UR-500 / [PROTON]
The Proton SL-9 is a two stage launch vehicle ICBM concept, the precursor to the four stage SL-12 Proton-Zond manned lunar circumnavigation spacecraft prototype and later SL-12 three stage Proton-Salyut/Mir/ISS launch vehicle.
In August of 1961, Premier Nikita Khrushchev openly threatened the West with a new and terrifying weapon, the orbital H-bomb. "You do not have 50- or 100-megaton bombs, we have bombs more powerful than 100 megatons. We placed Gagarin and Titov in space, and we can replace them with other loads that can be directed to any place on Earth." Although the US had hypothesized orbital bombs, this was the first public indication that the Soviets were actively pursuing this course of action. Shortly after the Khrushchev statement, US analysis greatly qualified and diminished the threat of these systems posed to the US.
On October 18, 1963 NIE 11-8-63 "SOVIET CAPABILITIES FOR STRATEGIC ATTACK" noted that "We continue to believe that the Soviets are developing a large vehicle (with a million or more pounds of thrust), which could be used as a space booster, as a “global” rocket, or as a carrier for warheads yielding up to 100 MT. If test firings begin within the next few months, such a large vehicle could probably have an initial operational capability as an ICBM in the period mid-1965 to mid-1966. Initial deployed sites would probably be soft, but the Soviets might find it feasible to incorporate hardening at some stage in the program.
"For accomplishing military missions, we think that during the 1966-1969 period, orbital weapons will not compare favorably with ICBMs in terms of cost and effectiveness. Based on these considerations as we now understand them, it would appear unlikely that the Soviets will during this decade deploy orbital bombardment systems of military significance. Moreover, we believe that the USSR would probably recognize that a Soviet deployment of nuclear weapons in space would produce an unfavorable reaction in other countries and strong US counteractions. Further, if the Soviets enter into a formal obligation to refrain from orbiting nuclear weapons, this will constitute still another factor inhibiting such deployment.
"We recognize, however, that the Soviets might reach different conclusions as to cost and effectiveness, and in some future phase of East-West relations, political inhibitions might lose their effectiveness. Moreover, considering the pace of developments in the weapons field in general, it is extremely hazardous to estimate Soviet decisions for a period many years ahead. For these reasons, a firm estimate as to whether the Soviets will deploy an orbital bombardment system within the 1966-1969 period cannot be made at this time."
In 1965, the USSR demonstrated what can be called their first "quantum jump" in launch vehicle development. On 16 July 1965, they launched Proton 1, which weighed 27,000 pounds. The Proton launch vehicle had not been displayed by the Russians, but it apparently was a two-stage tandem vehicle. The lower stage has a greater diameter than the upper stage; 25-30 feet diameter as compared to a 14-15 foot diameter upper stage. Most estimates placed the total earth orbit payload capability of this system, called the SL-9, at 30, 000 pounds. The SL-9 wad used only in launches of Proton spaceraft and may not have been designed specifically as a new operational launch vehicle. Rather, itis likely that the SL-9 was a building block in the development of an entirely new family of launch vehicles. Following the SL-9, this development cycle produced the SL-12.
The SL-12 provided the Russians with their greatest operational launch vehicle capability to that date. This system was first used in March 1967 with the launch of Cosmos 146. Estimates on the weight of Cosmos 146 varied from 40,000 to 60, 000 pounds, but it was generally accepted capability was approximately 50,000 pounds in near earth orbit. The SL-12 appeared to be the SL-9 with two additional upper stages, bringing the total height of the vehicle to between 137 and 167 feet.
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