Encyclopedia Astronautica
1974.08.13 - Glushko briefed his new RLA launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission


These RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked.

Summary of the meeting of the Soviet Military-Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974 - in which the fate of the N1 was sealed and the decision process leading to Energia-Buran was begun...

Glushko, new head of NPO Energia, briefed his new launch vehicle family to the VPK Military Industrial Commission on 13 August 1974. These met the requirements of the Ministry of Defence as described in 1973 in Plan Poisk and would replace the failed N1 and all existing launch vehicles. As required by the Ministry of Defence, they used only non-toxic, inexpensive Lox/Kerosene propellants; the various launch vehicles were modular, and used common engines and rocket bodies. The basic engine would be a four-chamber design with a vacuum thrust of 1,200,000 kgf. The modules had a gross mass of about 800 tonnes kgf each, were six metres in diameter and about thirty metres long.

The new design family was called RLA - Rocket Flight Apparatus - and Glushko briefed three main members:

RLA-120 - Gross lift-off mass 980 tonnes, single module with a 150 tonne kg upper stage, payload 30 tonnes. Designed to boost reconnaissance satellites and modules of the POS Permanent Orbital Station into a sun synchronous orbit. First flight was to be in 1979, with POS modules to be assembled in orbit in the 1980-1981 period.

RLA-135 - Payload to low earth orbit 100 tonnes using two modules as the first stage and the RLA-120 core. This would begin flight trials in 1980 and allow a lunar expedition to be launched in 1981. It would also be used to launch the MKTS spaceplane.

RLA-150 - Gross lift-off mass 6,000 tonnes, payload to low earth orbit 250 tonnes with six modules as the first stage, and the RLA-120 core. This would begin trials in 1982 and allow a manned Mars expedition to be launched in 1983.

Glushko insisted that a permanent lunar base and Mars expeditions in the 1980's were achievable. What was needed was a reliable heavy lift launch vehicle, and the RLA approach would achieve this. To base these plans on the N1 design would invite catastrophe. The RLA cluster method would allow the modules to be built in the factory and thoroughly tested individually without risking the entire launch vehicle. Total cost of the development program was put at 12.5 billion roubles.

The members of the VPK met the proposal with considerable scepticism. The final decision was that the plan had to be reworked. Brezhnev, Keldysh, and Ustinov would insist in the reformulation that the Lox/LH2 technology and capabilities of the US space shuttle had to be duplicated. The end result would be the Energia launch vehicle and Buran space shuttle, with which neither the military or the Soviet engineering community was happy.

A summary of their discussion provides fascinating insight into the opinions of the Soviet military-industrial leadership following the N1 debacle:

Ustinov: You criticised Korolev's N1 for having 30 engines. Now you are proposing one with 28 engines.

Glushko: A four chambered motor is not the same as four engines. There are only seven engines in the first stage.

Ustinov: Why do we need a payload of 250 tonnes? The American Saturn V has a payload of only 140 tonnes.

Glushko: Analysis of assembly of a Mars spacecraft indicates that the number of separately-launched modules must be minimised or the chance of mission success becomes low. This is the largest practical launch vehicle using the modular approach.

Ustinov: Does the core vehicle use Tsiklin (Kerosene) or Liquid Hydrogen?

Glushko: Kerosene. Liquid hydrogen would take too long to develop. This propellant could be considered for the core, but it would destroy the whole schedule.

Komissarov: You opposed lox/kerosene propellants as long as Korolev was alive. Now that he is dead, you advocate the same propellants. Explain this shift in position.

Glushko: I opposed these propellants in the 1960's because the required schedule and technology resulted in too many independent Lox/Kerosene engines in the N1 design. Since then there have been many years of development, and now we have the technology in hand for high thrust, four chamber, closed gas cycle, gimballed engines.

Komissarov: How do we answer the space shuttle with this system?

Glushko: For this we can use the RLA-135 mid-weight vehicle. The top stage would be the MKTS aerospacecraft, and it will be ready by 1982. The aviation industry will have to develop it; we don't have the expertise.

Komissarov: How can the schedule be met?

Glushko: The dates depend on the engines. The schedule depends on our success in quickly developing these engines, which don't exist at this time.

