AOH :: SOVIET.TXT|
Present day Soviet launch vehicles
Courtesy Dallas Remote Imaging Group
Datalink RBBS =============> 214-394-7438
Dedicated to satellite tracking, decoding of NOAA/Soviet
meteorological satellite telemetry, and Digital Image
Processing of satellite pictures.
Jeff Wallach, N5ITU, Chairman
John Williams, Co-Chairman
John DuBois, W1HDX VAS/HRPT Design Engineer
T.S. Kelso, Air Force/NASA liason
Ed O'Grady KC2ZF Soviet Space Program Analyst
Jim Blocker, KF5IW Director Software Development
Jose Sancho WB5YFU Director of Engineering
All aspects of Amateur Radio covered on Datalink RBBS
PRESENT DAY SOVIET LAUNCH VEHICLES
Although most observers of the exploration of space are quite familiar
with the various US launch vehicle families (Atlas, Titan, & Saturn), their
Soviet counterparts are still a mystery to most Western analysts. This shroud
of secrecy is encouraged by the Soviet government which, for various reasons,
has released little information on these launch vehicles. However, given the
few tidbits of data available from news photos, orbital elements, and the rare
Soviet publication, it is now possible to describe the history and capability
of the Soviet present arsenal. The following is a summary of the known major
Soviet rocket engines and their major characteristics. (Vacuum thrust is
given in metric tons).
Table 1: Soviet Rocket Engines
Number of Vacuum Chamber Specific Principal
Name Chambers Thrust Pressure Impulse Propellants Use
RD-100 1 30 234 Alcohol/LOX R-1 (1)
RD-103 1 55 28 245 Alcohol/LOX SS-3
RD-107 4 102 60 314 RP-1/LOX A Class
RD-108 4 96 52 315 RP-1/LOX A Class
RD-111 4 166 80 317 RP-1/LOX SS-10??
RD-119 1 11 80 352 UDMH/LOX B Class
RD-170 4 806 ? 336 RP-1/LOX J/L Class
RD-214 4 74 45 264 RP-1/Nitric Acid B Class
RD-216 4 177 75 290 UDMH/Nitric Acid C Class
RD-219 2 90 75 293 UDMH/Nitric Acid F Class
RD-253 1 167 145 316 UDMH/N2O4 D Class (2)
Block A 1 5 ? 340? RP-1/LOX A Class
Block D 1 8 ? 350 RP-1/LOX D Class
JRD 1 61 ? 320? UDMH/N2O4 D/F Class
EME 1 220 ? 425+ LH2/LOX J/L Class
The lack of documentation for Soviet launchers creates another problem
for the student of Soviet Cosmonautics -- each Soviet launcher has several
different designations. The Soviets of course have names for their launchers
(often derived from the first major civilian payload launched by a new sys-
tem), the US Air Force creates designations for all Soviet military missiles,
as well as space launchers derived from these missiles; the Library of
Congress has designed a classification system as well. Table 2 attempts to
reconcile these systems.
Table 2: Designations of Soviet Space Launchers
Library ICBM Payload
of Congress USAF Soviet Precursor to LEO
A SL-1 Sputnik SS-6 2.5
A-1 SL-2 Vostok SS-6 4.7
A-2 SL-4 Soyuz SS-6 7.0
A-2-e SL-6 Molniya SS-6 7.0
B SL-5 Kosmos SS-4 .3
C SL-6 Kosmos SS-5 1.0
D SL-9 Proton NA 12.0
D-1 SL-13 Proton NA 21.0
D-1-e SL-12 Proton NA 21.0
NA (*) SL-7? NA SS-10??? 2.0
F-1 SL-11 Kosmos SS-9 4.0
F-2 SL-14 Cyclone SS-9 5.5
J SL-16 NA NA 15.0
L SL-17 Energia NA 100.0
* This designation is extremely speculative.
