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astronautix.com Russian Rocketplanes

The story of rocketplanes and spaceplanes in the Soviet Union was one of constant setbacks due to internal politics, constant struggle with little result. Tsiolkovskiy pointed out in 1929 that the altitude of an aircraft does not have to be limited to the atmosphere if rocket propulsion was used. This article inspired rocket enthusiasts Korolev and Glushko, and led to development of experimental and military rocketplanes during the 1930's. Both men were sent into prison camps in the purges of the late 1930's and work came nearly to a halt. Stalin released the engineers after the war and set them to absorbing the great technical advances made by the Germans. Immediate post-war work indicated that rocketplanes were inferior to turbojet-powered fighters for military purposes. But work continued on winged spacecraft for launch by ballistic missiles. The first such program, the VKA of 1958-1960, resulted in Myasishchev and Tsybin developing competing designs for launch by Korolev R-7 rockets. In 1960, this work was cancelled, and Korolevís nemesis Chelomei was charged with development of Kosmoplan and Raketoplan spaceplanes of radically different concept. Premier Khrushchev, Chelomei's patron, was overthrown in 1964 and these programs were in turn cancelled. They were replaced by the ambitious Spiral lifting body project of 1966-1976. This in turn was abandoned as too primitive when America embarked on its Space Shuttle program. In response the Soviet leadership decided to build an equivalent and embarked on its largest space project ever. The indigenous MTKVA and LKS designs were rejected in favour of an aerodynamic copy of the shuttle, the Buran. This flew but once before the Soviet Union collapsed. This also ended development work on smaller MAKS and single-stage-to-orbit MKVS spaceplanes.

Follow the links below to learn the awesome, hitherto unrevealed stories and technologies of these fabulous flying machines.


Spacecraft: Korolev Rocket Plane. Korolev was already sketching rocketplanes similar to the Me-163 before World War II. This is one concept from his sketchbook.

Spacecraft: I-270.

Studies for a copy of the Me-163B rocket fighter were already undertaken by OKB MiG in 1944, using a Soviet engine by Dushkin/Glushko, but no construction was begun before the war ended. Post-war Soviet technical teams discovered the more advanced Ju-248 (Me-263) design, including one prototype airframe, and the decision was made that MiG would copy this design. The resulting rocketplane had a more refined aerodynamic form than the Me-263 and lower gross weight. The first airframe, Zh-1, began glider tests in December 1946, towed by a Tu-2 to its release point. The Zh-2, rocket-powered with a dual thrust engine (1650 kgf boost / 400 kgf cruise) first flew in March 1947. However total burn time of the rocket engines was only 255 seconds, and by this time the prototype of the faster and much longer ranged turbojet-powered MiG-15 was nearing completion. Therefore the I-270 was seen as having no military utility and abandoned after the Zh-2 was written off after a hard landing in spring 1947. Maximum speed of the straight-winged, subsonic I-270 would have been 936 km/hr at 15 km altitude, with boost to that altitude in 3.03 minutes.


Spacecraft: RP-318.

Korolev adaped his SK-9 glider in 1936 as the first rocked-powered aircraft in the Soviet Union. It was originally to be used to flight test Glushko's ORM-65 engine, but this proved too unreliable for manned flight. Glushko developed an improved ORM-65-2 but in the 1938 he and Korolev were arrested and sent to the Gulag in Siberia to die. The work was carried on by others with delays, and the first powered flight finally came on 28 February 1940. Test pilot V P Fedorov was towed to 2600 m and cast off at 80 km/hr. The rocket then fired and accelerated the aircraft to 140 m/s and 2900 m altitude. The RP-318 flew nine times before the war ended the work.


Spacecraft: BI-1.

The Bereznyak-Isayev BI-1 was the first high speed rocket plane developed by the Soviet Union. Drawings were completed by spring 1941 but Stalin did not give the go-ahead for production until July 9, 1941. Round-the-clock shifts produced the first aircraft in 35 days. First flight was on 10 September, but the factory had to be evacuated to Sverdlovsk. The first powered flight, following accidents in ground runs of the rocket engine, came on May 15, 1942. Problems with corrosion by the acid fuels slowed testing. On flight 7 the aircraft experienced the previously unencountered tendency of an aircraft to pitch down in high-speed flight, and the rocketplane crashed into the ground, killing the pilot. Plans for a 50 aircraft production batch were abandoned, and rocketplane testing in the USSR only resumed with the testing of German designs after the war.


Spacecraft: Malyutka.

The Malyutka rocket point interceptor was designed by Polikarpov beginning in 1943. The small aircraft, powered by a Glushko engine, was designed to reach a speed of 845 km/hr on flights of 8 to 14 minutes duration. Prototype construction was underway when Polikarpov died on 30 July 1944. He had Stalin's support but many other enemies. The result was that his design bureau and projects were immediately cancelled after his death.


Spacecraft: LL.

The LL was a transonic aerodynamic testbed authorised by LII in September 1945. Three were built: the LL-1 with a straight wing; LL-2 with a conventional swept wing; and LL-3 with a forward swept wing. The LL was towed to a 6 km release altitude by a Tu-2 aircraft. After being cast off, it would fire its Kartukov solid rocket engine and accelerate to the edge of the sound barrier, with a camera photographing air flow on the tufted wing. The LL-2 was not finished because contemporary fighter programs were already providing data on swept wing configurations. But in 1946 to 1948 the LL-1 flew 30 times and the LL-3 100 times, with test pilots M Ivanov, Amet-Khan Sultan, Anokhin, and Rybko at the controls.


Spacecraft: 346.

OKB-2 was formed 22 October 1946 in Podberzye for development and exploitation of German rocketplane technology. Soviet director was A Ya Berznyak, and chief designer was German engineer Hans Roessing. OKB-2 was tasked with continued development and flight of the German supersonic DFS 8-346 rocket reconnaissance aircraft. The 346 featured a 45 degree swept wing, a prone pilot looking through a plexiglass nose, and a dual-thrust Walter HWK 109-509C engine. Maximum speed was to be Mach 2 after a two minute rocket burn. Wind tunnel tests began at TsAGI in March 1947. Four 346 aircraft were built. As with the American XS-1, they were launched from captured B-29 or Tu-4 bombers. German pilot Wolfgang Ziese conducted all of the initial flight tests. Following initial glider flights (346P, 346-1) in 1948, the first powered flight of the 346-2 came on 30 September 1949. The flight was successful but Ziese was injured after the landing skid collapsed after a fast landing. Following repairs, 346-2 flights continued in October 1950 with Russian pilot P I Kasmin at the controls. Ziese resumed flight with the final version, the 346-3, on 15 August 1951. This flew again on 2 September but the aircraft went out of control on 14 September and Ziese bailed out of the aircraft. The destruction of this rocketplane resulted in further tests being abandoned. All German engineers were repatriated to East Germany and OKB-2 dissolved by the end of 1953.


Spacecraft: Samolyot 5.

Biesnovat was assigned the project to develop an all-Soviet equivalent to the 346 supersonic rocketplane being developed by the German Roessing team in OKB-2. Like the 346, the 5 was a swept-wing aircraft, but about 2/3 the size. First glide flight by A K Pakhomov, dropped from a Pe-8, came on 14 July 1948. The first 5-1 aircraft was destroyed on its third flight 5 September 1948. The 5-2 second aircraft, with rocket engine installed, made its first flight on 26 January 1949. After five unpowered flights, the program was cancelled in June 1949. By that time better-funded turbojet-powered fighter prototypes were already achieving the 1200 km/hr top speed of the 5. Biesnovat and Isayev would elaborate the design in unmanned form into the supersonic R-1 air-to-surface missile.


Spacecraft: M-42.

Several variants of the Myasishchev Buran trisonic intercontinental cruise missile M-42 cruise stage were studied. Some were related to improving the missile guidance, including an auxiliary communications package for providing en-route navigation and targeting updates, as was planned for the competing Burya. Another laid out a piloted version, with a cockpit installed in the cruise stage. The pilot would eject and be recovered by parachute at the conclusion of the mission. Myasishchev planned several manned flights to explore the psychology of human flight on the edge of space.

Buran was being prepared for its first flight when Myasishchev's project was cancelled on November 1957. After successful flight tests of Lavochkinís Burya missile, the Soviet leadership did not see any need for continued development of a parallel ramjet design. Following the cancellation, Myasishchev sought approval for test of an air-launched version (see M-44).


Spacecraft: VKA Myasishchev 1957.

Chief designers Myasishchev and Korolev had known each other well since World War II, when they were in the same sharashka (prison design bureau in the Soviet Gulag). They got along well and informally conducted studies in support of each other's projects. After Sputnik was launched Myasishchev began design for Korolev of a piloted vehicle for launch by Korolev's R-7 ICBM. This diminutive single-crew star-shaped spacecraft was called the VKA (aero-space vehicle). It would be manoeuvred within the atmosphere by two high rudders. Its faceted shape was reminiscent of the much later F-117 Stealth Fighter and the concurrent Armstrong-Whitworth Nonweiler Waverider. The faceting of this and subsequent Myasishchev designs may have indicated a refined application of Nonweiler shock-wave riding principles. However they may also have been due to the necessity of calculating hypersonic aerodynamic characteristics by breaking the shape into a series of planes, or limitations in fabricating the heat shield materials. The much later F-119 flew faceted because the computational problem of an aerodynamically optimum rounded vehicle (in relation to radar reflection in this case, as opposed to hypersonic aerodynamics) could not be solved during development of the aircraft. These early informal studies were superseded by later officially-sanctioned designs.


Spacecraft: VKA-23 Design 2.

Following the very critical review of the first M-48 spaceplane design by the expert commission, Myasishchev went back to the drawing board. In March to September 1960 this work resulted in definition of two alternative configurations. The first alternative was an unconventional faceted shock-wave riding design (see VKA-23 Design 1). The second Myasishchev VKA-23 design was an elegant-looking, porpoise-fuselaged winged vehicle, similar to Japan's HOPE design of forty years later. In comparison to the faceted first design, this version had a greater fuel load, much greater orbital manoeuvrability, and dispensed with the landing skis.


Spacecraft: Kosmoplan.

Beginning in the late 1950's, Chelomei began studying use of his encapsulated cruise missile technology for spacecraft. A whole family of unmanned spacecraft, dubbed Kosmoplans, would be built using modular elements. These would include highly manoeuvrable high performance storable liquid propellant engine modules; nuclear reactor modules for high power space applications; ion engine units for inter-orbital transfer and interplanetary flight; and re-entry vehicles permitting return of payloads from space with landing at conventional airfields.


Spacecraft: M-44.

Following cancellation of the ground-launched version of his RSS-40 Buran missile system, Myasishchev continued to pursue use of the M-42 cruise stage in aviation research and space exploration. In 1958 he appealed to both Khrushchev and Minister of Defence of Malinovskiy to support continued development. He now proposed an unmanned, air-launched version for high speed research.

At this time Myasishchev was developing the first Soviet supersonic bomber, the M-50. On the basis of this immense delta-winged vehicle Myasishchev proposed the RSS-52 aerospace vehicle. The RSS-52 would consist of the M-52 carrier aircraft, derived from the M-50. The M-52 would have an enormous recess in its fuselage, within which would be carried the M-44 ramjet. The M-44, designed by G D Dermichev, would be a derivative of the cancelled M-42. The M-52 would enter a circuit 1,000 km from base, accelerate to supersonic speed, and then launch the M-44. The M-44 would accelerate to hypersonic velocity, conduct a high speed run of an overwater circuit, and then splash down in the sea. A radio beacon would allow location and recovery of the craft.

In the United States, the X-15 was being developed to answer analogous questions. Manned versions of the M-42 had been designed, and Myasishchev was hoping for manned flights of his M-52 as well. However due to the expense and technical problems, Myasishchev was unable to convince the leadership to approve the RSS-52.


Spacecraft: M-48.

In 1958 the VVS (Soviet Air Force) requested development as quickly as possible of high-speed aerospace vehicles. Some of the detailed goals were met in the 1960's by development of triple-sonic fighters and bombers, such as the MiG-25 and Sukhoi T-4. However a more ambitious objective was investigation of hypersonic vehicles. This was to be conducted in a two phase program. Phase One would take an experimental vehicle up to 6,000 to 7,000 km/hour at altitudes of 80 to 100 km. In this phase the vehicle would remain controllable using aerodynamic surfaces. Phase Two would take the vehicle to Mach 10, and 100 to 150 km altitude. This would require solving problems of control at hypersonic speeds, reaction control of the vehicle outside of the atmosphere, re-entry, and landing.


Spacecraft: PKA.

P V Tsybinís OKB-256 had built the rocket-propelled transonic research aircraft LL-1, LL-2, and LL-3 from 1945. On 23 May 1955 they were selected to build the RS ramjet-powered Mach 3 intercontinental reconnaissance/strike aircraft (air-launched from a Tu-95N bomber), in competition with the V M Myasishchev (OKB-23) RSS-52 system. After the 1957 success of Korolev's R-7 ICBM and cancellation of most Soviet ramjet projects, the RS was redesigned as the RSR reconnaissance aircraft, conventionally flown from runways with turbojets.

