MKBS - the immense earth orbit space complex planned in 1969-1974
Credit: © Mark Wade
MKBS Orbital Station
MKBS Multi-module Orbital Base Station
Credit: © Mark Wade
MKBS Orbital Station
MKBS Multi-module Orbital Base Station
Credit: © Mark Wade
Russian manned space station. Cancelled 1974. The culmination of ten years of designs for N1-launched space stations, the MKBS would be cancelled together with the N1.
But the technical legacy would live on in new designs for Soyuz and Progress space station logistics spacecraft used with Salyut and Mir.
In the second half of 1972 and first half of 1973, simultaneous with other work, TsKBEM began technical development of a Multi-module Orbital Complex (MOK). The MOK was designed to solve a wide range of tasks: astronomical and astrophysical research, materials research, navigation, communications , remote sensing for study of forestry, farming, geology, fisheries, etc., and military applications.
MOK was not a single spacecraft but an integrated collection of earth-based and near-earth orbital systems consisting of:
- Multi-module Cosmic Base Station (MKBS)
- Autonomous spacecraft, operating from the MKBS
- Transport systems, using at first expendable supply transport craft, to be replaced later by reusable systems
- Launch vehicle systems
- Launch sites
- Autonomous test systems
- Search and rescue complexes
The MKBS would control all of the linked orbital systems and provide base quarters for the crews, an orbital control centre, a supply base, and servicing facilities for on-orbit systems. Independently functioning spacecraft would dock with MKBS for repair, upgrade, and refueling. The MKBS would co-ordinate all of the autonomous spacecrafts' activities and maneuvers, resulting in a unified transport system.
The MKBS consisted of two large core modules of 80 and 88 metric tons each, launched by the N1. These were powered by a 200 kW nuclear power plant derived from OKB-1's work on nuclear electric propulsion. Solar arrays totaling 140 square meters of area provided 14 kW of backup power. Two Proton-launched modules were connected to large arms which spun to provide artificial gravity for crew conditioning and experiments. Additional Soyuz and TKS-derived modules could be attached and detached to conduct special studies. Total mass of the station was to be up to 250 metric tons, with a basic core diameter of 6 m and a length of 100 m. The operational MKBS would be placed in a sun synchronous orbit of 400 to 450 km altitude at an inclination of 97.5 degrees. A basic crew of six, with a maximum of ten, would inhabit the station throughout its ten year life. Crews would serve two to three month tours, with overlapping crew member replacements four times a year. The station was to be equipped with a total of eight motor clusters consisting of orbital correction motors of 300 to 1,000 kgf, coarse orientation motors of 10 to 40 kgf, and ion engines for fine orientation and orbital altitude maintenance with a thrust of 100 to 300 grams.
The primary overall requirement was to define a MOK system which could perform a broad range of tasks while minimizing expenditures in the creation of the system and its subsequent use. These requirements were met by the following technical decisions:
- It was desirable to minimize the quantity, cost, and crew size of orbital spacecraft while not making any single spacecraft too complex. This was solved by always considering that a particular part of a task might better be accomplished by another spacecraft, rather than having a single spacecraft accomplish everything.
- Communications and earth surveillance requirements of the base MOK would best be met by a sun-synchronous orbit of 97.5 degrees inclination
- The active life of the MOK would be for 7 to 10 years utilizing continual replenishment of the spacecraft and in-flight repairs
- Consumption of fuel in moving from earth to orbit and from orbit to orbit would be reduced by having fuel dumps in a supporting orbit and using ion engines for spacecraft orientation
- Landing capsules would at first be used for imagery recovery, but digital downlink would be developed quickly to eliminate this consumable item
- A special modification of the existing Soyuz 7K with manipulators would be used for inter-orbital ferry and regular repair service of autonomous spacecraft while being based at the MKBS
- The development cost would be minimized by use of existing or in-development systems:
- Soyuz 7K-T spacecraft and Soyuz launch vehicle as the basic transport craft
- Development of unpiloted modifications of Soyuz for use as MKBS visiting modules
- Development of the basic modules from the existing Salyut space station 17K, launched by the Proton booster
- Use of the N1 for launch of the MKBS core spacecraft
- Use of the N1 with the Block Sr upper stage for delivery of special modules to geostationary orbit
- Maximum use of existing and in-development facilities for support of MOK, such as launch complexes, command and control centers, etc.