As is well known, the Soviets began rocket research on their own before
the Second World War. The first liquid fueled engine developed by GIRD, an
amateur rocket club, was called the ORM-1, and had the distinction of being
able to use both cryogenic and storable fuels, an ability the Soviets utilized
in later vehicles. This small program was greatly aided by the capture of
German V-2 rockets and scientists in 1945. The Soviets, as did the US, gained
much experience studying the German effort. M. Yangel, a Soviet of German
descent, infiltrated the Peenemunde rocketdrome during World War II, and was
able to learn much of the technology developed by the Von Braun group (3).
The first post-war Soviet rocket, the R-1, a V-2 clone, was launched in 1947,
and was powered by the RD-100 engine, the first in a long line of large
THE SPUTNIK ERA
In the early 1950's, the Soviets developed the Shyster vehicle (dubbed
the SS-3 by the US Air Force), basically an improved copy of the V-2, for
testing Soviet-built components in short ballistic flights. The Shyster was
similar in capability and appearance to the US Redstone rocket. After
development of the Shyster, the Soviet government decided that in order to
send 5 ton atomic bombs to the US mainland, it would be necessary to develop a
large military booster, with much greater capacity than the Shyster. Thus,
Soviet scientists developed the techniques of clustering rocket engines and
parallel staging simultaneously. This entailed the use of a single turbopump
per engine cluster, which led to the Soviets adopting a distinct definition of
an engine from the Americans. The single 25 ton thrust engine of the V-2 was
clustered in groups of 4, with a single set of turbopumps for each group (4).
The core cluster of 4 (called the RD-108 engine, although it used 4 combustion
chambers and 4 exit nozzles) was surrounded by 4 strap-on clusters (called the
RD-107, but basically identical to the RD-108), for a total of 20 first stage
engines. All 20 thrust chambers utilized a LOX/kerosene fuel mixture. After
the vehicle left the lower atmosphere, the four strap-ons were jettisoned, and
the core cluster was to carry the warhead on a ballistic flight to the US.
This vehicle, known to the Air Force as the SS-6, and referred to as the
A-class launcher by the Library of Congress classification system, became the
first Soviet satellite booster, launching Sputnik in 1957.
The Soviets quickly developed a small upper stage for the A-class
launcher, known as the Block A ("A" for Acceleration). With the 5 ton thrust
Block A added as a third stage, the A-1 class booster was used to launch the
Vostok capsule, as well as to send several small probes to the Moon. In 1961,
a four chambered, RP-1/LOX (kerosene) fueled engine was developed by the
design bureau of the late S.A. Kosberg. This 30 ton thrust engine (possibly a
four engine Block A cluster) replaced the earlier Block A orbital stage on the
Soyuz booster (known as the A-2). As a last development in this series, the
earlier 5 ton thrust Block-A was upgraded to 5.7 tons thrust, and used as the
fourth stage for the Molniya, early Venera, and other missions. This improved
escape stage is also used as the orbital stage in later versions of the Type
THE COSMOS LAUNCHERS
Soon after the conception of the A-class vehicle, the development of the
hydrogen bomb enabled much smaller warheads to be built, making the large
booster obsolete. The 4-engine core cluster was immediately reconfigured into
a missile in its own right, with the engine now dubbed the RD-214. The new
vehicle, the SS-4 Medium Range Ballistic Missile, shared many components with
the earlier SS-3 Shyster missile (5). In order to decrease launch preparation
time, the Soviets converted the engine to use storable propellants, nitric
acid and kerosene, (as in the pre-war ORM-1). This combination is much less
efficient than the RD-107/108's RP-1/LOX fuel, resulting in a lowered thrust
of about 74 tons for the RD-214 (6). The new launcher, was deployed in Cuba
and Eastern Europe by the USSR. Topped by a small orbital stage, the
hydrazine-fueled 11 ton thrust RD-119 engine, this launcher, known as the
B-class vehicle, is the equivalent of of the US Thor/Able.