In 1957, in response to the USAF Dynasoar project, the same two aviation bureaux were tasked with producing draft project designs for a manned spaceplane.

Tsybinís design was called the gliding spacecraft (PKA). The draft project, undertaken in co-operation with Korolevís OKB-1, was signed by Tsybin on 17 May 1959.

According to the project, the piloted PKA would be inserted into a 300 km altitude orbit by a Vostok launch vehicle. After 24 to 27 hours of flight the spacecraft would brake from orbit, gliding through the dense layers of the earthís atmosphere. At the beginning of the descent, in the zone of most intense heating, the spacecraft would take advantage of a hull of original shape (called ĎLapotokí by Korolev after the Russian wooden shoes that it resembled). After braking to 500 to 600 m/s at an altitude of 20 km, the PKA would glide to a runway landing on deployable wings, which would move to a horizontal position from a stowed vertical position over the back of the spacecraft. Control of the PKA in flight was by rocket jets or aerodynamic surfaces, depending on the phase of flight.


Spacecraft: Raketoplan.

Chelomei began preparatory theoretical work on manned spacecraft in the late 1950's. This analysis was a necessary prologue to later development. Various solutions for recovery of the spacecraft were considered: fixed wings, automatically deployable wings, and lifting body shapes. The best technical solution was completely original and received a patent. This design would re-enter the atmosphere in a heat shield container, which would be jettisoned after the spacecraft had passed through the period of maximum heating. Swing wings would then be deployed, and the spacecraft would glide to a horizontal runway landing. The heat shield itself was shaped like an asymmetric cone. This shape could provide lift during re-entry and manoeuvre with the assistance of rudder petals at the base of the cone. This approach reduced aerodynamic resistance during re-entry and reduced the hot structure of the Raketoplan by ejecting the heat shield after re-entry.


Spacecraft: VKA-23 Design 1.

Following the very criticial review of the first M-48 spaceplane design by the expert commission, Myasishchev developed a long range plan. The first stage of the R-7 would be used for preliminary tests. A new launch vehicle would be developed for orbital testing.

Myasishchev directed his staff in attacking the questions raised so as to close all of the open issues at the earliest possible date. In addressing the question of the form of the VKA, OKB-23 studied many variants, including Taganov rings, extendible shields, Rogallo wings, and the use of vertical landing. Various kinds of construction and heat shield materials were examined, as were the methods of integrating the shielding materials to the structure of the vehicle. Liquid metal cooling was considered in addition to passive thermal protection systems. New propellants were examined for the rocket engine, including hydrogen and fluorine oxidisers. A great deal of technical effort was spent on the encapsulated ejection seat system, the mass of which, including parachute, could not exceed 160 kg with exterior dimensions of 0.8 m x 1.8 m. The seat would have to accelerate at 25 G from the vehicle, operate at temperatures of -40 degrees C to +50 degrees C, from sea level to vacuum conditions. The seat had to ensure the safety of the pilot, ejecting him within 2 seconds after initiation through a hatch of 1.0 m diameter.


Spacecraft: MiG 105-11.

The MiG OKB had studied a two stage manned orbital spacecraft in collaboration with the Korolev (overall system integration) and Tupolev (Mach 6 airbreathing first stage) since 1965. Go-ahead to actually proceed with development of the manned orbital vehicle was given on 26 June 1966 and Lozino-Lozinsky was selected as project manager. However the ambitious project never had the leadership support or funding to meet its aggressive schedule. A cosmonaut training group was formed, but went through many changes before being dissolved. After the decision to proceed with the Buran space shuttle, all that was left of Spiral was a subsonic aerodynamic test vehicle, now designated EPOS (Experimental Passanger Orbital Aircraft) and flown by Air Force test pilots. On 11 October 1976 this made its first flight, taking off from an old dirt airstrip near Moscow, flying straight ahead to an altitude of 560 m, and landing at the Zhukovskii flight test center 19 km away. One year later, on November 27, the first air-drop launch from a Tu-95K (used previously for Kh-20 air to surface missile tests) was made from an altitude of 5,000 m, with landing on skids on a beaten earth air strip.The eighth and final flight was made in September 1978, resulting in a hard landing and the writeoff of the aircraft. First and last flights were made by test pilot A. G. Festovets. The eight flights were considered sufficient to characterize the spaceplane's subsonic aerodynamic characteristics and airbreathing systems. Although the MiG 105-11 was designed by the bureau to be adapted directly into a manned orbital spaceplane for launch from a Vostok or Soyuz booster, the decision was taken to use the configuration but develop a larger manned orbital vehicle for launch from the Zenit booster or by other means (see Uragan and Bizan).


