Missile mastodons: Missiles costing the city

Two rival giants

Assembly of the second stage H-1

Panorama of starting positions N-1

One of the few drawings of the UR-700

Saturn 5 at launch position

In horizontal form, Saturn-5 could only be seen in the Space Technology Museum

"Proton" - a prototype of the lunar rocket UR-700

So could start the "Volcano"

The first Soviet satellites shocked the United States so much that for the first time they made Americans wonder if they really are the leaders of world progress. Not only the American government, but also the simple population of the country considered itself vulnerable. What was needed was a national program that would restore the status quo with one leap. An adequate answer could only be the development of a superheavy launch vehicle, which would ensure manned flights to the moon and Mars. And in August 1958, the Department of Advanced Research of the United States Department of Defense decided to finance the development of the most powerful Saturn rocket carrier on Earth. Rather, it was planned to create a whole family of Saturns, but the ultimate goal was Saturn5, a three-stage carrier for a lunar expedition.

Who is harder?

Unlike similar Soviet programs, the development of Saturn was not secret from the very beginning. Moreover, the program was announced nationwide, and John F. Kennedy called on every American to contribute to its successful implementation. The chief designer of the world's most powerful launch vehicle, Werner von Braun, was also openly named. The creator of a ballistic missile for the mass extermination of the British in World War II got a chance to rehabilitate.

Due to the openness of American work, the development of Saturn was not a secret for Soviet rocketers. In the same 1958, a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR appeared on the development of a domestic heavy missile — our top secret answer to the Americans. However, if von Braun proposed using a liquid propellant engine on well-developed oxygen-kerosene components for the first stage of his rocket, and oxygen-hydrogen on the next pair, then the initial Soviet project provided for the first-stage oxygen-hydrogen engine a fantastic second-generation nuclear engine. It was supposed to use ammonia or its mixture with alcohol as a working fluid; all this was heated in a nuclear reactor to a temperature of 3000 degrees. Jets of hot gases would fly out through four nozzles.

It was not possible for Soviet rocket scientists to assess the reality of creating a nuclear engine; the topic was top-secret. Engineers only heard rumors about some developments at the Kurchatov Institute, about Tupolev’s attempts to install a reactor on an airplane and successes in creating the first nuclear boats. Only by 1961 was the only feasible decision made - to build a heavy rocket on liquid propellant engines. Another year passed in disputes over who should build the rocket. Korolev defeated. By the middle of 1962, the USSR was ready only the project of the heavy royal N-1 carrier rocket. And in the USA, as early as a year, the flight tests of the first stage, the two-stage Saturn-1 launch vehicle, were in full swing. Already at this stage, the race we lost!

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The Saturn program is still a classic example of organizing work on a gigantic project: a transparent budget, meeting deadlines and, most importantly, successful cooperation of giant competing corporations. The first stage was made by Boeing, the second by Nord American Rockwell, the third by McDonnell Douglas, the instrument compartment by IBM, the engines by Rocketdyne, etc. In the USSR, the main designers finally quarreled with each other on the lunar carrier. As a result, Valentin Glushko, chief designer of the world's best first-stage rocket engines, refused to make engines for the royal N-1 rocket and, together with another rocket designer Vladimir Chelomey, began independent development of a heavy-duty carrier.

Korolev, in designing the N-1, made, perhaps, all the mistakes that could be made. To begin with, the designers miscalculated the payload mass, which with a starting mass of H1 at 2200 tons was 75 tons. As it turned out much later, such a load did not allow people to land on the moon. (“Saturn-5” was originally designed for 150 tons of payload.) The lack of powerful engines forced only the first stage to install thirty rocket engines designed by Nikolai Kuznetsov, who had previously built aircraft engines, which is why the N-1, according to Glushko, “reminded not a rocket, but a warehouse of engines. ”

A step back was the rejection of the well-developed packet scheme on the famous R-7 and from the bearing tanks. The tanks became suspended again, as on the V-2 - they perceived only the hydrostatic pressure of the fuel, and the external casing resisted the dynamic loads. The giant tanks and rocket blocks were so large that only the transportable blocks were planned at the manufacturing plants. Welding tanks, assembling blocks and mounting the rocket was planned to be carried out in a huge building on Baikonur, which greatly increased the cost of the carrier.

Engines of the second and third stages on Saturn-5 operated on oxygen and hydrogen - much more efficient components than the oxygen-kerosene pair, which was used at all the N-1 stages. As a result, even the modified N-1 with a launch mass of 2820 tons launched only 90 tons of the payload into a low orbit, while the Saturn-5 launched 140 tons with a launch mass of 2913 tons!

The skeptics of using liquid hydrogen scared the designers with the following arguments: that at temperatures of -2530С all metals become brittle and that even schoolchildren know that a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is an explosive gas and a tiny leak during refueling will lead to a gigantic volume explosion. Such arguments, indeed, were only suitable for schoolchildren, but not for real professionals.

Measure out three times, let go

Reliability was a key requirement when implementing the Saturn program. It was decided to thoroughly test almost all the modules on the ground; in flight it was supposed to experience only what was impossible to test on Earth. This was due to the very high cost of flight tests. Each serial engine underwent regular pre-flight fire tests three times: two times - before delivery and the third - as part of the corresponding missile stage. In fact, all Saturn’s engines were reusable. Soviet rocket engines were designed for only one start, that is, they were disposable, and only selective samples from the party were tested. Deputy General Designer Leonid Voskresensky spoke specifically about the Soviet methodology: “If we ignore the American experience and continue to build missiles in the hope of“ maybe not flying from the first, but from the second time, ”then we all have a pipe.” The intuition of the future academician did not disappoint. By 1965, the Americans had reusable engines fully developed on Earth for all stages and switched to their serial production. For media reliability, this was of utmost importance. By the fall of 1967, the Americans announced the start of flights. According to Boris Khertok, Deputy Korolev, the backlog of the Soviet program at that time was already more than two years old. It was obvious that the USSR had no chance of winning the lunar race. However, not one of the leaders of the Soviet missile program had the courage to report this to the government: N-1 continued to devour gigantic financial and material resources.

Lucky and loser

The Saturn program called for the creation of three different carriers in series. The two-stage Saturn-1 rocket (the first stage on kerosene, the second on hydrogen), the flight tests of which began back in 1961, was intended for testing the Apollo spacecraft. Saturn-1B, five times lighter than Saturn-5, became the base ship for the manned Apollo flights. Both of these ships served as prototypes for the final modification - the three-stage lunar carrier Saturn-5.

The rocket was assembled in an upright position right in the Space Center at Cape Canaveral. For this, a huge skyscraper with a height of 160 m was built. The transportation of the assembled rocket to the launch pad was also carried out in an upright position by a special tracked conveyor. At the first stage of Saturn5, five F-1 engines were installed, each with a thrust of 695 tons, operating on oxygen and kerosene. Oxygen-hydrogen engines J-2, with a thrust of 92 104 tons each, stood at the second and third stages (five and one engine, respectively). Note that neither oxygen-kerosene engines for traction over 600 tons, nor powerful oxygen-hydrogen engines at that time were even developed in the USSR. The first Saturn 5 was launched on November 9, 1967, and in July 1969, Saturn 5 delivered the first expedition to the moon. In total, several dozen launches of Saturns of various modifications were made, and not one launch ended in disaster.

The fate of N-1 was completely different. It was decided not to make any intermediate options, but to launch a full-size missile immediately. The first launch of the N-1 took place on February 21, 1969. The missile lasted 69 seconds in the air and fell 50 km from the start - the first-stage engines and their control system were let down. On June 3, the launch of the second N-1. Even before taking off from the launch pad, one of the engines exploded, the remaining engines lifted the rocket 200 m, after which the carrier crashed to the ground, completely destroying the launch facilities. The second launch pad, 3 km from the destroyed one, survived, but did not dare to launch a third rocket: an engine explosion is not such an accident that can be fixed in a month. Yes, and the race itself has lost its meaning: in July, the Americans landed on the moon. However, in 1971-1972, two more unsuccessful attempts were made to launch the N-1. Missiles died at the stage of the first stage. Only after that a final decision was made to stop the work on N-1. The next year, 1973, became a crisis for peaceful cosmonautics both in the USSR and in the USA. He came to us because of the complete failure of the lunar program. The Americans, sending seven expeditions to the moon, faced another problem - well, flew, and then what? The result was one for both sides: the work on superheavy carriers was curtailed.

