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astronautix.com Soviet Space System Development Process


The concepts and plans for the first generation of Soviet spacecraft came from the visionary chief designers themselves - Korolev and Chelomei. During the course of the 1960's a more orderly process of specifying, developing, and deploying space systems was put into place. This was largely derived from established processes for aircraft and other military products.

The following describes the 'official' orderly process as it was supposed to be practised. As was the case in the United States this process could be short-circuited by powerful Chief Designers, Generals, or Politicians. But to a large degree the space systems that went into production for use by the Soviet military followed this procedure.

Soviet space projects and planning, like the rest of that society, worked on the national cycle of five year plans. The first steps leading to any space system was the execution of technology assessment, threat assessment, and cost trade-off studies to determine the requirements and possibilities for space systems that should be developed in the next five year plan (and normally deployed in the following five year plan). This was done by 50 TsNII KS MO (50th Central Scientific Research Institute for Space Systems of the Ministry of Defence) in co-operation with various space research institutions (TsNIIMASH, NIITI, Agat, NII Khimash, etc.). The final result was a draft five year plan including defence plans, draft specifications, preliminary flight test plans, etc. These plans were assigned code names and formed the basis for negotiation of the final five year plan between the power brokers in the military industrial complex.

Once the final plan was approved, it would be formalised in a decree of the Communist Party Central Committee and the Supreme Council of Government Ministers. The planning process had already generated a TTZ, or tactical-technical requirements document, for each new system. This specification included:

The TTZ would be the basis for the submission of draft projects for the system from interested and qualified design bureaux. This process was equivalent to the issuance by NASA or the Defence Department of a call for tender for a major new aerospace system.

The government decree provided the permission for the design bureaux to expend the internal funds necessary to create the draft project document (equivalent to use of Bidding, Proposal, Industrial Research and Development budget pools of US government contractors). Selection of a design bureau, and the decision whether to even proceed with development of the system, would only be made after submission of the draft projects. The steps involved in creating a draft project:

The draft proposal itself was typically executed in two phases:

Step 1: Advanced Project or Technical Proposal. This contained:

The Advanced Project was a rough first outline of the system, equivalent to a Feasibility Study or Budgetary Proposal in the United States. It was normally not reviewed outside of the design bureau, but instead formed the framework for completion of the definitive Draft Project.

Step 2: Draft Project. This was the document submitted to the customer. It contained:

The draft project was equivalent to a firm proposal to a US government customer for a new system. While subsystem design was not complete, the general layout and sizing of the internal equipment of the system was already pretty well fixed. The mass budget, schedule, and cost of the project were all firm values that the design bureau was willing to commit to.

In Soviet practice the draft project of each design bureau would be 'defended' in person, much as an academic dissertation might be defended, to a government commission consisting not only of customer representatives but the competing chief designers as well. Depending on the results of the review, as well as inevitable budget battles and politicking, one institute would be selected to proceed with development of the system (in at least one famous case - the RS-17 and RS-19 ICBM's - the leadership utterly deadlocked on the selection, resulting in two major systems meeting the same TTZ being developed and put into production).

If the decision was made to proceed, this would be formalised in another government decree. Typical steps in systems development included:

Until the end of the 1960's Soviet engineers concentrated more on flight test than development and qualification testing to achieve production systems. But the poor reliability of first generation military systems, and the loss of the moon race to the Americans due to the unreliability of the systems, resulted in major reforms in the early 1970's. The result was that by the 1980's the Soviets were putting even more emphasis on pre-flight ground qualification and development test than the Americans.
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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .