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Soyuz 4 and 5
Soyuz 4 and 5
Soyuz 4 and 5 in docked configuration

Credit: © Mark Wade. 13,599 bytes. 539 x 137 pixels.

Program: Soyuz. Objective: Manned. Type: Spacecraft.

The Soyuz spacecraft was initially designed for rendezvous and docking operations in near earth orbit, leading to piloted circumlunar flight. In the definitive December 1962 Soyuz draft project, the Soyuz-A appeared as a two-place spacecraft. The Soyuz would have been launched on a lunar flyby after successive launches of 11K tanker spacecraft with a 9K translunar injection stage.

To Korolevís frustration, while Filial 3 received budget to develop the military Soyuz versions, his own Soyuz-A did not receive the support of the leadership for inclusion in the space program of the USSR. The 7K-9K-11K plan would have required five successful automatic dockings to succeed. This seemed impossible at the time. Instead Chelomeiís LK-1 single-manned spacecraft, to be placed on a translunar trajectory in a single launch of his UR-500K rocket, was the preferred approach. According to the historic decree of 3 August 1964 that set forth the Soviet plan to beat the Americans to the moon, Chelomei was to develop the LK-1 for the manned lunar flyby while Korolev was to develop the N1-L3 for the manned lunar landing. The Soyuz-A was cancelled.

Soyuz OK panelSoyuz OK panel - Detail of left command panel of Soyuz OK

Credit: © Mark Wade. 23,713 bytes. 294 x 456 pixels.

In the second quarter of 1963, when Korolev had begun design of the Voskhod multi-manned spacecraft, he instructed his bureau to begin design of a three-manned orbital version of the Soyuz A, the 7K-OK. But the crush of work on other projects and the new lunar landing project resulted in development of the 7K-OK being stopped by the end of 1964. Soyuz was pushed into the background.

On 14 October 1964 Khrushchev was ousted from power, and Chelomei lost his patron. Soon thereafter, Korolev quietly reanimated his Soyuz-A project - not the circumlunar version, but a 7K-OK orbital spacecraft. Korolevís stated plan was for two of these spacecraft to demonstrate rendezvous and docking in earth orbit - but this was really a cover for in preparation for wresting the circumlunar program back from Chelomei.

Soyuz OM panelSoyuz OM panel - Detail of orbital module command panel of Soyuz OK

Credit: © Mark Wade. 35,169 bytes. 573 x 391 pixels.

On 25 October 1965, less than three months before his death, Korolev regained the project for manned circumlunar flight. This would use a derivative of the 7K-OK, the 7K-L1, launched by Chelomeiís UR-500K, but with a Block D translunar injection stage from the N1. Originally Korolev considered that the 7K-L1, for either safety or mass reasons, could not be boosted directly by the UR-500K toward the moon. He envisioned launch of the unmanned 7K-L1 into low earth orbit, followed by launch and docking of a 7K-OK with the 7K-L1. The crew would then transfer to the L1, which would then be boosted toward the moon. This was his hidden reason for the development of the 7K-OK.

Soyuz escape towerSoyuz escape tower - Soyuz launch escape system - air tunnel test model

Credit: © Mark Wade. 26,778 bytes. 316 x 420 pixels.

On the first orbital launch of the 7K-OK in November 1966 a large number of failures occurred, indicating many errors in construction. The spacecraft was uncontrollable and was finally destroyed by the on-board APO destruct system.

On the second launch attempt on 14 December, the Soyuz incorrectly detected a failure of the launch vehicle at 27 minutes after an aborted launch attempt. The launch escape system activated while the vehicle was still fuelled on the pad, pulling the capsule away from the vehicle but exploding the launch vehicle and killing and injuring several people. Analysis of the failure indicated numerous problems in the escape system.

The 7K-OK, after sinking to the bottom of the Aral Sea after a trouble-ridden third flight, was taken into space by cosmonaut Komarov in April 1967. This disastrous flight ended in the cosmonaut being killed. The 7K-OK was redesigned to the extent possible and went on to accomplish 13 relatively successful manned and unmanned earth orbital flights. The 7K-OK was later modified to the space station ferry configuration 7K-OKS with the addition of a docking tunnel. This configuration killed three cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 11 in 1971. Thereafter the spacecraft underwent a complete redesign, resulting in the substantially safer 7K-T, which flew dozens of times to Salyut and Almaz space stations until replaced by the Soyuz T in 1981. Major Events: .

Soyuz OM interiorSoyuz OM interior - Interior view of Soyuz 4 orbital module (through open side hatch)

Credit: Andy Salmon. 31,169 bytes. 346 x 487 pixels.

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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .