This page no longer updated from 31 October 2001. Latest version can be found at www.astronautix.com

astronautix.com N

N1 Variants
N1 Variants
N1 Launch Vehicle Family

Credit: © Mark Wade. 8,667 bytes. 641 x 227 pixels.

The N1 launch vehicle, developed by Russia in the 1960's, was to be the Soviet Union's counterpart to the Saturn V. The largest of a family of launch vehicles that were to replace the ICBM-derived launchers then in use, the N series was to launch Soviet cosmonauts to the moon, and huge space stations into orbit. In comparison to Saturn, the project was started late, starved of funds and priority, and dogged by political and technical struggles between the chief designers Korolev, Glushko, and Chelomei. The end result was four launch failures and cancellation of the project five years after Apollo landed on the moon. Not only did a Soviet cosmonaut never land on the moon, but the Soviet Union even denied that the huge project ever existed. The Complete N1 History!


Launch Vehicle: YaKhR-2.

First large space launcher considered in the Soviet Union. It would have had the same layout as the R-7, but with six strap-ons increased in size by 50%. The core, igniting at altitude, used a nuclear thermal engine using ammonia as propellant. Dropped in favor of development of conventional chemical propulsion.


Launch Vehicle: Superraket.

The ancestor of the N1 lunar launch vehicle, this was the first heavy lift launch vehicle actively considered in the USSR. The 2,000 tonne liftoff mass was similar to the later N1 design, but the first stage would use a staggering cluster of around 66 Kuznetsov NK-9 engines (as opposed to the modest 24 NK-15's of the first N1 configuration). The real difference was in the second stage, which used the nuclear YaRD engine, giving the launch vehicle nearly double the later N1's payload capacity.


Launch Vehicle: YaRD ICBM OKB-456.

Single-stage nuclear-powered ICBM designed by OKB-1. This variant used a Glushko nuclear engine heating ammonia as a propellant. Perhaps coming under the heading of 'inadvisable rocket science', test launches would have been into an artificial reservoir in the target area to limit contamination by having the reactor crash into water at the end of its trajectory. While reentering nuclear reactors at the end of the ICBM trajectory may have been not considered on great consequence during global thermonuclear war, the consequences of missing the reservoir during peacetime tests were evidently too gruesome to consider. Further development of the engine was discontinued. Interestingly American spy Penkovskiy reported development of this rocket in 1962, but the story was not believed. Only in 1996 was the program revealed.


Launch Vehicle: YaRD ICBM OKB-670.

Single-stage nuclear-powered ICBM designed by OKB-1. This variant used a Bondaryuk nuclear engine heating mixed alcohol and ammonia as a propellant. Perhaps coming under the heading of 'inadvisable rocket science', test launches would have been into an artificial reservoir in the target area to limit contamination by having the reactor crash into water at the end of its trajectory. While reentering nuclear reactors at the end of the ICBM trajectory may have been not considered on great consequence during global thermonuclear war, the consequences of missing the reservoir during peacetime tests were evidently too gruesome to consider. Further development of the engine was discontinued. Interestingly American spy Penkovskiy reported development of this rocket in 1962, but the story was not believed. Only in 1996 was the program revealed.


Launch Vehicle: R-9.

ICBM developed by Korolev OKB using liquid oxygen/kerosene propellants. Military favored storable propellants as advocated by Glushko and implemented by Yangel and Chelomei. Payload 3,500 kg. Range 13,000 km. Accuracy (90%) 8 km in range and 5 km in dispersion with radio guidance; 20 km / 10 km with inertial guidance. Empty mass estimated.


Launch Vehicle: N-111.

It was originally planned the N1 would form the basis of a family of launch vehicles that could replace existing ICBM-derived boosters. The N111 would use the third and fourth stages of the N1, and the second stage of Korolevís R-9 ICBM. This would result in a lift-off mass of 200 tonnes and a five tonne payload. It could replace the R-7 derived boosters (Vostok and Soyuz) in this payload category.


Launch Vehicle: N1 1962. Final configuration of N1 at time of development go-ahead. 75 tonne payload selected to support OS-1 heavy space station program.

Launch Vehicle: N1 Nuclear A.