Spacecraft: Spiral OS.

At the beginning of the 1960's Mikoyan GKAT OKB-155 began work on the Spiral combination aerospace system. In 1965 the advanced project was approved, laying out an ambitious work plan leading to operation of a regular earth-orbit-earth reusable transportation system by the mid-1970's. With Gherman Titov as its head, a Spiral cosmonaut training group was formed in July 1965 (Titov, Dobrovolskiy, Filipchenko, Kuklin, Matinchenko). This was modified on 2 September 1965 to Titov, Beregovoy, Filipchenko, Kuklin, Shatalov. Go-ahead to actually proceed with development of the manned orbital vehicle was given on 26 June 1966 and Lozino-Lozinsky was selected as project manager. A new cosmonaut training group was established in December 1967: Titov, Kizim, Kozelskiy, Lyakhov, Malyshev, Petrushenko.

The Spiral system consisted of three main components:

  • GSR reusable hypersonic air-breathing launch aircraft
  • RB expendable two stage rocket
  • OS orbital spaceplane


Spacecraft: Buran.

The Energia-Buran Reusable Space System (MKS) had its origins in NPO Energia studies of 1974 to 1975 for a 'Space Rocket Complex Program'. In 1974 the N1-L3 heavy lunar launch vehicle project was cancelled and Glushko was appointed chief designer of the new NPO Energia enterprise, replacing Mishin as the head of the former OKB-1. At the same time in the United States development work was underway on the space shuttle. The US Defence Department planned to use the shuttle for a range of military missions. The Soviet leadership, seeking strategic parity, wished development in the Soviet Union of a reusable manned spacecraft with analogous tactical-technical characteristics. The success of Apollo and the failure of the N1-L3 program pointed to serious deficiencies in the technology base of the Soviet Union. The time-honoured Soviet method of rectifying such situations was to copy the foreign technology.


Spacecraft: MTKVA.

In 1974 the N1 heavy launch vehicle project was cancelled and Glushko was appointed chief designer of the new NPO Energia enterprise, replacing Mishin as the head of the former OKB-1. At the same time in the United States development work was underway on the space shuttle. The US Defence Department planned to use the shuttle for a range of military missions. The Soviet military, seeking strategic parity, wished development in the Soviet Union of a reusable manned spacecraft with analogous tactical-technical characteristics.

As far as the manned orbital vehicle itself, the OKB-1 specialists who had developed the Soyuz capsule disapproved of the winged US shuttle design. They knew from the extensive aerodynamic studies undertaken to develop Soyuz that there were large weight penalties and thermal control problems in any winged design. Their studies indicated that a lifting body shape capable of high angles of bank at hypersonic speed could nearly match winged designs in cross range. They felt that the parachute and retrorocket soft vertical landing methods developed for Soyuz could be applied to a larger spacecraft as well.

Therefore the preferred 1974 design was an unwinged spacecraft, consisting of a crew cabin the forward conical section, a cylindrical payload section, and a final cylindrical section with the engines for manoeuvring in orbit. The MTKVA would be launched by the Vulkan launch vehicle into orbit, and after completing its mission undertake a controlled re-entry, using a hypersonic lift-to-drag ratio of 1.0 to make wide cross-range manoeuvres for recovery on Soviet territory from almost any orbit. The MTKVA would glide to the landing zone at low subsonic speed. The final landing manoeuvre would use parachutes for initial braking, followed by a soft vertical landing on skid gear using retrorockets.


Spacecraft: Uragan Space Interceptor.

Russian sources continue to maintain that the Uragan manned spaceplane project never existed. However Western intelligence was very convinced in the climactic phase of the Cold War. The tale told at that time was that completion of test of the 4,220 kg MiG 105-11 manned subsonic test bed did not mark the end of the Spiral spaceplane project but rather a rebirth. It was reported that development of a larger manned 'space interceptor' was authorised in September 1978. This spaceplane, supposedly called 'Uragan', was to be launched atop the new Zenit launch vehicle.


