OMF World

Soviet Lunar Rocket N1

Soviet lunar program started in the early 1960s as an answer to the Saturn/Apollo program in the US. General Designer Sergey Korolev proposed heavy booster rocket to launch 2 cosmonauts to the Moon in 1967. To save time the first draft mission was to launch 3 vehicles - command module, descent/ascent module and space tug - separately and assembled them on low Earth orbit. After reaching the Moon one of the astronauts would've spacewalked to the descent/ascent module and landed on the surface. The mission profile was similar to the original Apollo/Saturn proposals with major differences. First, to save weight the mission called for only 2 cosmonauts instead of 3. Second, for the same reason the main spacecraft (future Soyuz) was not equipped with transfer airlock and descent/ascent module didn't have seat. Proposed configuration was tested on unmanned flights (Cosmos-140 and-141 and 2 others with automatic rendesvous and coupling), manned flight (Soyuz-4 and-5 with crew transfer between vehicles), quick succession flights (Soyuz-6, -7, -8). Descent module was tested in atmosphere (Turbolet project). However, booster vehicle based on R-7 design was marginally capable of delivery the required weight to the low Earth orbit and still had reliability problems. Any possible delays in launch sequences could made vehicles on orbit to exceed the design life and abort the mission. The only other heavy launch vehicle available was hydrasine fueled Proton (UR-500) which was not man-rated and had even worse success rate than Soyuz.
One of the major obstacles for the Saturn program was the lack of launching sites as every vehicle was assembled and tested at the launcing pad. To fulfil the lunar program requirements with Earth/Lunar rendesvouis the total of 48 pads similar to Kennedy Space Center LC-34 were required which would've extend the spaceport all the way to Daytona Beach. Soviet program didn't have to rely on assembly at the pad as all parts of Soyuz booster vere put together and tested in a Vehicle Assembly and Testing Facility and transported to the launch pad. However, only 4 pads at the Baykonur Cosmodrome were available for launches so even after the successful quick succession launches of Vostok-5 and -6, Soyuz-4 and -5 and Soyuz-6, -7 and -8 there was not enough launch capacity for sustained lunar program. NASA decided to change the approach and develop single multi-stage booster capable of delivery of the Apollo spacecraft, lunar module and booster stage in one launch. Also, Rocketdyne corporation was able to develop very powerful F-1 engine, even without advanced propellant (LH2).
As happened with other programs (Space Shuttle/Buran) USSR, thinking that Americans have some sinister motives in mind by developing Saturn V, decided to follow the suit. So, the decision was made to develop extra heavy vehicle, capable of delivering up to 95 metric tons to Earth orbit. Three major obstacles were the reason the program was unsuccessful - absence of first stage engines similar to Rocketdyne F-1 which powered the Saturn, location of the cosmodrome and rail transport limitations required manufacturing of the propellant tanks on site, and absence of static test facilities for full scale testing. Also, crude control system and lack of programming experience created problems with controlling 30 engines on a first stage alone.
All four test launches were failures, although in two cases the unmanned payload was recovered by launch abort system. In 2 flights the failure was due to control system malfunction, one, which resulted in catastrophic explosion and demolition of the launch pad, was due to poor quality, and one was due to incorrect stage separation. Two other launches were prepared which would almost certainly be successful, but by that time Americans were already to the Moon, General Designer Korolev died and Government cancelled the program.
Launch pads 110E and 110W were rebuilt for the Energia/Buran project and brand new static test/launch site 250 was also built for the program. However, only 2 launches were made and now both facilities are abandoned but conserved for future use.

First test launch vehicle on pad 110E.

Launch vehicle on pad 110E. Although all test launches were unmanned the LAS was present and actually saved 2 payloads.

Launch vehicles on pads 110E and 110W. The one with LAS is flight test vehicle, the one without - ground crew training vehicle.

Launch vehicles were brought to the pad on a special rail erector platform towed by 4 diesel locomotives.

N1 in flight.

After the failure of N1 all subsequent interplanetary and heavy launches were performed by Proton (UR-500) rocket. It was powered by ADMH/N2O4 and wasn't man-rated (unlike similar powered Titan II), although lunar and planetary probes and high value payloads were launced with LAS attached.