacecraft circled the Moon at a distance of 2,000 km on August 11. The craft returned to Earth in the same manner as Zond 6 on August 14.

The only notable difference in this mission was that it took color as well as black and white photographs in an attempt to show differences in the microstructure of lunar material and to discern new features on the Earth. Picture taking sessions were held on August 8 for Earth and on August 11 for the Moon (twice) and the Earth as it set beneath the Moon's horizon.

ZOND 8

The last spacecraft in the series was launched on October 20, 1970. The next day it transmitted the first television images of Earth from a distance of 65,000 km, and these continued for the next 2 days. The ship passed within 1,100 km of the Moon, and both color and black and white pictures were taken of the surface.

The mission used a significantly different approach to Earth for reentry, coming in over the North Pole instead of the South. The advantage was that Soviet ground stations could control the flight during most of the reentry. This also was the second Soviet water recovery, with the craft splashing down 725 km southeast of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, probably in a ballistic reentry. This time, recovery ships were sufficiently well positioned to see the actual reentry, and although it was night, as in the case of Zond 5, the capsule was quickly recovered by the Toman. Zond 8 was then transferred to the Semyon Chelyushkin for the trip to Bombay and subsequent airplane flight to the Soviet Union.

SOVIET PLANS FOR A MANNED LUNAR PROGRAM Part-2

Although the Soviets still have not sent cosmonauts to the Moon, statements by Soviet authorities during the "Moon Race" period of the 1960's , certainly created the impression that they were trying to beat the United States to our nearest neighbor in space.

There was also empirical evidence that a manned lunar program was underway. Five Zond flights from 1968 to 1970 were identified by the Soviets as having been engineering tests related to development of a manned spacecraft to go the Moon, and it is generally concluded that this would have been for circumlunar flight (see table 12). One Kosmos flight in 1971 has been identified as having been a test of a lunar cabin, and it had similar orbital elements to two other flights prior to that time. The exact nature of these flights remains unknown, but they could have been testing propulsion systems and/or a module for landing on the lunar surface. A fourth flight in 1971 may have been a test of an orbiter and a lander

The most significant obstacle which the Soviets apparently could not overcome was development of a suitably powerful launch vehicle equivalent to the Saturn V rocket used in the U.S. Apollo program, the so-called "G" vehicle described in part 1 of this study.

Despite the prevailing wisdom that the race to the Moon was a race to be first, and once they lost, the Soviets put their plans aside indefinitely, it appears that they kept their plans alive at least for 2 years after that. The Kosmos flights related to development of a "lunar cabin" were launched in 1970-71, after the 1969 landing of Apollo 11.

Soviet Lunar Cabina Flight Testing

KOSMOS 379, 382, 398, AND 434

Four Kosmos flights in the 1970-71 time period were the subject of various interpretations for many years as to their purpose. The mission of one of these, Kosmos 382, still remains somewhat in doubt, but is included here as part of tests for the manned lunar landing program, since it seems most likely to have been related to that program.

The other three, Kosmos 379, 398 and 434 had orbital parameters and maneuvers very similar to each other and are summarized in table 13. As can be seen, Kosmos 379, 398 and 434 were launched into initial orbits with apogee in the 250 to 285 km range and perigee around 200 km, similar to a Soyuz mission. The signal formats and frequencies used also resembled Soyuz, and it is therefore concluded that an A-2 vehicle was utilized. However, Soyuz has been described as having a maximum altitude range of 1,300 km, and using orbital platforms, the apogees of each of these spacecraft were raised to as much as 14,035 km. Since these altitudes are out of the range of the A-2 vehicle, this was apparently the first use of the A-2-m vehicle, a much more maneuverable version of the A-2. Using data from Kosmos 159, which he classifies as a Soyuz propulsion test, David Woods has calculated the amount of propellant that can be carried on Soyuz and its derivatives, and therefore that could have been used for the Kosmos 379 maneuvers. He concluded that the initial maneuvers of all three A-2 missions were accomplished by an add-on propulsion unit. (199)

Geoffrey E. Perry of the Kettering Group calculated the delta V's required for the maneuvers of Kosmos 379 and found a close correlation with what might be expected for lunar orbit insertion and for trans-Earth injection. (200)