Spacecraft: BOR-4.

To investigate the hypersonic aerodynamic characteristics and heat shield materials of the manned Spiral OS lifting body, 1:3 and 1:2 scale models of the OS were to be built. Unlike the full-scale model, these were had fixed wings and were designated BOR (unpiloted orbital rocketplane). BOR-1, -2, and -3 were increasingly sophisticated models of the configuration, flown on suborbital trajectories. After the cancellation of Spiral in favour of the Buran, BOR-4 subscale spaceplanes were used to test heat shield materials developed for Buran. Certain essential tests of these heat shield materials could not be done in the lab. These included interaction with the plasma sheath during re-entry, chemical disassociation effects, etc. The BOR-4 was clad in 118 tiles of the type developed for Buran as well as carbon-carbon nose cap and leading edge. These BOR-4 unmanned orbiters were equipped with braking engines. After a circuit of the earth, the spacecraft would deorbit, perform a gliding re-entry, followed by parachute deployment, splashdown in the ocean, and recovery by Soviet naval forces. BOR-4 flew four successful test flights at speeds of from Mach 3 to 25 and altitudes of 30 to 100 km. These test flights confirmed the physical, chemical, and catalytic processes that operated on the selected heat shield materials in the re-entry plasma. BOR-4 also provided important data on the acoustic environment during launch and re-entry. Compared to the Spiral MiG 105-11 EPOS configuration, the BOR-4 had a flattened, wider body with a much smaller vertical stabiliser. The cruise-back turbojet of the 105-11 seems to have been eliminated, and the canted stabiliser tips were cut off at the Mach angle, a MiG trademark.


Spacecraft: BOR-5.

The aerodynamic characteristics of Buran at hypersonic speeds were validated by the BOR-5 1:8 sub-scale model of Buran. The BOR-5 was boosted on sub-orbital trajectories on altitudes of 100 km and velocities of from 4,000 to 7,300 m/s. These proved the handling characteristics, aerodynamic moment, and control effectiveness from Mach 1.5 to Mach 17.5, at Reynolds numbers of from 1.05 to 2.1 and angles of attack from 15 to 40 degrees. They also allowed study of flow separation at the fuselage surface and thermodynamic characteristics of the design. Final results indicated a lift-to-drag ratio of 1.3 at hypersonic speed, 5.0 at Mach 2, and 5.6 at subsonic speed. Typical trajectory: ascent to 120 km; pitch down to drive model in atmosphere at 45 degree at Mach 18.5. None were reflown but at least 4 were recovered.


Spacecraft: LKS.

The LKS consisted of a reusable winged spacecraft forward of an expendable payload section. Equipment or samples to be returned to the Earth would be moved to the payload bay of the LKS itself before re-entry using a remote manipulator arm. This arrangement was similar to that proposed later for the European Hermes spaceplane. The LKS itself had a shuttle-like configuration with double-delta wings, but twin canted horizontal stabilisers. It would be launched atop a Chelomei Proton booster.

Design was begun in 1975 and a draft project was completed in 1980. Kremlin politics again ensnared Chelomei and brought the project to a halt. In 1983 further development of the LKS was stopped. A group of unidentified saboteurs (possibly KGB) broke into the premises of NPO Mashinostroyeniye in early March 1991 and destroyed the mock-up. Chelomei was even subjected to criminal investigation for having engaged in design of the spacecraft without a specific enabling government decree.


Spacecraft: Buran Analogue.

OK-GLI for horizontal flight tests. This Buran OK-GLI 'analogue' had the same aerodynamic, centre of gravity, and inertial characteristics as the orbiter. Its purpose was to conduct the repetitive tests necessary to develop the automated landing system. The OK-GLI differed from the space-rated orbiters in being equipped with four AL-31 turbojet engines, with a total thrust of 40 tonnes, mounted at 4 degrees off the horizontal axis. These allowed the analogue to take off from conventional air fields. After reaching 5,000 m altitude, the engines would be shut off, and a manual or automatic landing would be accomplished. The analogue was equipped with the same essential systems as the orbiter, including the RM-1 and RM-2 ejection seats, the GSP and VIU navigation systems; the landing gear, landing system antennae, thermal sensors, and first and second group accelerometers. Prior to completion the OK-GLI was used on the 3M-T transport to test fight characteristics of the 3M-T/orbiter combination, the OK-launch vehicle interface attach points, and to develop the optimal transport configuration. It has been claimed that some of these tests were to be manned, and that on the first such flight cosmonauts Georgi Shonin and Yevgeni Khrunov were involved in an accident when the 3M-T ran off the runway. However it is now known that the payload capacity of the 3M-T was limited to 50 tonnes, so this story seems unlikely (an empty orbiter would weigh at least 70 tonnes). After these tests the OK-GLI was returned to the shop for completion. Thereafter it began a series of test flights to verify the subsonic aerodynamic characteristics of the design and develop the manual and automatic flight and landing systems. The aircraft was retired to the Zhukovskiy test center near Moscow, where it is often rolled out for exhibition during air shows.