- Reduction of the cost of transportation to and within the system, by putting all future satellites as much as possible in the same orbital plane of 97.5 degrees, and by development of new economical reusable transport systems
It was planned that ultimately the MOK would be supported by a reusable launch vehicle, which was to be a modification of the N1 Block A. This would use a combination of air-breathing LACE (Liquid Air Cycle Engines) booster engines and liquid hydrogen/oxygen propellants sustainer engines on the core.
The development of the MOK would been undertaken in two phases: An experimental phase (near earth orbit around 51.5 degrees) and an operational phase (sun-synchronous orbit of 97.5 degrees). In May 1974 the N1 was cancelled, and with it, the MOK.
Technical development of the MOK was the first large-scale space technology study which used combined , earth resources studies, economic analysis to determine the best engineering solutions. Various technical results obtained in the process of this work were used for a long time after. In particular the development of the Progress replenishment spacecraft, Soyuz space station ferries, and special-purpose modules of the Mir spacecraft could be traced directly to the concepts and designs for the MOK. Leading participants in the project were I N Sadovskiy, V V Simakin, B E Chertok, V S Ovchinnikov,, M V Melnikov, A P Abramov, V D Vachnadze, V K Bezverbiy, A A Ryzhanov, I E Yurasov, V Z Ilin, G A Dolgopolov, N P Bersenev, K B Ivanov, V C Anfyrev, B G Sypryn , V P Zaitsev, E A Shtarkov, I V Gordeev, B V Korolev, V G Osipov, V N Lakeyev, V P Byrdakov, A A Kochkin.
It was interesting to note that American propulsion engineer Peter James described the MOK in considerable and accurate detail in his 1974 book Soviet Conquest from Space. The book was dismissed by many authorities because the systems described in it never appeared. Only in the last two years has it become apparent that the system described to Mr James was in development, but was cancelled at just about the same time his book appeared.
AKA: Multi-module orbital base; 19K; MOK.
More... - Chronology...
Gross mass: 250,000 kg (550,000 lb).
Height: 100.00 m (320.00 ft).
Associated Launch Vehicles
N1 1969 Russian heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle. The N1 launch vehicle, developed by Russia in the 1960's, was to be the Soviet Union's counterpart to the Saturn V. The largest of a family of launch vehicles that were to replace the ICBM-derived launchers then in use, the N series was to launch Soviet cosmonauts to the moon, Mars, and huge space stations into orbit. In comparison to Saturn, the project was started late, starved of funds and priority, and dogged by political and technical struggles between the chief designers Korolev, Glushko, and Chelomei. The end result was four launch failures and cancellation of the project five years after Apollo landed on the moon. Not only did a Soviet cosmonaut never land on the moon, but the Soviet Union even denied that the huge project ever existed. More...
N1 The N1 launch vehicle, developed by Russia in the 1960's, was to be the Soviet Union's counterpart to the Saturn V. The largest of a family of launch vehicles that were to replace the ICBM-derived launchers then in use, the N series was to launch Soviet cosmonauts to the moon, Mars, and huge space stations into orbit. In comparison to Saturn, the project was started late, starved of funds and priority, and dogged by political and technical struggles between the chief designers Korolev, Glushko, and Chelomei. The end result was four launch failures and cancellation of the project five years after Apollo landed on the moon. Not only did a Soviet cosmonaut never land on the moon, but the Soviet Union even denied that the huge project ever existed. More...
Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
Korolev Russian manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Korolev Design Bureau, Kaliningrad, Russia. More...
Semenov, Yu. P., S P Korolev Space Corporation Energia, RKK Energia, 1994.
Chertok, Boris Yevseyevich, Raketi i lyudi, Mashinostroenie, Moscow, 1994-1999.. Web Address when accessed: here.
