Encyclopedia Astronautica
1968.12.25 - Soviets consider lunar landing alternatives

A 'small Soviet' of designers was held to review whether to continue pursuing the N1 launch vehicle or not. Although a first manned lunar landing was not achievable, the N1 could still be used to establish a lunar base by the beginning of the 21st Century.

It was pointed out that the Saturn V put 135 tonnes in low earth orbit, sent 45 tonnes on translunar injection, including the 30 tonne CSM lunar orbiter and the 15 tonne LM lunar lander. It was just impossible for Russia to achieve the same thing with the 30 tonne translunar injection payload of the N1. So a return to the two-launch scenario was proposed, but without the dockings in low earth orbit or during the translunar coast. Instead it was suggested an unmanned three-crew LK lunar lander be placed in lunar orbit. This would be followed by a piloted LOK. The rendezvous and docking would take place in lunar orbit. The new-design LK would have room for three cosmonauts and the spacecraft would be equipped with a docking tunnel, allowing transfer of the crews without having to go through free space.

Another suggestion was a three launch scheme. First an unpiloted shelter would be landed on the surface of the moon. This would be followed by a new 4-5 crew lunar orbiter. Finally a new version LK would be launched, rendezvous and dock with the LOK in lunar orbit. The crew would descend to the surface for a long-term stay in their nascent lunar base. The shelter would be equipped with a 2 to 3 kW power generator, a radio station, television transmitter, a lunar rover, and sufficient oxygen, water, and food for a one-month stay on the surface. The shelter would be landed automatically, but be equipped with a beacon so the manned LK could make a precision landing in a safe area nearby.

The latter was the agreed approach, but there were several problems. It would mean going back to the drawing boards to make completely new designs for the LOK and LK, negating five years of work on the existing designs. Pilyugin would have to redesign his guidance system to allow programming of flexible trajectories to the moon and the lunar surface. This would duplicate 2 to 3 tonnes of payload in the Block D and G stages, which would still have to be equipped with the old guidance system. The engineers decided this was the only way ahead, but that Mishin had to be approached by the 'back door' with the idea.

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