Encyclopedia Astronautica
1969.05.29 - N1 State Commission


Over two days a State Commission reviewed all of the conclusions of the N1 3L failure investigation and the readiness of N1 5L for flight. All of the fixes identified to remedy the 3L failure had been incorporated into 5L. It was felt that the behaviour of the systems in fire conditions were understood and appropriate measures had been taken. The wiring had been rerouted and insulated. Barmin wanted the system not to shut down any engines under any conditions during the first 15-20 seconds of flight, so that the booster would clear the pad and there would be no risk of the pad's destruction. But there was no time to develop such measures before the 5L launch; it could only be added in vehicle 6L.

6L was planned to have the first real payload, not an L3S mock-up as on 3L and 5L, but a functional LOK lunar orbiter that would travel to the moon. The members discussed the new aspect in 6L of fuelling the Lox/LH2 into the LOK fuel cells. This had never been done during trials, and would only be accomplished for the first time on the pad prior to 6L's launch. The launch site troops were nervous about handling LH2, even in such small quantities, and wanted the safety of the fuelling set-up to be guaranteed.

3 July was selected as the date for the 5L launch. Whereas 3L had launched in -25 deg C, 5L would be launched in the heat of high summer. 6L was pencilled in for launch by the end of the year as an LOK test. Key new systems that had to be ready by then included the fuel cells, the NIIAP digital computers, the Kontakt docking system, and its associated optical sensors by Geofizika. Keldysh declared that if 5L failed, the LOK would be removed and 6L and 7L would be used solely as tests of the launch vehicle. Even if 5L succeeded, Keldysh felt the LOK and LK wouldn't be reliable enough in time to challenge an American lunar landing. 6L and 7L should still be used primarily to work out the launch vehicle subsystems at an accelerated launch rate.

The L3S was no LOK lunar orbiter, just an 'ersatz' replacement. Keldysh pointed out that the engineers had been unable to solve the problems of a lunar flyby using the L1. What guarantee was there that the L3S would even work? The immediate concern had to be accelerated testing of the launch vehicle.

Deputy Minister Tyulin supported Keldysh in this approach. There was a need to test the 'insurance' versions of the N1 with only a dummy payload. Mishin strongly disagreed. He wanted the LOK to fly on 6L, followed by 7L with an 'all-up' L3 - a functioning LOK, LK lander, Block D crasher stage. The LK would make an automated landing on the moon.

Bushuyev declared that this was flatly impossible. The 5L and 6L realistically only be equipped with an L3S, and even then a lunar flyby could not be guaranteed --it was only planned to be sent on an escape trajectory or high elliptical orbit, nothing even close to the moon. Serbin countered that the orders of the Central Committee were for 5L to fly around the moon. They could not unilaterally make a decision to deviate from that objective without going back to the Central Committee and asking their permission. Smirnov nodded heavily in agreement. Afanasyev scribbled in his notebook. The Central Committee was to be asked to release the mission planners from the flyby objective for 5L and 6L.

The commission next discussed the use of the N-11 for unmanned Mars probes and the N1 for manned Mars expeditions. Okhapkin presented the case for the use of the N-11 to launch such missions. Mishin had, not very tactfully, placed a model of the vehicle on the table before the commission. Neither Keldysh nor Afanasyev had seen the proposed booster before, and they did not like surprises. Mishin plunged ahead with his presentation anyway:

"At the this time we would like to begin work on the N11, which will replace Chelomei's UR-500 Proton while having better safety features. The N11 will use the second and third stages of the N1, which has already been developed. The Americans used a similar concept with their Saturn IB, which uses the upper stage of the Saturn V. Those of you who support Chelomei's UR-500/UR-700 building-block concept will have to support this as well -- it is the same approach".

The reaction was swift. Right now the leadership wanted nothing to do with such a scheme. The military already had all of the programs needed in hand. There was no point to spend hundreds of millions of roubles on an alternate solution to a military problem that had already been solved.

However VPK Deputy Chairman Pashkov pointed out correctly that the 'Little Grand Alliance' of Yangel and Chelomei had no trouble in forcing the military to accept duplicate solutions in the field of strategic rockets. The government was spending billions of roubles to develop and deploy both designer's replacements for the UR-100 ICBM. Meanwhile Makeyev received funds for endless development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles of ever-increasing technical sophistication - in fact, more advanced than the rockets of any other bureau. At the same time Ustinov supported Nadiradze in the development of alternate solid propellant ICBM's. Afanasyev supported any rocket system that would be developed and built by enterprises under his ministry. And every single one of these duplicate projects had greater priority than the exploration of the moon and Mars.

Keldysh, however, supported Mishin's plans for the MEK Mars expedition. This ambitious project would use the MPK Mars spacecraft, which in turn consisted of the MOK; MPK; ZA return capsule; and the EU nuclear propulsion unit. Missions of two to three years duration were envisioned, at a time when there was no medical support for any missions in excess of two to three months! This Mars declaration of Mishin did not enjoy great support within OKB-1. There was simply no time to devote to it with all the rest of the programs on the plate. But Keldysh lent his support, however qualifying that with 'not at the expense of the L3'. He summarised his position: he supported development of a Lox/LH2 third stage for the N1 as soon as possible. Then two N1 launches could orbit sufficient payload for manned flight to Mars. However he did not support the N11 just now. The UR-500 was already in place, and development of the N11 would be an unnecessary luxury.

Mishin replied that there were not L3 workers assigned to the Mars projects. Furthermore development of a Lox/LH2 stage had not been neglected - a fourth stage using these propellants was already in development, and stand tests would begin within the year.

VPK Chairman Smirnov turned to the spectacular mission planned for that year's October Revolution anniversary. Three manned Soyuz spacecraft would orbit the earth simultaneously. Two would dock while the third transmitted television of the event to earth. He was advised that the success of the mission depended on the Igla automatic rendezvous and docking system functioning correctly. Afanasyev noted, that in the wake of a possible successful American moon landing, this was an important mission for the Communist Party. He fastened his eye on Chertok and instructed him to make sure the docking system functioned - using Chertok's own bare hands to assemble it if necessary.

Finally the decisions were made. The day was set for the launch of N1 5L. Chelomei would be asked to draw up a draft project for a manned expedition to Mars.

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