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Vertical Sounding Rocket Program

By Charles S. Sheldon II [1917-1981], *

1971-1975/1976-1980

E. SOVIET VERTICAL ROCKET PROBES

1. National Flights

The record of major Soviet vertical sounding rockets is incomplete, but, even those that are known show they have made a significant contribution to the total program and to orbital flights which followed them. Most of the major sounding rockets have been launched at the Volgograd Station, otherwise known as Kapustin Yar. Smaller sounding rockets and weather rockets have been launched not only there but at such places as Kheys (Hays) Island , on Soviet scientific research ships at sea, and even in Antarctica .

The largest sounding rocket the Russians have named is one they call the A-3, which in U.S. nomenclature is the SS-3, and which NATO calls the Shyster. It is possible that the major international cooperation flights use the Sandal or SS-4, that is, the first stage of the B-l. One mission was so far ahead of the rest in its reach that it is more likely it used the SS-5 Skean, that is, the first stage of the C-l.

In May 1957, the Russians announced they had sent a rocket 211 kilometers up, which carried five dogs. The payload weighed 2,196 kilograms.

On February 21, 1958 , a very complex geophysical rocket with a wide range of atmospheric and solar experiments was sent 473 kilometers up. The payload weighed 1,515 kilograms.

On August 27, 1958 a payload of 1,690 kilograms was sent up to 452 kilometers, carrying two dogs, Belyanka and Pestraya.

On July 2, 1959 , a rocket carrying about 2,000 kilograms of payload was sent 241 kilometers up. It carried dogs named Otvazhnaya and Snezhinka, and a rabbit named Marfusha.

On July 10, 1959 , another rocket with a payload of about 2,200 kilograms was sent about 211 kilometers up, this time carrying several dogs including Otvazhnaya again.

On June 15, 1960 , a rocket with a payload of 2,100 kilograms was sent 221 kilometers up. Included this time were a rabbit and two dogs, including Otvazhnaya on a fifth flight.

There were similar sounding rocket flights on June 6 and June 18, 1963 . The first went 563 kilometers up.

On September 20 and October 1, 1965 , rockets were sent about 480 to 500 kilometers up doing wide ranging geophysical experiments including taking various measurements of the ionosphere and photographs and spectrographs of the Sun in the ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.

By looking at the parameters of these flights, they were probably all conducted with use of the A-3 (SS-3 Shyster) geophysical rocket.

A new series of flights began in 1966, quite possibly with the same launch vehicle or perhaps its SS-4 Sandal successor, but adding to the usual range of geophysical experiments some unusual propulsion experiments as well. The first was called Yantar 1, launched on October 13, 1966 . It made studies of electron concentrations and photo emissions in the ionosphere. But it also scooped up atmospheric nitrogen, after attaining speed through its rocket motor, to sustain a special ion electrical rocket with propellant. This was seen as leading toward future hypersonic aircraft. In 1969 there were more Yantar flights, but the dates and the performance have not been reported in detail. All the flights seem to have operated in the altitude range of 100 to 400 kilometers.

On October 12, 1967 , a single, much more ambitious sounding rocket flight was made, and it seems likely that a larger launch vehicle had to be used. such as the first stage of the C-l (SS-5, Skean). Pictures released of the payload showed an instrument container much like a small Kosmos satellite. If the larger rocket was used, it probably went from Tyuratam, as no pad had been used at Kapustin Yar by that year for such a larger vehicle.

The payload was designed to make a variety of solar and ionospheric measurements, including measures of the concentration and location of electrons and positive ions. The flight lasted 52 minutes, during which time it reached an altitude of about 4,400 kilometers. The payload was separated from the rocket body by more than 100 kilometers to minimize distortion of data which might occur in a location close to the carrier rocket.

In 1970 there were additional geophysical rocket launchings. One of these came on October 3, and flew up to about 500 kilometers. It did solar ultraviolet and X-ray studies.

On September 24, 1971 , a geophysical rocket was sent to an altitude of 230 kilometers. A similar rocket was launched on October 9, 1971 to an altitude of about 500 kilometers.