By a fortuitous set of circumstances, the Soviets were led to publicly reveal the nature of Kosmos 434 in 1981. On August 25, a bright light was seen over Western Australia and initial reports stated that it was the reentry of Kosmos 434. Public concern over possible radioactive hazards associated with reentering Soviet spacecraft following the 1978 reentry of Kosmos 954 (which carried a nuclear reactor, see part 3 chapter 5), prompted the Soviet Foreign Ministry to issue an official statement on the subject wherein they stated that the object could not have been Kosmos 434 for it had reentered on August 22.201 An analysis by Perry concluded that the Soviet account was probably correct. The interesting point, however, was that the Soviets identified Kosmos 434 as having been a test of lunar cabin. This confirmed the long-standing speculation that it had been part of the manned lunar program, and, by inference, that Kosmos 379 and 398 were as well. Whether it was a module which could have landed cosmonauts on the surface of the Moon, or just a circumlunar capability is still hotly debated in the West.

According to Woods' analysis, Kosmos 379 had the heaviest initial weight (7,495 kg) and lowest initial orbit, with the largest propellant supply used for the second manuever; Kosmos 398 (7,255 kg) had the shortest first manuever burn; and Kosmos 434 had the lightest initial weight (7,495 kg) and highest initial orbit. He concluded that Kosmos 379 was a test conducted with a full propellant load, while the other two carried a propellant load comparable to that needed for trans-Earth injection. (202)

Kosmos 382 is obviously different from the other three, not only because perigee was raised instead of apogee, but a very substantial plane change was made in the final maneuver. If the payload was similar to the other three, then only a D class vehicle could

have been used to accomplish such maneuvers, and apparently was a D-l-m. Perry has concluded that all four Kosmos flights were tests of the Soviet equivalent of the American SPS engine used for the Apollo command module on lunar flights. Woods has gone further to conclude that Kosmos 382 was in fact a test of a heavier payload than the other flights (hence the use of the D-l-m instead of (A-2-m) and was, in fact, a manned lunar orbiter plus a lander. (203)

While it is tempting to conclude definitively that Kosmos 382 was truly part of the same series as Kosmos 379, 398 and 424, the fact that the mission profile was different than the others requires that this judgment still be made on a tentative basis.

SOVIET PLANS FOR A MANNED LUNAR PROGRAM Part-3

Although the Soviets still have not sent cosmonauts to the Moon, statements by Soviet authorities during the "Moon Race" period of the 1960's , certainly created the impression that they were trying to beat the United States to our nearest neighbor in space.

There was also empirical evidence that a manned lunar program was underway. Five Zond flights from 1968 to 1970 were identified by the Soviets as having been engineering tests related to development of a manned spacecraft to go the Moon, and it is generally concluded that this would have been for circumlunar flight (see table 12). One Kosmos flight in 1971 has been identified as having been a test of a lunar cabin, and it had similar orbital elements to two other flights prior to that time. The exact nature of these flights remains unknown, but they could have been testing propulsion systems and/or a module for landing on the lunar surface. A fourth flight in 1971 may have been a test of an orbiter and a lander

POSSIBLE LUNAR LANDING MISSION PROFILES

Woods has considered the various mission scenarios that the Soviets might have had in mind for accomplishing a manned lunar landing.204 He speculates that the mission would start with the launch of all the unmanned hardware on a G-l booster. The crew would follow in a heavy Zond launched by an A-2, and rendezvous and dock with the 135 tonne G-l payload in Earth orbit. The two spacecraft would remain docked until trans-Earth injection (TED utilizing propulsion modules in the G-l payload for both trans-lunar injection (TLI) and lunar orbit insertion (LOI). According to Woods, simulating TL1-LOI would require subjecting the Heavy Zond to a force of 1 G in a direction opposite to the normal thrust vector, which therefore could be accomplished only by a separate propulsion module mounted where the orbital module would be on a conventional Soyuz. He further proposes that the proplusion system used by Luna 4-14 could have served such a role. Once in lunar orbit, Woods suggests that two members of the three-man crew would have gone to the surface and back.

While the Woods scenario of a combined Earth orbit rendezvous/lunar orbit rendezvous method for landing cosmonauts on the Moon is well argued, some questions necessarily remain.

