Encyclopedia Astronautica
R-56



r56varnt.jpg
R-56 Evolution
From left: R-16; SK-100; R-56 Polyblock A; R-56 Polyblock B; R-56 Monoblock (selected configuration)
Credit: © Mark Wade
The R-56 was Yangel's ultimate superbooster design. Trade studies begun in 1962 resulted in a conventional tandem stage design capable of being transported on the Soviet canal system from the factory to the launch site, while still placing 40 metric tons into low earth orbit. However various Soviet government factions favored the much larger (and less practical) Korolev N1 or Chelomei UR-700 designs. Yangel made one last attempt to convince the government to sponsor a common approach to the lunar program, with different design bureaus concentrating on just one part of the mission, as the American's were doing. But his practical solutions obtained no traction, and further work on the R-56 was abandoned.

After drawing back from the 'cluster of R-16's' approach of the SK-100, Yangel conducted some trade studies to determine the optimum design for his bureau's first Ďsuper rocket'. The booster was to be capable of serving as a first-strike military global rocket or as a heavy launch vehicle, placing 40 metric ton payloads into a 200 km polar orbit. The selected monoblock design could be transported on the Soviet internal canal system from the factory to the launch site.

The R-56 would have been 67.8 m long and consisted of three stages, the first two with a basic diameter of 6.5 m. The first stage had a flared 8.2 m diameter base to accommodate the 16 RD-253 engines.

Yangel conducted some trade studies to determine the optimum design for his bureau's first Ďsuper rocket'. The booster was to be capable of launching a range of missions:

  • First-strike military global rocket: 35 metric tons of independently maneuverable orbital nuclear warheads over a 16,000 km range

  • Heavy launch vehicle for military space stations or weapons platforms: 40 metric ton payload into a 200 km polar orbit

  • Global communications satellites in geosynchronous or inclined pseudo-synchronous (figure 8) orbits

  • Unmanned lunar surface monitoring stations

  • Manned circumlunar and lunar orbital mapping missions: 12 metric tons into lunar orbit

  • Through use of docking in low earth orbit, assembly of spacecraft for manned lunar expeditions

  • High priority payloads for manned lunar expeditions

  • Large unmanned interplanetary probes: payloads of 6 to 8 metric tons on trajectories to Mars or Venus

To achieve these design objectives, three design approaches were studied in detail:

  • A polyblock design limited to rail transport restrictions (4 x 3.8 m diameter stages clustered together)

  • A polyblock design using existing R-36 ICBM tooling (7 x 3.0 m diameter stages clustered together, similar to the SK-100)

  • A monoblock design that could be transported by waterway (6.5 m diameter)

Yangel reached a similar conclusion to that of Korolev in the draft project for the N1. The two stage monoblock design was clearly superior to the polyblock versions. Among its advantages:

  • Less labor required for manufacture at the plant and integration at the launch site

  • Design solutions already used on R-16/R-36 ICBM's could be scaled up

  • Vehicle dynamics models developed for R-16/R-36 could be used

  • Less development work due to less complex vehicle dynamics

  • Lower launch complex cost due to reduced number of fuelling and interface points

  • Larger diameter core better suited to carrying low-density liquid hydrogen / nuclear thermal engine upper stages for manned interplanetary spacecraft.

The selected monoblock vehicle was 67.8 m long and consisted of three stages, the first two with a basic diameter of 6.5 m. The first stage had a flared 8.2 m diameter base to accommodate the 16 engines. These were developed by Glushko's OKB-456, and each produced 148 metric tons of thrust at lift-off. The thrust and technical characteristics indicate they would have been identical to or closely derived from the RD-253 engine developed for Chelomei's UR-500 rocket. Twelve of the main engines were fixed while four were gimbaled in pitch to provide launch vehicle steering. Separate propellant tanks were arranged with the oxidizer forward tank forward, the fuel tank aft. It is said that the launch vehicle was equipped with a recovery system; this probably applied only to the first stage, which the figures indicate has an unusually high empty mass, perhaps including a means of recovering the stage or engine section for reuse.

The second stage had a common bulkhead between the oxidizer and propellant tanks. It was equipped with a single fixed main engine of 172 metric tons thrust. The technical characteristics indicate that it was identical with the RD-254 high-expansion ration derivative of the RD-253 also developed for Chelomei's UR-700. Four vernier engines, with a total thrust of 50,000 kgf, provided ullage force for main engine ignition, steering during main engine burn, and precise velocity correction after main engine cut-off.

There were two versions of the third stage: a single start variant for placement of large payloads into low earth orbit, and a multiple start version for taking smaller payloads to high earth orbit or earth escape trajectories. It was equipped with a main engine of 50,000 kgf and four vernier engines totaling 5,500 kgf. The characteristics indicate it was probably based on Kosberg's RD-0213 engine developed for the third stage of the UR-500K Proton launch vehicle. The stage, while having nearly the same diameter as the Proton third stage, differed in design, with a common bulkhead between the oxidizer and propellant tanks.