Barmin: This is the third variant of this design you have presented in the last two months. Your analysis is fundamentally flawed. We first need to decide our objectives in space, then design the spacecraft to meet those objectives, and only then design the launch vehicles to launch those spacecraft.

Korolev made the same mistake by designing the N1 first. When the time came to make an attempt at a lunar expedition, he had to add six engines, and still couldn't achieve the necessary payload. Then your bureau had to fall back on a two-launch L3M scheme. History is being repeated. Now you want a huge 250 tonne payload vehicle. The Americans abandoned the Saturn V and are building the shuttle because they need only one launch vehicle in this class, and it must be reusable.

Today 140 organisations are working on our lunar base. It must be completed, but not on the basis of unrealistic launch vehicles. You are asking for 12.5 billion roubles, but this is much more than you need to complete the lunar base.

The multi-module launch vehicle scheme is disadvantageous and mistaken. This is why Korolev designed the N1 with the optimum layout after much analysis. We need to seriously modernise the N1 in place of your 'tricycle'. Using engines of 1000 to 1200 tonnes thrust is tempting, but we have to be practical as to the possibility of developing such engines in a realistic time frame.

Your second and third stages use Tsiklin. One kilogram of Tsiklin costs 50 roubles; the same amount of liquid hydrogen, less than 30 roubles. Liquid hydrogen should be our upper stage propellant. We need to build the lunar base, and we need liquid hydrogen propulsion for that.

Therefore the most economical solution is a reusable launch system based on a modernised N1. Such a system needs to deliver 40 tonnes to the lunar surface and return 20 tonnes to earth.

Serbin to Barmin: And how long will it take to produce a modernised N1?

Barmin: It will take time, but Glushko's six to seven year schedule is unrealistic anyway. I repeat, we need to design the spacecraft, solve the problems of navigating to and on the lunar surface, and then design the launch vehicle.

Ryazanskiy: I disagree with Barmin. We do not need the huge N1. We need the RLA-120 for planned Zond, Mars, Lunar, and Soyuz spacecraft.

Semenov: We need reliable transportation to build the space station. This is the RLA-120. However I agree with Barmin that we should give up the 250 tonne booster.

Pilyugin: To develop the radio guidance systems alone for the orbital station, the lunar base, a Mars expedition, would require three to five years, plus three years of trials - six years all together. And this only if they are given maximum priority, which has not been the case for space systems in the past.

Feoktistov: It was a tactical mistake to present the 250 tonne payload vehicle. Everyone knows Ustinov's first priority is to achieve reliability, and for this we need time. Our work with the Americans on Apollo-Soyuz shows that new methods are needed to match American reliability.

Morzhorin: We have to follow the path of the Americans in developing the space shuttle. Only in this way can we improve all of our systems. Barmin is correct - we must identify the systems to be deployed first, then the launch vehicles needed to support them.

Trufanov: We need reliable systems to place payloads into sun-synchronous orbit in order to control the planet - we need the RLA-120.

Afanasyev - We need, now, 30 tonne payloads in sun-synchronous orbits for the planned Ministry of Defence reconnaissance satellite. We need 6 m diameter propellant tanks - but Paton says this will be solved in a short time. We long have needed engines of 1200 tf. But one cannot believe that this can be developed in two years. The Soviet Ministers say we need a piloted system, not inferior to the shuttle. This is important and the true solution. I also want to know why we must use Tsiklin and not Liquid Hydrogen. The Ministry of Defence does not agree with this approach - they want development of Lox/Hydrogen systems such as the Americans have.

Barmin is right; we don't need 250 tonne payload vehicles, but to demonstrate reliable docking in orbit to assemble such payloads. But I disagree with Barmin that the N1 could be used with minimal modification for the new launch vehicle - it will need major modifications. To meet MOM requirements will require twice as much money as has been spent to date. Glushko's design bureau is now only responsible for the 8K98 missile and its modernisation. It has no other development work. For the 40,000 staff at NPO Energia and 30,000 at the Progress factory in Samara. Of these, 20,000 will work on the new launch vehicle. Meanwhile we need a test stand for the new launch vehicle - we can't use the N1 pads. We have to handle Soyuz-Apollo, DOS#4., The 7K-T is obsolete; we need a new transport spacecraft - either a transport version of the 7K-S or the Chelomei TKS - and we were not informed of the development of the TKS!