There were many available options for sending crews to the Moon and back, and in the United States, the debate over whether a direct ascent, Earth orbit rendezvous, or lunar orbit rendezvous method should be used was highly acrimonious. The ultimate decision to use the lunar orbit rendezvous approach was bitterly opposed by the President's Science Adviser, Jerome Weisner. (205) Surely a similar debate would have raged within the Soviet space hierarchy and Woods' scenario is, in one sense, the worst of both worlds, requiring rendezvous operations in both Earth and lunar orbit If the G-l booster was, in fact, designed as the equivalent of Saturn V, the need for both rendezvous operations seems questionable, since the Saturn V was able to launch both the manned and unmanned components of Apollo. If they had been willing and able to perform Earth and lunar orbit rendezvous, then the question remains as to why they did not do so using the D vehicle.

Phillip S. dark has also proposed a Soviet manned lunar mission scenario which does not involve landing. (206) According to dark, the Soviets might have decided to gain experience in lunar orbit using a Zond/Salyut combination. The Zond, with a three-man crew, would be launched by an A-2 into Earth orbit. A day later, a G booster would be launched carrying a Salyut whereupon the two vehicles would dock and be sent into a trans-lunar trajectory. Upon arrival in lunar orbit, the Zond/Salyut could enter a 110 km lunar orbit and remain for as long as a month, after which the Zond could return to Earth leaving the Salyut in luna orbit.

FUTURE PLANS FOR MANNED LUNAR MISSIONS

Like the United States, the Soviets have not launched any missions, manned or unmanned, to explore the Moon for many years. The last Luna spacecraft was launched in 1976. This may not indicate a lack of interest in the Moon, but simply a lowering of its status on the long list of priorities for space exploration.

If Western analysis is correct that the Soviets did not win the Moon race because they did not have the hardware (particularly the launch vehicle) to accomplish the task, then it may stand to reason that once such hardware is available, new attempts at landing cosmonauts on the Moon may be made. This would certainly be in concert with the long range, broad goals expressed by the Soviets for their space program, including manned missions to the planets. Such flights could more easily be launched from the Moon since it has only one-sixth Earth's gravity.

References:

A. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1976-80, (WITH SUPPLEMENTARY DATA THROUGH 1983) MANNED SPACE PROGRAMS AND SPACE LIFE SCIENCES PREPARED AT THE REQUEST OF HON. BOB PACKWOOD, Chairman, COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION UNITED STATES SENATE, Part 2, OCTOBER 1984, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D. C., 1984

194. See Vick, Charles P. Soviet Super-Boosters-1. Spaceflight, v. 15, Dec. 1973; Oberg, James E. Russia Meant to Win the Moon Race. Spaceflight, v. 17, May 1975; Woods, David R. A Review of the Soviet Lunar Exploration Programme. Spaceflight, v. 18, July-August 1976.

195. Grahn, Sven and Dieter Oslender. Cosmos 146 and 154. Spaceflight, v. 22, Mar. 1980: 121-123.

196. Izvestiya, Moscow, Nov 19, 1968, p. 2.

197. Moscow Rural Life, Nov. 24, 1968, p. 4.

198. Moscow Radio, Dec. 10, 1968, 1200 GMT.

199. Woods, D. R., Lunar Mission Cosmos Satellites. Spaceflight, Nov. 1977, p. 383.

200. Perry, G. E., Flight International, London, Dec. 10, 1970, p. 923.

201. Quoted ln: Glllette. Robert. Soviets Hint "Experimental" Fallen Satellite Lost Its Way to the Moon. Washington Post, Aug. 30, 1981: A25.

202. Woods, op. cit.

203. Woods, op. cit.

204. Ibid.

205. NASA Firm on Lunar Orbit Choice, Missiles and Rockets, Oct. 22, 1962: 13 For a detailed accounting of the decisions involved in the Apollo program, see; Smith, Mareia Manned Space Flight Through 1975. In U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Science and Technology. United States Civilian Space Programs 1958-78: Volume I. Committee print. Washington, U.S. Government Office 1981, pp. 379-428.

206. Clark, Phillip S., A review of the Soviet Union's Manned Lunar Programme, privately published, 1977, pp.16-29.

 
Page last modified: 05-06-2018 18:57:49 ZULU