A fourth stage was designed to allow insertion of payloads into geosynchronous or lunar orbit. The propellants used and engine characteristics are identical to those of the experimental RD-280 engine developed by Glushko in the mid-1960's. The stage uniquely used the Aerozine-50 fuel developed in the United States for the Titan 2 ICBM. The engine was capable of four restarts.

The assembled vehicle would be moved by road from the Yangel factory in Dnepropetrovsk to the mouth of the Surya River. From there it could be moved on the Soviet Union's elaborate inland waterway system to any of the existing launch sites - Kapustin Yar on the Volga, Baikonur on the Syr Darya, or Plesetsk on the Yemtsa. Kapustin Yar, the closest to the factory, was the preferred location. At the launch site the vehicle would be moved to an austere launch pad a short distance form the river. After being put upright it would be enclosed by a service tower providing an environmentally protected environment for final rocket and payload preparation.

Growth versions of the R-56 would return to the cluster principle in order to boost larger payloads, such as those required for manned lunar expeditions. The 685,000 kgf RD-270 engine was also to have been used in later versions of the R-56. This would have reduced the number of engines in the first stage from 16 to 4.

Yangel's KB Yuzhnoye was the prime contractor for the launch vehicle, with support from the Soviet Academy of Sciences, NII-88, NITI-40, GSPI, and the Ministry of Defense. By 1965 Yangel had decided that the bitter fight between Chelomei and Korolev over control of manned programs was damaging the Soviet space effort. In any case he could see that the size of the projects had reached such a scale that it was impossible for one design bureau to handle all of the required elements. He proposed a collaborative effort: Yangel would design and build the launch vehicle; Korolev the manned spacecraft; and Chelomei the unmanned spacecraft.

However this was not to be. The leadership was loath to change course with funds already invested in development of boosters and spacecraft by Chelomei and Korolev. The other Chief Designers objected that use of the R-56 for a manned lunar landing would require two R-56 launches in the place of one UR-700 or N1 launch. This would mean use of untried earth orbit rendezvous techniques to assemble the spacecraft in earth orbit. Development of the R-56 was not authorized, and for once in his career Yangel gave up the fight.

As a practical matter it was not possible for one bureau to handle the moon landing project. Although Glushko and Chelomei refused to co-operate with Korolev on the effort, most other rocket design bureaus were involved. Yangel found himself charged with development of the LK lunar lander that would actually land a cosmonaut on the moon.

Many thanks to Asif Siddiqi and Marcus Lindroos for providing source materials for this article.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Launch Vehicles
  • R-56 Polyblock Ukrainian heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle. One design approach considered for Yangel's R-56 superbooster of the 1960's was a polyblock design limited to rail transport restrictions (4 x 3.8 m diameter stages clustered together). Although a dynamic test model was built and tested at Tsniimash, Yangel finally reached the conclusion that a monoblock design was clearly superior to polyblock versions. Further work on the polyblock design was abandoned. Tsniimash exhibits in its small museum the 1:10 structural simulation model of the 3.8 m diameter polyblock design. More...
  • R-56 Polyblock ICBM Ukrainian intercontinental ballistic missile. Tsniimash has 1:10 structural simulation model. Three stage carrier rocket with consecutive first and parallel second stages. Range indicated on placard; possibly considered as monster ICBM in competition with UR-500. Work began in 1961. More...
  • R-56 Ukrainian heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle. The R-56 was Yangel's ultimate superbooster design. Trade studies begun in 1962 resulted in a conventional tandem stage design capable of being transported on the Soviet canal system from the factory to the launch site, while still placing 40 metric tons into low earth orbit. However various Soviet government factions favored the much larger (and less practical) Korolev N1 or Chelomei UR-700 designs. Yangel made one last attempt to convince the government to sponsor a common approach to the lunar program, with different design bureaus concentrating on just one part of the mission, as the American's were doing. But his practical solutions obtained no traction, and further work on the R-56 was abandoned. More...

R-56 Chronology


1962 During the Year - . LV Family: N1; Proton; R-56.
  • GR-2 (Global Rocket 2) requirement. - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Chelomei; Korolev; Yangel. Summary: The GR-2 was to be a kind of enormous multiple-warhead FOBS (fractional orbit bombing system). Competitors included Korolev's N-11GR; Chelomei's UR-500; and Yangel's R-56.

During February 1962 - . LV Family: N1; Proton; R-16; R-56; R-9; UR-200.
  • Pitsunda Conference - Decision to start design of UR-500 and N1 lunar boosters - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Khrushchev; Yangel; Korolev; Ustinov; Chelomei; Grechko, Andrei; Kozlov; Mikoyan. The Soviet leadership attends a secret exhibition of Soviet rocket technology in a sporting hall at Pitsunda, on the Black Sea. The Chief Designers offer competing designs. It is decided that the R-16, R-9, UR-200, UR-500, and N1 will go forward. Yangel's R-56 is rejected. Additional Details: here....