2. The Vertikal International Program

The Interkosmos organization of Soviet Bloc countries has sponsored geophysical sounding rocket flights under the name Vertikal. Vertikal 1 was launched on November 28, 1970 at Kapustin Yar, probably using the first stage of the B-l (SS-4 Sandal), but possibly still using the SS-3 Shyster, or Soviet designated A-3. The payload was sent about 500 kilometers up. It weighed 1,300 kilograms. The rocket was 23 meters long with a diameter of 1.66 meters. Instrumentation measured the X-ray spectrum, and the concentration of electrons and positive ions. as well as electron temperature. These instruments had been manufactured jointly by the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union to specifications also supplied by Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia .

On August 20, 1971 , Vertikal 2 was launched and it flew to an altitude of 463 kilometers. The description of payload weight, dimensions, and participants seemed to match those of the earlier flight. The payload section separated from the single stage carrier rocket at about 90 kilometers, carried by momentum to the high point of the flight. Parachute recovery was used to retrieve the payload.

On September 2, 1975 , Vertikal 3 was launched at Kapustin Yar, at 0740 Moscow time, presumably with the same B-l first stage or Soviet designated A-3 sounding rocket. It reached a maximum altitude of 502 kilometers, following separation from the single stage carrier rocket at 97 kilometers altitude. The experiments continued the previous work on interactions between solar shortwave radiation and the ionosphere and upper atmosphere. The assembly and launch itself were conducted by representatives of Bulgaria , Czechoslovakia , the German Democratic Republic, and U.S.S.R. Two weather rockets with Bulgarian and Soviet equipment were launched at the same time, and various ground stations made measurements at the same period.

It was interesting that during the summer of 1975, the Russians put on display in the usual Moscow museum a replica of the Vertikal payload but referred to the payload as a Prognoz, the name reserved for the three flights which had ranged out in very eccentric Earth orbits. This replica or one like it was at the Paris Air Show in the spring of the same year.

Vertikal 4 was launched on October 14, 1976, from Kapustin Yar. The geophysical rocket reached an altitude of 173 kilometers, where an astrophysical probe was released. The probe made an arc, reaching a height of 1,512 kilometers and returned to Earth with a parachute. Vertikal 4 continued the research of the previous three Vertikal flights and of Interkosmos 2, 8, 10, 12, and 14. During its 30 minute flight, Vertikal 4 took measurements at different altitudes of the concentration of neutral atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere. It measured solar radiation absorption to determine the concentration and temperature of molecular and atomic oxygen and molecular nitrogen. Vertikal 4 also carried a solar-guided stabilization system. The scientific equipment was developed by Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. (3)

On August 30, 1977, Vertikal 5 was launched from Kapustin Yar. The payload reached an altitude of 500 kilometers during the 10 to 15 minute flight. It carried an x ray spectrometer, a wide-band photometer, a micrometeoroid detector and a solar imaging system. Poland and Czechoslovakia contributed to the development of the scientific instruments. The mission conducted research on short-wave radiation of the solar corona and meteor particles. The payload detached from the launch vehicle at 100 kilometers and

landed with the aid of a parachute. (4)

Vertikal 6 was launched on October 25, 1977, from Kapustin Yar to an altitude of 1500 kilometers. The instrument capsule was developed by Bulgaria, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia, and separated from the rocket at 173 kilometers. The flight lasted 30 minutes and collected data to improve weather and climate forecasting. Vertikal 6 continued research on the atmosphere and ionosphere and on short-wave solar radiation. A set of geophysical rockets were launched along with Vertikal 6 to take simultaneous measurements of the atmosphere and to develop measurements for rocket sounding. The geophysical rockets carried instruments developed by Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland and the Soviet Union. (5)

Vertikal 7 was launched on November .3, 1978, to an altitude of 1500 kilometers (the instrument package separated at 175 kilometers), and continued research on the ionosphere and short-wave radiation. The onboard equipment was made in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. (6)

Vertikal 8 was launched September 26, 1979, to an altitude of 505 kilometers. The probe carried equipment developed by Poland, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia and separated from the rocket at 100 kilometers. It continued research on shortwave radiation from the Sun. A new experiment to make a short-wave band image of the Sun was tested. (7)

OTHER SOUNDING ROCKETS

The record of major Soviet vertical sounding rockets made under the national, rather than international, program is incomplete, but even those that are known show they have made a significant contribution to the total program and to orbital flights which followed them. Most of the major sounding rockets have been launched from Kapustin Yar. Smaller sounding rockets and weather rockets have been launched there, as well as at Hays Island, on Soviet scientific research ships at sea, and in Antarctica.

