Encyclopedia Astronautica
Mars 1986

Mars 1986
NPO Energia nuclear-powered Mars expedition spacecraft designed in 1978-1986. The reactor system was split into two independent units to provide redundancy.
Credit: © Mark Wade
Mars 1986
NPO Energia nuclear-powered Mars expedition spacecraft designed in 1978-1986.
Credit: RKK Energia
EA Ascent Stage
The Ascent Stage of the EA Mars Lander fires to launch the crew back to Mars orbit and rendezvous with the waiting Mars 1986 or 1989 expedition craft.
Credit: RKK Energia
EA Lander
EA Lander on Mars. Note the cylindrical air lock that has deployed from the belly, the landing legs, the aerodynamic surfaces on the tail, and the small Marsokhod rover on the surface.
Credit: RKK Energia
Aelita Martian
Wishful thinking - a Martian peeks from a crater after the EA Lander departs for orbit. Frame from an RKK Energia film.
Credit: RKK Energia
Gerkules Nuclear Tug
Gerkules Nuclear Electric Interorbital Tug with 11B97 engine.
Credit: © Mark Wade
Russian manned Mars expedition. Studied 1978-1986. NPO Energia resumed study of a Mars project once development began of the new Energia booster in place of the cancelled N1.

The 1978-1986 study used some of the ideas and technical results of the 1969 study, but modified according to technical developments of the period.

The 15 MW nuclear power requirement was retained, but actual development of the 11B97 rocket stage beginning in 1971 had shown earlier specific impulse projections to be hopelessly unrealistic. This lead to the mass of the spacecraft more than doubling, with the propellant fraction increasing from 17% to 45% of the spacecraft total. Other differences included the use of two reactors in the place of one; reduction of the crew size from six to four; and the use of tested systems developed on the Salyut and Mir orbital stations in placed of the untried TMK hardware. This use of tested hardware guaranteed an increased level of crew safety compared to previous concepts. The original use of a completely separate second reactor and propulsion unit ensured the safe return of the crew even in the event of complete failure of one reactor or engine cluster.

The Mars landing craft was also completely revised. Both conical and pear-shaped lifting bodies were studied, with a hypersonic lift to drag ratio of 0.3 to 0.5. The preferred configuration was a cylindrical 60 metric ton spacecraft with a conical nose, 3.8 m in diameter and 13 m long.

Mars 1986 Mission Summary:

  • Summary: First post-Soviet study. Updated 1969 nuclear-electric design for launch by Energia, use of proven Mir station components.
  • Propulsion: Nuclear electric
  • Braking at Mars: propulsive
  • Mission Type: low acceleration
  • Split or All-Up: all up
  • ISRU: no ISRU
  • Launch Year: 2000
  • Crew: 4
  • Mars Surface payload-metric tons: 60
  • Outbound time-days: 408
  • Mars Stay Time-days: 30
  • Return Time-days: 278
  • Total Mission Time-days: 716
  • Total Payload Required in Low Earth Orbit-metric tons: 365
  • Total Propellant Required-metric tons: 164
  • Propellant Fraction: 0.45
  • Mass per crew-metric tons: 91
  • Launch Vehicle Payload to LEO-metric tons: 88
  • Number of Launches Required to Assemble Payload in Low Earth Orbit: 5
  • Launch Vehicle: Energia


Crew Size: 4. Electric System: 15,000.00 average kW.

Gross mass: 365,000 kg (804,000 lb).
Height: 210.00 m (680.00 ft).
Span: 11.00 m (36.00 ft).
Thrust: 441 N (99 lbf).
Specific impulse: 4,000 s.

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • EA Russian manned Mars lander. Studied 1978-1986. Mars landing craft originally designed for aborted 1972 Aelita Mars study by OKB-1, and revived in the 1980's for new Energia-launched Mars expedition studies. More...