1962 April 16 - . LV Family: N1; R-56; Tsiklon.
  • N1, R-36, R-36-O, and R-56 rockets authorised. - . Nation: USSR. Summary: Decree 'On Important Development of Intercontinental Ballistic and Global Missiles and Carriers-Rockets for Space Objects--work on the N1, R-36, R-36-O, and R-56' was issued..

1964 June 19 - . LV Family: N1; R-56.
  • R-56 super booster canceled. - . Nation: USSR. Summary: Decree 'On termination of work on the R-56 launch vehicle and on schedule of the testing for the N1' was issued..

1964 July 19 - . LV Family: N1; Proton; R-56; UR-700.
  • Korolev obtains preliminary approval for a single-launch, lunar orbit rendezvous, manned landing. - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Chelomei; Glushko; Yangel; Korolev; Smirnov; Feoktistov; Bushuyev; Mishin. Program: Lunar L3; Lunar L1. Spacecraft: Soyuz 7K-LOK; LK; L3-1963; LK-1. 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. Additional Details: here....

1964 September 24 - . LV Family: N1; R-56; R-9; Tsiklon; UR-100; UR-200; UR-700. Launch Vehicle: R-26.
  • Khrushchev visits Baikonur - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Khrushchev; Yangel; Chelomei; Brezhnev; Smirnov; Ustinov; Korolev; Glushko; Gagarin; Belyayev; Leonov. Flight: Voskhod 2. Spacecraft: Voskhod; Berkut; LK-700. This was his last visit, just weeks before his overthrow. The Soviet leadership were shown the UR-100 and observed launches of the competing UR-200 and R-36. Khrushchev agreed with the decision to put the R-36 into production instead of Chelomeiís UR-200. He felt he couldnít turn down Yangel a third time after approving Korolevís N1 instead of Yangelís R-56 and Chelomeiís UR-100 instead of Yangelís R-26. Khrushchev decided to cancel Korolevís badly behind schedule R-9A, even though Smirnov and Ustinov insisted they wanted it in their arsenal (in May 1965, after Khrushchevís overthrow, this decision was reversed and the R-9A went into production).

    Khrushchev also visited a secret space fair, with Korolev, Chelomei, Yangel, and Glushko presenting their rockets and spacecraft. Chelomei presented his UR-700 heavy lift design as an alternative to Korolevís N1. This presentation was a surprise to Ustinov and Dementiev. Khrushchev ordered Chelomei to prepare a draft proposal for the design. Chelomei hoped that 12 to 18 months later, when the UR-700 draft project would be completed, the fallacy of Korolevís N1 design would be apparent to all. Korolevís N1 plans were also reviewed and approved at the meeting.

    Over the two days, Khruschev witnessed five launches of rockets by Korolev, Yangel, and Chelomei, all of them successful. Gagarin and Belyayev explained the Vykhod spacecraft to him, and Leonov donned a spacesuit and demonstrated how he would exit into open space form the inflatable airlock and return thereafter. All went very well.

    This was the last time Khrushchev saw the chief designers of the Soviet rocket industry. Despite his support for them not one of them visited him in his retirement.


November 1964 - . LV Family: N1; R-56; UR-700.
  • Korolev's admits that N1 cannot attain payload needed for single-launch mission - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Korolev; Kozlov; Khrushchev; Ustinov; Brezhnev; Yangel; Chelomei; Babakin; Lavochkin. Program: Lunar L3. Spacecraft: LK; Soyuz 7K-LOK; LK-700. Korolev speaks privately to Chertok. Kozlov has told him it will be impossible to build an N1 with the 93 tonne payload capability until the fourth flight article. The L3 concept was still the same as in the August decree - 2 cosmonauts aboard the LOK orbiter, one aboard the LK lander. Korolev asks Chertok to take 800 kg out of the weight budget for the L3. Chertok informs him that they are already 500 kg over the August budget. This is still without all the unknowns of the automated lunar landing being solved. Additional Details: here....

1965 During the Year - . LV Family: R-56. Launch Vehicle: R-56.
  • Yangel proposes collaborative Soviet moon landing project using R-56 launch vehicle - . Nation: USSR. Related Persons: Chelomei; Korolev; Yangel. Yangel had decided that the bitter fight between Chelomei and Korolev over control of manned programs was damaging the Soviet space effort. In any case he could see that the size of the projects had reached such a scale that it was impossible for one design bureau to handle all of the required elements. He proposed a collaborative effort: Yangel would design and build the launch vehicle; Korolev the manned spacecraft; and Chelomei the unmanned spacecraft. However the leadership was loath to change course with funds already invested in development of boosters and spacecraft by Chelomei and Korolev.

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