The RD-214 engine was later refined by the use of UDMH (Unsymmetrical
Dimethyl Hydrazine) instead of kerosene for fuel. This new storable fuel
increased specific impulse for the engine from 264 to 290 seconds. Thrust was
increased to 174 tons, through increase in chamber pressure from 45 to 75
atmospheres, and the use of two rather than one turbopump for the four thrust
chambers (7). The engine was renamed the RD-216, and was installed in the
first stage of the C class booster. This new vehicle, the equivalent of the
Atlas launcher, replaced the earlier B-class vehicle, and is now the third
most used space launcher in the world. The C-class vehicle upper stage is
still largely a mystery. Many analysts believe that it an enlarged Type B
upper stage. However, the Type B upper stage utilizes LOX as an oxidizer,
whereas the Type C upper stage appears to use storage fuels.
THE PROTON BOOSTER
After the Soyuz booster became operational, the Soviets felt that the
need existed for a larger space launcher than the Soyuz, which was limited to
7 tons in low orbit. A new engine, the RD-253, was developed. For the new
Proton, or Type D, vehicle, 6 RD-253 engines powered the first stage, giving a
total thrust of 1002 tons (9), and a payload capacity of 20 tons in orbit.
The second and third stages of the Proton are powered by the JRD engine, which
was developed by the Kosberg Design Bureau, which had also been responsible
for the Soyuz orbital stage. The JRD (Russian for Liquid-Fueled Engine) uses
storable fuels, and is similar to the Titan II upper stage engine. The third
Proton stage also uses 4 small vernier engines to supplement the single JRD
engine. These verniers are located around the perimeter of the base of the
third stage. The general configuration of the Proton is :
1st stage (6 strap-on RD-253s) 1,002 tons
2nd stage (4 JRDs) 244 tons
3rd stage (1 JRD) 61 tons
Escape Stage (1 Block-D Engine) 8 tons
The Proton rocket is used to launch the Salyut and Mir space stations, as
well as heavy military payloads, into earth orbit. The Block D escape stage,
a growth version of the earlier Block A stage, was used for the Luna, Zond,
and Venera deep space probes until 1976. The Soviets state that the Block D
is to be used in their planned commercial ventures, but an experimental upper
stage is in use for some other payloads.
THE TYPE F LAUNCHER
The primitive SS-6 ICBM which launched Sputnik was ineffective as a
military deterrent. The Soviet Union, faced with the need for a storable fuel
ICBM, developed a new missile. The result was the SS-9, a 2 stage ICBM with 6
engines in the first stage (possibly the JRD engine designed by the Kosberg
bureau). The SS-9 first stage served as the basis for the F-1 space launcher.
The second stage of the F-1 is powered by the RD-219 engine, which is
basically an RD-216 engine with two, rather than four, thrust chambers. For
orbital missions, this booster uses a small third stage. The nature of the
third stage is unknown, but many experts believe it to be similar to the
equally mysterious Type C orbital stage. The F-1's performance is similar to
the Titan III-B (8), which an orbital payload of 4 tons to LEO.
A later version of the F class booster, known in the West as the F-2,
seems to use a single JRD engine in the second stage. Like the Proton third
stage, the Type F-2 (the Soviets call it the "Cyclone" booster), upper stage
uses 4 small vernier engines. These verniers are located in the same position
as on the Proton upper stage. As the JRD is more efficient than the RD-219
used on the F-1, payload capacity for the F-2 is somewhat higher than the F-1,
perhaps 5.5 tons vs 4 tons for the F-1.
As the last SS-9 missiles are used up, the Soviets may begin to use the
SS-18 first stage as a replacement. The SS-18 is physically similar to the
SS-9, but its payload capability is described as 30% greater. This leads some
to speculate that the 6 JRD engines in the SS-9 first stage are replaced by 2
RD-253s in the SS-18 first stage. When and if the SS-18 replaces the SS-9 as
the basis the Type F booster, the resulting booster would be at least as
capable as the old Type A.