Kamanin, N P, Skritiy kosmos, Infortext, Moscow, 1995.
Siddiqi, Asif A, The Soviet Space Race With Apollo, University Press of Florida, 2003.
1969 August 1 -
. Launch Vehicle
- The DOS Conspiracy begins - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Chelomei. Program: Lunar L3; Almaz; Salyut. Spacecraft: LK; Soyuz 7K-LOK; Almaz OPS; MKBS. With the collapse of the work on the N1, the whole reason for Mishin's design bureau's existence simply vanished in the air. A new high-priority project was needed. Korolev had begun development of a Multi-Module Space Base (MKBS) before 1966. However MKBS was to be launched by the N1; as long as this was not available, there would be no MKBS. Almaz on the other hand did not require a new launch vehicle, although the UR-500 was in a period of intense 'baby sickness'. So while TsKBEM was in a period of analysis and instability, Chelomei's Reutov and Fili facilities were building space stations for the Ministry of Defence.
On one of these August 1969 days, three of Chelomei's TsKBM engineers came to the office of Mishin's deputy, Chertok, with a plan to get a space station orbited before the American Skylab. They wanted a collaboration between the two competing design bureaux. Their plan was to take an Almaz spaceframe, install Soyuz systems, add a new docking tunnel with a hatch to reach the interior, and presto - a space station was finished. Tentative discussions with potential allies within Chelomei's design bureau found support there as well. The DOS 'long-duration orbiting station' was the result of this 'conspiracy'.
1971 January 20 -
- Mishin pushing 'Big Orbital Station'. - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Chelomei; Kozlov. Program: Almaz; Salyut. Spacecraft: Almaz OPS; MKBS. Mishin is attempting to set up a separate training centre for civilian cosmonauts at the Moscow Aviation Institute. Mishin and the civilian cosmonauts come to view the TsPK premises to get ideas. This is a new attack by Mishin, in Kamanin's eyes. Mishin has been ill for a long time, but it doesn't stop him from meddling in the details of work of his deputies. Now they are working on a Big Orbital Station (BOS) for 9-12 crew. This amounts to nothing more than a new move against Chelomei. Mishin is intent on monopolising manned spaceflight at any cost. He attempts to take over any other such projects allocated to Chelomei or Kozlov.
1971 January 26 -
- ECS technology review. - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Keldysh; Voronin; Severin; Gazenko. Program: Salyut. Spacecraft: Salyut 1; MKBS; Aelita. Keldysh heads a review of spacecraft environmental control system development. The work of the IMBP is not well organised. They have been developing systems for eight years with no concrete results. G I Voronin is responsible for oxygen regenerator and thermal regulation systems; G I Severin, for space suits; O G Gazenko for biosensors, medicines, and space food. Two problems need to be solved: to understand and counter the effects of zero gravity on the human organism; and to develop a reliable environmental control system with a guaranteed life of two to three years. Keldysh declares that in the next five to ten years the Soviet Union will not fly space stations with artificial gravity. Therefore, due to the inevitable deterioration of the human body in zero gravity, crews will have to be rotated every 30 to 60 days. Development must continue with an eye to supporting eventual lunar bases and manned expeditions to Mars.
1971 April 15 -
. Launch Vehicle
- Salyut preparations - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Chelomei. Program: Lunar L3; Salyut; Almaz. Spacecraft: Salyut 1; Almaz OPS; MKBS. The Salyut station was prepared in a huge two story bunker built for launch vehicle / payload processing. The contrast between the money lavished by the military on this facility for Chelomei's projects and the limited funds available for a proper N1 preparation and test facilities was enormous. Here funds were available without limit. The air was controlled by a self-contained environmental control system with its own independent electrical-diesel generators. The facility was a miracle. It was shocking that this was made available for Almaz, while the military told Mishin that he would have to prepare the immense MKBS station in the uncontrolled environment, subject to frequent power blackouts, of the N1 facility. At Chelomei's facility, everything was completely checked out on earth prior to launch.
1971 June 1 -
. Launch Vehicle
- N1-6L launch commission - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Pilyugin; Isayev. Program: Lunar L3. Flight: Soyuz 11. Spacecraft: LK; Soyuz 7K-LOK; Almaz OPS; Salyut 1; MKBS. The review of launch preparations veers off into a discussion of what the booster was now for. Pilyugin questioned the seriousness of intent of the TsKBEM staff. The digital control system priorities within the bureau were with DOS and Almaz -- why wasn't the N1-L3 the priority? Mishin had never been told that the N1-L3 development was lagging. It had no priority with the leadership. Top priority at TsKBEM was Nadiradze's solid propellant ICBM's, followed by the DOS Salyut station, and now Soyuz-Apollo preparations. Meanwhile it was finally recognised that a single-launch scenario was simply impossible, and two N1 launches would be needed to accomplish the lunar landing. But there was no political will to tell the Politburo the bad news -- that two N1's would be needed to be launched to accomplish the landing. The final conclusion was that the bureau needed a new direction, a project with national priority, like the DOS station. Strategic rocket work could be ruled out, as there were already too many players in that field. Additional Details: here....
1972 January 1 -
- TsKBEM reorganised - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Dorofeyev; Bushuyev; Semenov; Shabarov. Program: Lunar L3; Soyuz; Almaz. Spacecraft: LK; Soyuz 7K-LOK; Soyuz 7K-TM; Soyuz 7K-T; Soyuz 7K-S; Soyuz 7K-OK; MKBS; Mars 5NM. TsKBEM was given a completely new structure as a result of the findings of the expert commissions on the disasters for the previous year, Mishin remained as the Chief Designer for the organisation, but each programme now had its own chief designer:
Additional Details: here....
- N1: Boris Dorofeyev
- 8K98P solid propellant ICBM: Igor Sadovskiy
- N1 payloads: Vladimir Brorov [check]
- Soyuz 7K-TM, or Soyuz M, for Soyuz-Apollo: Konstantin Bushuyev
- Soyuz 7K-T: Yuri Semenov
- Soyuz 7K-S or Soyuz VI: Yevgeni Shabarov
1972 February 23 -
. Launch Vehicle
- MOK technical proposal authorised. - .
Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MKBS. Summary: Decree 'On work on the technical proposal for the creation of the MOK' was issued..
1972 June -
- Multi-module Orbital Complex (MOK) designed - .
Nation: USSR. Spacecraft: MKBS. In the second half of 1972 and first half of 1973 TsKBEM began technical development of a Multi-module Orbital Complex (MOK). MOK was not a single spacecraft but an integrated collection of earth-based and near-earth orbital systems consisting of the Multi-module Cosmic Base Station (MKBS); autonomous spacecraft, operating from the MKBS; and logistics systems (expendable and reusable launch vehicles, interorbital tugs, earth launch sites, etc). MOK was dependent on the N1 launch vehicle, and was abandoned when this was cancelled in 1974.
1974 May 1 -
. Launch Vehicle
- N1 cancellation imminent - .
Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Mishin; Ustinov; Keldysh. Program: Lunar L3. Spacecraft: LK; Soyuz 7K-LOK; MKBS; Mars 5NM; L3M-1972. Ustinov achieved a leadership consensus to kill the N1 by the beginning of May 1974. He achieved the agreement of the other Ministers on the Military-Industrial Commission, and finally Keldysh. Projects that were ongoing that were linked with the N1 included: the lunar base, MKBS space station, Mars robotic soil return spacecraft and manned expedition, a space radio telescope with a 100 m antenna, and multiple channel communications satellites. All of these died with the cancellation. If 8L had been successful, then after 1 or 2 further test launches, the N1-L3M could begin flying. That meant that the Soviet Union was within 3 to 4 years of establishing long-term lunar expeditions and a moon base. The Americans would have been leapfrogged. Instead, the leadership decided to develop a completely new heavy-lift launch vehicle, which never became operational before the Soviet Union collapsed.
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