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R-3 Cutaway
R-3 Cutaway -

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Family: Early Russian Ballistic Missiles. Country: Russia. Status: Cancelled 1949.

Development of the long-range R-3 missile was authorised at the same time as the V-2-derived R-1 and R-2 rockets in April 1947. Supplemental authorisation was contained in a government decree of 14 April 1948.The specification was an order of magnitude leap from the other vehicles - to deliver a 3 tonne atomic bomb to any point in Europe from Soviet territory - a required range of 3000 km. To achieve this objective innovative technology was needed in every area of the missile design. Korolev was again in direct competition with the design to the same specification of the captured Germans (Groettrup's G-4).

In selecting a final R-3 design, Korolev examined and discarded several alternatives. An important consideration was the growth potential to achieve ICBM performance (8000 km range with a 5 tonne warhead). The alternatives were:

Korolev's preferred approach was the BN conventional single-stage design. This was down-selected within the bureau in June 1949 and seems to have borrowed a lot from contemporary classified US orbital rocket designs. It required technical advances over the V-2 in every area:

Lift-off mass would be 71.72 tonnes, with a burnout mass of 8480 kg. The warhead would separate at a velocity of 4700 m/s in order to achieve the 3000 km range. An alternative heavy 12 tonne warhead could be boosted to a 1000 km range. Barmin's GKB Spetsmash would provide the V-2-like mobile launcher.

So much new technology was involved that it was deemed necessary to build an R-3A intermediate experimental rocket, based on the R-2. This would be flown to test new construction methods, guidance systems, and high energy propellants. The R-3A would have a 900 to 1000 km range with a payload of 1530 kg; an unfuelled mass of 4100 kg; 20,500 kg of propellants; and a lift-off thrust of 40 tonnes. The R-3A could also serve as a prototype for a more modest IRBM.

The draft project was completed by Korolev in June 1949. In November 1949 the project plan was submitted to the NTS (Scientific-Technical Soviet) of NII-88 for review. The NTS met in plenary session on 7 December 1949 and subjected the proposal to withering criticism.

Isayev found extensive problems with Glushko's engine design. The huge increase in thrust, performance, and use of new propellants seemed a leap too far. But Korolev insisted that Polyarniy's design, using older technology, could not meet the requirements. In general the Soviet preferred Groettrup's G-4/R-14 design to the same requirement. This assumed fewer technical advances in engine design but greater improvements in mass fraction reduction:

Parameter Korolev R-3 Groettrup G-4/R-14
Payload to 3000 km 3,000 kg 3,400 kg
Lift-off mass 71,000 kg 70,000 kg
Burn-out mass 8,480 kg 7,100 kg
Burn-out velocity 4,700 m/s 4,500 m/s
Specific impulse-vacuum 288 sec 249 sec
Specific impulse-sea level 240 sec 234 sec

After heated discussion, the Soviet approved further development of technology for the R-3, but not the missile itself. This work was to go forward on several fronts:

In the meantime the immediate R-3 military requirement for delivery of nuclear weapons anywhere in Europe would be met by:

Work proceeded on the R-3 themes with significant German input, although they were not allowed to know how the work was going. Detailed technical questions were continued throughout 1950-1951, coming almost daily by March 1951. Meanwhile Glushko was unable to overcome mixing chamber instability in his 19-burner RD-110 engine concept. Further development of both the Glushko and Polyarniy engines was discontinued in 1951.

Work on the R-3A continued - another period of intense questioning of the Germans came in June 1952, when it seemed to them that a test flight of the R-3A was imminent. But in the end, the decision had actually been made to proceed directly to the R-7 ICBM. During development the range of the R-3A had settled on 935 km with only a 500 kg payload. It was cancelled in October 1951 without ever flying, with the technology being applied to further R-5 and R-11 development. The R-3 was completely cancelled, and a Soviet 3000-km IRBM did not appear until Yangel's R-14 entered service in 1962.


Payload: 5,000 kg. to a: 3000 km trajectory. Liftoff Thrust: 168,000 kgf. Total Mass: 65,000 kg. Core Diameter: 2.8 m. Total Length: 33.0 m.

R-3 Chronology

1946 Oct 23 -
1948 Apr 14 -
- 1949 June -
1949 Dec 7 -
1951 Oct 20 -


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Last update 12 March 2001.
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