Block rocket

Could we even theoretically get ahead of the Americans in the lunar race? All experts agree: with the royal carrier, definitely not. Not only the carrier was not ready, at the time of the termination of the program only the lunar spacesuit was completely worked out (“PM” will write about it in the next issue)!

However, there was another option. Almost simultaneously with Korolev, Vladimir Chelomey, who headed the Reutov OKB-52, proposed his lunar ship and launch vehicle project. Unlike the N-1, the Chelomeev’s super-heavy launch vehicle project was not utopian. As a basis for the lunar carrier UR-700, Vladimir Chelomey planned to take the already in operation three-stage UR-500K, the ancestor of the modern Proton family. UR-500 had an unusual layout of the first stage. The basis was the central oxidizer block-tank. Six blocks were hung on it, each of which consisted of a tank with fuel and an engine of the first stage. The advantage of this arrangement was the small length of the assembled stage. An important advantage of the UR-500 was that all the blocks were designed taking into account the dimensions of railway cars and platforms, as well as the width of railway tracks and the dimensions of tunnels, bridges and junctions. The rocket was built at the basic plants, and at Baikonur only relatively simple assembly of the finished blocks took place.

None of the existing engines were suitable for such a powerful rocket. This is where the RD-253 engine, developed by Glushko for N-1 and rejected by Korolev, came in handy. All stages of the UR-500 operated on high-boiling toxic fuel components (oxidizing agent - nitrogen tetraxide, fuel - asymmetric dimethylhydrazine). Such fuel was a necessary requirement of the military: the UR-500 was created not so much under civilian loads as under military load - from heavy-duty warheads to combat missile plans.

The lunar carrier UR-700, which allows to put into payload a payload of 140 tons, was an already completed UR-500, to which was added a new first stage - nine blocks, with one RD-270 engine in each. This unique engine with a thrust of 630 tons (more than four times more powerful than the engines of the first stage N-1) was specially developed for the UR-700 by Valentin Glushko. Actually, this is the only complex element that was required to be developed for a new medium. All other components had unified dimensions with the UR-500, which allowed them to be manufactured on existing equipment. There was no reason to doubt that Glushko would have created such an engine: after stopping work on the UR-700, he created for Energia the world's most powerful RD170 rocket engine with a thrust of 740 tons! “If we had accepted my version ten or twelve years ago, ” said Chelomei subsequently, “we would have a medium not inferior to Saturn-5, but with the advantage that the three upper steps are always in serial production, regardless of the lunar program ". Nobody objected to him.

Martian rockets

If the Soviet lunar expedition from the very beginning was an impossible adventure, then the Martian program was quite feasible. For a manned flight to the Red Planet, heavy heavy rockets would be required, twice the carrying capacity of lunar carriers. The USSR had as many as two projects, both of which were highly prepared.

The first carrier for the Martian expedition was offered by the same Chelomei. As you might guess, the second, third and fourth steps of the Martian UR-900 was to become the existing UR-500 Proton. At the first stage, it was planned to install as many as 15 engines instead of six, as in the UR-700, which would bring a mass of up to 240 tons, sufficient for the Martian ship, to the near-Earth orbit.

The second Martian carrier was proposed 20 years after the UR-900. NPO Energia has developed a project for the Vulkan super-heavy launch vehicle capable of launching 200 tons of payload into low orbits. The “Volcano” was based on the already flying Energia rocket, in which instead of four side blocks of the first stage (each of which had an RD-170 engine), it was planned to install eight similar blocks slightly increased in length. All the main modules and blocks for the "Volcano" were developed and produced in series.


Superheavy rockets could exist only for solving super-tasks, such as manned expeditions to the Moon or Mars. They are unsuitable for solving everyday tasks of mankind. Like mammoths, these rockets became extinct. And now, even with a great desire to establish the production of Saturn-5, N-1 or Energia, it is unrealistic: neither full documentation, nor assembly plants, nor specialists have been preserved. Ironically, the only giant carrier that can be reanimated in case of emergency is the UR-700, which remained on paper. Almost all components for it are still mass-produced at the Plant named after Khrunicheva.

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 11, November 2003). I wonder how a nuclear reactor works and can robots build a house?

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