Spacecraft: OK-M.

In the 1980's NPO Energia and OKB Molniya studied designs of spaceplanes smaller than Buran to replace Soyuz and Progress spacecraft for space station crew rotation/replenishment tasks. Molniya favoured an air-launched solution (see MAKS) while Energia favoured conventional rocket launch. The earliest design, the OK-M, was designed to be launched by the Zenit launch vehicle. The aerodynamic scheme and double-delta planform of the OK-M was derived from Buran. A notable difference was a unitary fuselage (no cargo bay doors - payloads were extracted through a hatch at the rear). The crew cabin was not connected to the payload bay. After entering orbit the nose of the spaceplane hinged up to reveal an androgynous docking mechanism and crew hatch. in which the crew docked with the station through an androgynous docking apparatus. The thermal protection system would use the tiles and carbon-carbon nose cap material developed for Buran. The engine, guidance, and control systems were derived from those developed for the Soyuz-TM. Two 400 kg main engines were supplemented by a reaction control system of 26 x 50 kgf and 8 x 5 kgf thrusters. These were all housed in two gondolas positioned on either side of the vertical stabiliser (leaving the base free for the payload hatch). In orbit a 25 square meter solar panel would be deployed, supplementing 16 batteries of 1000 A-hours capacity, delivering a maximum of 2.5 kW.


Spacecraft: OK-M1.

The OK-M1 was designed by NPO Molniya as a follow-on to the OK-M of NPO Energia. The OK-M1 was an integrated part of a unique launch vehicle, the MMKS reusable multi-module space system. This consisted of three components arranged in parallel: an RVK unmanned booster stage derived from the Buran spaceplane; a PTO expendable external propellant tank; and the OK-M1. Six dual-thrust tri-propellant engines operated at lift-off: four mounted in the RVK and two in the OK-M1. These burned liquid oxygen and Sintin (synthetic kerosene) at lift-off, transitioning to liquid oxygen and hydrogen at higher altitudes. Within what would normally be the payload bay and crew cabin of the RVK spaceframe were Sintin and liquid oxygen tanks. The PTO external tank carried only liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. After depletion of its propellants the RVK separated and glided back to a landing at Baikonur. The PTO/OK-M1 continued on into orbit, where the external tank was jettisoned. Total mass of the MMKS was 800 tonnes at lift-off.


Spacecraft: OK-M2.

The OK-M2 was designed by NPO Molniya as a follow-on to the OK-M of NPO Energia with less development cost and risk than the OK-M1 / MMKS. The OK-M2 would be launched in a conventional manner on the nose of an Energia-M launch vehicle. The transition fairing from the orbiter to the launch vehicle was equipped with solid rocket motors for aborts in the case of launch vehicle failure. The solid rockets would be used for final orbital insertion normally, maximising manoeuvring propellant reserves aboard the orbiter. Total mass of the Energia-M with the OK-M2 was 1060 tonnes at lift-off.

The OK-M2 had the same shape as the OK-M1, a straight delta wings joined to a broad fuselage with an upturned nose. Uniquely the OK-M1 used liquid oxygen and ethanol both as orbital manoeuvring system propellants and to operate three 7 kW generators for electrical power. These were supplemented with lithium batteries. The two power buses together could provide up to 60 kW of power at 270 V.

Three 2700 kgf main engines were supplemented by a reaction control system of 19 x 40 kgf and 8 x 2.5 kgf thrusters. Normal crew was four. Up to four additional passengers could be transported if required in a special module in the cargo bay. Landing mass of the OK-M2 without payload was 17,600 kg. With a crew of four the OK-M2 could deliver 10,000 kg of payload to a 250 km orbit. Payload delivered to a 450 km space station orbit was 6,000 kg. Maximum payload that could be returned to earth was 8,000 kg. The cargo bay was 2.85 m diameter x 6.17 m long, with a total volume of 40 cubic metres.