Smirnov: This program doesn't meet the requirements of either the Ministry of Defence or the Academy of Sciences. We don't understand the requirement for 25 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit. The heavy reconnaissance satellites planned will not exceed 12 tonnes. The Americans plan no more than 14 tonnes in such orbits. First the N1, now a new adventure with the RLA. We planned 2 N1 boosters with earth orbit rendezvous for a lunar expedition. Now they want to 'dock on earth' with a 6,000 tonne gross lift-off mass vehicle!. The rouble is officially equal to a dollar. What would the US Congress say, the president spent $ 4 billion, then went back to them and said, NASA couldn't make it work, give us $ 12 billion for a new launch vehicle? The whole world would make fun of them.

Serbin: We don't have 12 billion roubles, but we need to decide quickly how to best utilise 70,000 workers. We need to involve Chelomei. We can't let the Almaz and DOS space station projects continue in parallel. We can't let this huge sum be spent on the RLA. We need an integrated national plan.

Glushko replied point by point to this critics:

This is not a national space plan. This is a method of solving our launcher problem. I've had two meetings with the military. They assisted by indicating their requirements, and this was the optimal solution. General Karas reviewed the RLA on 15 August and approved this approach. The Ministry of Defence set the requirement for a modular design with a 30 tonne payload.

Barmin asks why not use the N1. The short answer - the N1 could only carry air. The Gross Lift-off mass was about that of a Saturn V, but the dry mass of stage 1 was 2.5 x that of Saturn, stage 2, 5 x, and stage 3, 3.5x. There was a fundamental error in gas dynamics in the design of the vehicle. They added more than 750 tonnes to the first stage, and needed five additional engines to compensate.

Barmin wants a moon base, but this 'Barmingrad' cannot be realised. We need first to put 3 to 5 crew on the moon for two to three weeks. This is our objective. It was noted that since there is no magnetic field on the moon, it is too dangerous a place for prolonged activity by man during solar storms. (Glushko was hitting Barmin below the belt, and considered to speak rapidly to prevent interruptions).

We declare that we need not only a launch vehicle to support a minimum base of three to four men. We need not only space suits. We need large volume modules. We need special equipment. These we can only test on the POS space station. To reiterate, we need permanent (POS), not long duration (DOS) space station. The minimum mass for an effective POS is 30 tonnes, and for this the UR-500 is not sufficient. We need the RLA to launch it. A POS with modules of this size will eliminate the need for the MKBS station and larger launchers.

I regret that not everybody agrees with the super-heavy RLA version. We don't have to put together a launch vehicle in such a way - it is only that it is possible to assemble a vehicle using six identical modules for stage 1 and one module for stage 2. I don't support the use of LH2. But if you do, we could use it in the place of Tsiklin. Such a vehicle would cost a lot of money. We can get more for our money through the use of universal modules.

To keep our factories busy, we must pursue a program that keeps man in space every year. We are no working on he 7K-S and its transport variant. The new guidance system is a big challenge, using a digital computer for the first time. We have begun work on an unpiloted resupply variant. Klyuchavev is working on an androgynous docking system for Soyuz/Apollo and 7K-S/DOS.

Ustinov (summing up): Thank you. There was much that was new, and much to think about. We have DOS #5 and #6 in work. The Progress factory is working on 6 m diameter propellant tanks. I don't see further work with the Americans. We know of important breakthroughs, which cannot be discussed or used with them. We have to show Americans our best side - they watch us under a microscope, from space, they know every street, better than we do, and every detail of our launch vehicles. What shall we do after Apollo-Soyuz? DOS#5 needs work. Mishin always held back DOS; it was no secret that Chelomei and Mishin wanted to cancel DOS, follow it up only with Almaz and TKS. Meanwhile the R-7 is our bread and butter; the UR-500K figures in our space plans beginning 2 to 3 years from now.

Long range - Mars expeditions, lunar bases. Here there may possibly be co-operation with Americans. The issue is not just the 30,000 that work for one chief designer, but the correct use of the entire 250,000 employees of the space industry. They must be used effectively. The existing N1 facilities also have to be used somehow. We need a space shuttle. We need, in not more than two months, a rational plan to be presented, which takes into account the positions of the Ministry of Defence and the Academy of Sciences.

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