The largest Soviet sounding rocket is called the A-3 (referred to as the SS-3 by the United States and as Shyster by NATO). It is possible that the major international cooperation flights use the Sandal or SS-4, that is, the first stage of the B-l. One mission reached an altitude much higher than the others and it is likely that it used the SS-5 Skean (the first stage of the C-l). (These probes are shown on page 120 in part 1 of this study.)

The Soviet sounding rockets which have been launched under the national program have included missions for both biological and geophysical experiments.

SOVIET BIOLOGICAL SOUNDING ROCKET FLIGHTS

In May 1957, the Russians announced they had sent a rocket to an altitude of 211 kilometers with a payload which weighed 2,196 kilograms and carried five dogs.

On August 27, 1958, a payload of 1,690 kilograms was launched to an altitude of 452 kilometers. The dogs Belyanka and Pestraya were aboard.

On July 2, 1959, the dogs Otvazhnaya and Snezhinka, accompanied by a rabbit named Marfusha, were launched to an altitude of 241 kilometers. The payload weighed about 2,000 kilograms.

On July 10, 1959, another rocket with a payload of about 2,200 kilograms was launched to an altitude of about 211 kilometers, carrying several dogs including Otvazhnaya again.

On June 15, 1960, Otvazhnaya made a fifth flight on a sounding rocket which reached an altitude of 221 kilometers. The payload weighed 2,100 kilograms, and included another dog and a rabbit.

There were similar sounding rocket flights on June 6 and June 18, 1963. The first reached an altitude of 563 kilometers.

SOVIET SOUNDING ROCKET FLIGHTS FOR GEOPHYSICAL AND PROPULSION

EXPERIMENTS

On February 21, 1958, a very complex geophysical rocket with a wide range of atmospheric and solar experiments was sent to an altitude of 473 kilometers. The payload weighed 1,515 kilograms.

On September 20 and October 1, 1965, rockets were sent to an altitude of about 480 to 500 kilometers to perform a wide range of geophysical experiments including taking measurements of the ionosphere and photographs and spectrographs of the Sun in the ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths.

A new series of flights began in 1966, quite possibly with the A-3 launch vehicle or perhaps its SS-4 Sandal successor, but adding to the usual range of geophysical experiments were some unusual propulsion experiments.

The first, called Yantar 1, was launched on October 13, 1966. In addition to making studies of electron concentrations and photo emissions in the ionosphere, it scooped up atmospheric nitrogen, after attaining speed through its rocket motor, to sustain a special ion electrical rocket with propellant. This was seen as leading toward future hypersonic aircraft. In 1969 there were more Yantar flights, but the dates and the performance have not been reported in detail. All the flights seem to have operated in the altitude range of 100 to 400 kilometers.

On October 12, 1967, a much more ambitious sounding rocket flight was made, and it seems likely that a larger launch vehicle was used, such as the first stage of the C-l. Pictures released of the payload showed an instrument container much like a small Kosmos satellite. If the larger rocket was used, it probably was launched from Tyuratam, since no pad had been used at Kapustin Yar by that year for such a large vehicle.

References:

(A) SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS, 1971-75, OVERVIEW, FACILITIES AND HARDWARE MANNED AND UNMANNED FLIGHT PROGRAMS, BIOASTRONAUTICS CIVIL AND MILITARY APPLICATIONS PROJECTIONS OF FUTURE PLANS, STAFF REPORT , THE COMMITTEE ON AERONAUTICAL AND SPACE .SCIENCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, BY THE SCIENCE POLICY RESEARCH DIVISION CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, VOLUME – I, AUGUST 30, 1976, GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON : 1976,

A. SOVIET SPACE PROGRAMS: 1976-80 (WITH SUPPLEMENTARY DATA THROUGH 1983), UNMANNED SPACE ACTIVITIES, PREPARED AT THE REQUEST OF Hon. JOHN C. DANFORTH, Chairman, COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION, UNITED STATES SENATE, Part 3, MAY 1985, Printed for the use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, 99th Congress, 1 st. session, COMMITTEE PRINT, S. Prt. 98-235, U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE WASHINGTON: 1985

2. The members of Interkosmos, in addition to the Soviet Union, are: Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam.

3. Pravda, Moscow, Oct. 17, 1976, p. 3.

* Dr. Sheldon [1917-1981] was the Senior Specialist in Space and Transportation Technology



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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 22:15:18 ZULU