See also
  • Mars Expeditions Since Wernher von Braun first sketched out his Marsprojekt in 1946, a succession of designs and mission profiles were seriously studied in the United States and the Soviet Union. By the late 1960's Von Braun had come to favour nuclear thermal rocket powered expeditions, while his Soviet counterpart Korolev decided that nuclear electric propulsion was the way to go. All such work stopped in both countries in the 1970's, after the cancellation of the Apollo program in the United States and the N1 booster in the Soviet Union. More...
  • Russian Mars Expeditions Aelita was the Queen of Mars in the famous socialist parable filmed by Jakov Protazanov in 1924. It was altogether fitting that her name would be given to the leading Soviet plan for the conquest of the Red Planet. The Soviet Union's Korolev had the same original dream as Wernher von Braun - a manned expedition to Mars. In both cases this goal was interrupted by the 'side show' of the moon race of the 1960's. In both cases that race proved so costly and of so little public interest that political support for any Mars expeditions evaporated. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Energia The Energia-Buran Reusable Space System (MKS) began development in 1976 as a Soviet booster that would exceed the capabilities of the US shuttle system. Following extended development, Energia made two successful flights in 1987-1988. But the Soviet Union was crumbling, and the ambitious plans to build an orbiting defense shield, to renew the ozone layer, dispose of nuclear waste, illuminate polar cities, colonize the moon and Mars, were not to be. Funding dried up and the Energia-Buran program completely disappeared from the government's budget after 1993. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Korolev Russian manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Korolev Design Bureau, Kaliningrad, Russia. More...

Associated Propellants
  • Electric/Xenon The many versions of electric engines use electric or magnetic fields to accelerate ionized elements to high velocity, creating thrust. The power source can be a nuclear reactor or thermal-electric generator, or solar panels. Proposed as propellant for some ion motors. More...

  • Semenov, Yu. P., S P Korolev Space Corporation Energia, RKK Energia, 1994.
  • Placard, TsNIIMASH Museum,
  • Krasnikov, Aleksandr, "Pilotiruemiy polyot na Mars - chetvert veka nazad", Russian Space History Web Site, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • Siddiqi, Asif A, The Soviet Space Race With Apollo, University Press of Florida, 2003.

Mars 1986 Chronology

1971 June 8 - .
  • Decree authorising design of 11B97 nuclear electric rocket stage - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Mars 1986. Central Committee of the Communist Party and Council of Soviet Ministers Decree 'On work on nuclear rocket engines' was issued. Prior work, mainly on propulsion for manned Mars expeditions, was now concentrated on development of the NEP rocket stage 11B97. This stage would have an electric capacity of 500-600 kW and would use specialised plasma-ion electric engines using standing plasma waves and anodes.

1976 June 15 - . LV Family: Energia. Launch Vehicle: Energia.
  • Decree authorising development of 11B97 nuclear electric rocket stage - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Mars 1986. Decree 'On course of work on nuclear rocket engines' was issued. The 11B97 stage would have an electric capacity of 500-600 kW and would use specialised plasma-ion electric engines using standing plasma waves and anodes. It was powered from a reactor with a 200 litre core containing 30 kg of uranium fuel. In 1978 this engine was studied for use as a reusable interorbital space tug for launch by Energia-Buran.

1981 February 5 - . LV Family: Energia. Launch Vehicle: Energia.
  • Decree for Gerkules nuclear-electric interorbital tug - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Mars 1986. NPO Energia developed for the Ministry of Defence the interorbital tug Gerkules with 550 kW maximum output and continuous operation in the 50-150 kW range for 3 to 5 years. In 1986 an interorbital tug was studied to solve the specific application of transporting heavy satellites of 100 tonnes to geostationary orbit, launched by Energia.

1986 During the Year - .
  • Mars 1986 - . Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: Mars 1986. Having completed design and development work on Energia-launched nuclear-electric upper stages, NPO Energia studied a manned Mars project again. The study revamped the 1969 studies to include launch by Energia and use of two reactors in the place of one and the use of tested systems developed on orbital stations.

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