Encyclopedia Astronautica
1964.07.19 - Korolev obtains preliminary approval for a single-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous, manned landing.


Work on the original N1-L3 had begun in 1963. This had been preceded by two years of working on a draft project for the LK lunar lander and its propulsion system. But there was no money for full scale development -- no code name from Gosplan against which to charge such work. It was annoying that Chelomei, Glushko, and Yangel were wasting resources on alternate designs at the same time.

The original plan was for three N1 boosters to assemble a 200 tonne payload in low earth orbit. This would launch the original L3 to a direct landing on the moon and return. By comparison, Chelomei's UR-500 for the manned lunar flyby mission put only 20 tonnes in low orbit. However the leadership was only willing to fund N1 production at the rate of four per year, and Korolev concluded the only moon mission he could propose at such a rate was the single-shot lunar orbit rendezvous scheme selected by the Americans.

It was commonly believed that the N1 was inadequate for the one-shot moon mission proposed by Korolev, and there was no time to develop enhancements to it to make it suitable for such a mission. Kalmykov (Minister of the Radio-Technical Industry) sent a letter to Military-Industrial Commission Chairman Smirnov pointing this out. Feoktistov and the other spacecraft designers knew the mass of the payload was absolutely critical, with no margin for growth. But Mishin wanted to go ahead with development of the rocket anyway. Bushuyev said they needed 100 tonnes payload in LEO to accomplish the one-shot moon mission, not 75 tonnes, and that the only way to get this was to develop Lox/LH2 second and third stages for the N1 (the growth version outlined in the draft project). But there was no authority from the government to pursue this development. Korolev and later Mishin wouldn't admit they had miscalculated the minimum payload mass needed, and couldn't admit that Soviet engines were not as good as the Americans -- that would result in the whole project being killed. They wanted to see the N1 built at any cost, even that of failure. Chertok observes that after all, chief designers are only people too.

This was difference between 'upstairs' and 'downstairs' at a design bureau. At the stroke of a pen, Korolev increased the N1 payload from 75 to 93 tonnes, upgraded the gross lift-off weight to 2750 tonnes, and moved the LK production schedule up to 1965. This led to the absurd project schedule in the 19 July 1964 decree, which imagined first flight test of the as-yet-undesigned small LK in 1966. All involved downstairs knew that to achieve a 93 tonne payload for the booster, and a one-shot moon landing payload no larger than 93 tonnes, would require enormous effort.

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