Spacecraft: Tu-2000.

In reaction to US X-30 project, government decrees of 27 January and 19 July 1986 ordered development of a Soviet equivalent. The Ministry of Defence issued technical specifications on 1 September for an MVKS, a single-stage reusable aerospaceplane system. The MKVS was to provide effective and economic delivery to near-earth orbit; develop the technology for effective transatmospheric flight; provide super high-speed intercontinental transport, and fulfil military objectives in and from space. It is known that the Tupolev, Yakovlev, and Energia design bureaux submitted designs.

Tupolev seems to have received the development go-ahead. The Tu-2000A was to be an experimental design to test the many advanced technologies required. It would have been 55 to 60 m long, have a 14 m wingspan, and a takeoff mass of 70 to 90 tonnes. It would have only been capable of Mach 6. Before work was stopped in 1992, some development work was completed: a wing torque box of nickel alloy had been built, as well as fuselage elements, cryogenic fuel tanks, and composite fuel lines. The Tu-2000A would have used a variable cycle turboramjet engine using methane or hydrogen fuel.

The Tu-2000A was to have been followed by two production designs, as Tupolev felt no single design could meet all of the military requirements. The Tu-2000B would have been a 10,000 km range bomber with a crew of two. 350 tonnes at takeoff, 200 tonnes empty, it would have been 100 m long, with a wing of 40.7 m span and 1250 square metres area. Six liquid hydrogen powered engines would take the bomber to Mach 6 cruise speed at 30,000 m altitude.

The Tu-2000 space launcher would have weighted 260 tonnes at lift-off and be capable of Mach 25 (orbital velocity). An 8 to 10 tonne payload would have been delivered to a 200 km orbit. As with the X-30, airbreathing flight to orbit seemed questionable. The 8 turboramjets would have to be supplemented by a scramjet or a rocket engine in order to achieve orbit.


Spacecraft: VKS.

In reaction to US X-30 project, government decrees of 27 January and 19 July 1986 ordered development of a Soviet equivalent. The Ministry of Defence issued technical specifications on 1 September for an MVKS, a single-stage reusable aerospaceplane system. The MKVS was to provide effective and economic delivery to near-earth orbit; develop the technology for effective transatmospheric flight; provide super high-speed intercontinental transport, and fulfil military objectives in and from space. It is known that the Tupolev, Yakovlev, and Energia design bureaux submitted designs.

At NPO Energia Tsybin was appointed the Chief Designer for the project. The Energia VKS was designed as a hypersonic rocketplane with multi-regime engines. These engines were turbo-ramjet with in-line rocket chambers. The VKS was sketched out as having a 700 tonne takeoff mass, of which 140 tonnes was structure. A 25 tonne payload could be delivered to a 200 km / 51 degree orbit. Length would have been 71 m, wingspan 42 m, and height 10 m to the top of the fuselage.

Work was abandoned as the Soviet Union broke up and the Tu-2000 seemed the preferred solution.


Spacecraft: Yakovlev MVKS.

In reaction to US X-30 project, government decrees of 27 January and 19 July 1986 ordered development of a Soviet equivalent. The Ministry of Defence issued technical specifications on 1 September for an MVKS, a single-stage reusable aerospaceplane system. The MKVS was to provide effective and economic delivery to near-earth orbit; develop the technology for effective transatmospheric flight; provide super high-speed intercontinental transport, and fulfil military objectives in and from space. It is known that the Tupolev, Yakovlev, and Energia design bureaux submitted designs. No details of the Yakovlev design have become available to date.


Spacecraft: MAKS.

The MAKS spaceplane was the ultimate development of the OK-M studies NPO Molniya conducted with NPO Energia. The draft project for MAKS was completed in 1988 and consisted of 220 volumes, generated by NPO Molniya and 70 sub-contractors and government institutes. Development of MAKS was authorised but cancelled after Perestroika. At the time of the cancellation, mock-ups of both the MAKS orbiter and the external tank had been finished. A 9,000 kgf experimental engine with 19 injectors was tested. There were 50 test burns proving the separate modes and a smooth switch between them. Since it was expected that MAKS could reduce the cost of transport to earth orbit by a factor of ten, it was hoped in the 1990ís that development funding could be found. However this has not happened to date. MAKS was to have flown by 1998.


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Last update 28 March 2001.
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