The Soviets recently began testing a new series of rocket engines,
specifically designed for use in space launchers, rather than military
missiles. The first new launcher to appear is the Type J (known as the SL-16
by the USAF). This booster is analogous to the US Saturn I-B in configuration
and size. The first stage is powered by a single four-chambered engine,
called the RD-170 by its chief designer, V.P. Glushko. The RD-170 is the
largest liquid-fueled rocket engine in the world, barely eclipsing the Saturn
The upper stage may be powered by a single Liquid Hydrogen fueled engine,
known here as the EME, or Energia Main Engine. All accounts describe it as
extremely similar to the US Space Shuttle Main Engine, with a similar thrust
of 200 tons. At this writing, the Soviets have had great problems with
restarting the EME in space.
In comparing the Type J booster with the US Saturn I-B, it becomes
apparent that the Type J should have somewhat higher performance than the US
equivalent. However, the reverse is true, as the Type J is reported to have a
payload capability of only 15 tons to LEO vs 18 for the Saturn I-B. Some
writers state that the Type J's performance is degraded because it is at least
partially reusable, and the recovery devices decrease payload capability. At
any rate, in 1986 the Type J became only the second Soviet launch vehicle to
send a satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit (the Type A was the first).
Visual observations of a Type J upper stage in orbit (Cosmos 1786-B, NORAD
Catalog Number 17043) indicate the large size of the rocket body.
TYPE L (ENERGIA)
After many false starts, the Soviets finally attempted a launch of a
Saturn V class launcher in 1987. The Type L, called Energia by the Soviets,
is at least as capable as the Saturn V. The Type L is powered by 4 strap-on
RD-170s at liftoff, in addition to 4 LH-2 powered Main Engines. Like the US
Space Shuttle system, all 8 Energia engines are fired at liftoff, resulting in
more than 4 times the lift capability to LEO than the smaller Type J (100 tons
vs 15 tons).
Later versions of the Type L may utilize up to 8 RD-170s at liftoff, as
well as a third stage, to be mounted on top of the core tank, and using a
single Energia Main Engine. This version of Energia may not appear in this
century, but should have the capability of sending over 80 tons to the Moon,
or 50 tons to Mars.
It is well known that the Soviets maintain a heavy launch schedule. Given
the serial production of many thousands of the Type A/B/C/D/F class engines,
it is reasonable to assume that great economies of scale have prevailed in
their space effort. Although payload capability for their existing launchers
could be greatly increased with even the smallest of cryogenic stages, the
Soviets are apparently not willing to endure the developmental costs for this
effort. This may indicate that the Soviets are preparing to phase out their
older launchers in favor of the new Type J and L.
1) Anthony Kenden, "Soviet Rockets Engines - Some New Details", Spaceflight,
1975, pp 223-226.
2) V.P. Glushko, Editor-in-Chief, "Kosmonavtika Ensiklopediya ", Moscow,
Sovetskay Ensiklopediya, 1985, pp 330-331.
3) James Oberg, "Red Star in Orbit", Random House: New York, 1981, pg 45.
4) Leonid Vladimirov, "The Russian Space Bluff", Dial Press: New York,
1973, pg 77.
5) David Baker, "The Rocket", Crown Publishers: New York, 1978, pg 226.
6) Phillip S. Clark, "The Sandal Programme", "Spaceflight", 1981, pp 18-21.
7) Valentin P. Glushko, "Development of Space Rockets and Cosmonautics in
the USSR, 2nd Revised Edition", pg 72.
8) Phillip S. Clark, "The Scarp Programme", "Spaceflight", Vol 23, 1981, pg
9) V.P. Glushko, Ensiklopediya Cosmonauvtika, pp 330-331.
10) V.P. Glushko, "Rocket Engines GDL-OKB", Novosti Press Agency Publishing
The entire AOH site is optimized to look best in Firefox® 3 on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986- AOH
We do not send spam. If you have received spam bearing an artofhacking.com email address, please forward it with full headers to firstname.lastname@example.org.