Following abandonment of the nuclear-ammonia ICBM projects, the engine bureaux of Bondaryuk (OKB-670) and Glushko (OKB-456) continued study of nuclear propulsion, but using liquid hydrogen for upper stage applications. Engines of 200 tonnes and 40 tonnes thrust with a specific impulse of 900 to 950 seconds were being considered. At the end of 1961 both bureaux completed their draft projects and it was decided to continue work on development of an engine in the 30 to 40 tonne thrust range. In the following year Korolev was asked to study application of such engines, followed by a specific demand in May 1963 from the Scientific-Technical Soviet for specific recommendations.

Korolev considered three variants based on the N1:

  • A three stage vehicle using the N1 first and second stages and a nuclear third stage
  • A three stage vehicle using the N1 first stage and nuclear second and third stages
  • A two stage vehicle using the N1 first stage and a nuclear second stage
Considered for each case were nuclear engine designs Type A (18 tonnes thrust, 4.8 tonnes mass), AF (20 tonnes thrust, 3.25 tonnes mass), V (40 tonnes thrust, 18 tonnes mass), and V with a bioshield for use on manned flights (40 tonnes thrust, 25 tonnes mass).

The study concluded that the two stage vehicle was the most promising. Compared to an equivalent vehicle using liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen, mass in low earth orbit would be more than doubled. Optimal stage size was 700 to 800 tonnes for the Type A engines and 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes for the type V engines (this resulted in a halaciously large number of nuclear engines by Western standards). Use of the nuclear stage would result in a single N1 launch being able to launch a round-trip lunar landing (mass landed on lunar surface over 24 tonnes with return of a 5 tonne capsule to earth).

For a Mars expedition, it was calculated that the AF engine would deliver 40% more payload than a chemical stage, and the V would deliver 50% more. But Korolevís study also effectively killed the program by noting that his favoured solution, a nuclear electric ion engine, would deliver 70% more payload than the Lox/LH2 stage.

Further investigation of nuclear thermal stages for the N1 does not seem to be pursued. Bondaryuk and Glushko turned to Chelomei and his competing UR-700 rocket for future application of such stages.


Launch Vehicle: N1 Nuclear AF.

A variant of the first alternative considered in the 1962 nuclear N1 study. This was a 'high thrust' version of the Type A engine - apparently with higher propellant rate, lower specific impulse, and lower engine weight. Due to the very low density of the enormous liquid hydrogen upper stages, these immense vehicles would have been very ungainly (and had interesting stress problems during ascent!)


Launch Vehicle: N1 Nuclear V.

Second primary alternative considered for the 1962 nuclear N1 study. The immense liquid hydrogen tank of the second nuclear stage would have dwarfed the N1 first stage mounted below it in the shadows. The extremely poor thrust to weight ratio of the Type V engine design compared to that of the Type A remains unexplained.


Launch Vehicle: N1 Nuclear V-B. N1 with nuclear upper stage. This variant of the Type V nuclear engine used a very heavy radiation shield to protect the crew of any manned spacecraft payload.

Launch Vehicle: GR-1.

The Global Rocket 1 (GR-1) requirement of 1961 called for a system to place a large 1,500 kg nuclear warhead equipped with a deorbit rocket stage into a low earth orbit of 150 km altitude. The warhead could approach the United States from any direction, below missile tracking radar, so little warning was available. Not only could such a missile hit any point on earth, but the enemy would also be uncertain when it would be deorbited onto target. The main disadvantage was lower accuracy of the warhead in comparison to an ICBM.

Chelomei proposed his UR-200 for the requirement, while Yangel offered the R-36, and Korolev the 8K713. Korolev insisted on sticking to the liquid oxygen/kerosene propellants of his R-9 ICBM, despite the military's preference for the more toxic but storable propellants used by Yangel and Chelomei. Korolev considered the 8K713 a low risk project, using rocket elements already in development or production by his bureau:

  • First stage: a stretched version of the first stage of the planned R-9M missile with Kuznetsov NK-9 engines
  • Second stage: an adaptation of the Soyuz launch vehicle third stage
  • Third stage: a development of the Molniya launch vehicleís fourth stage with the S1-5400 engine.
  • Missile sized for launch from existing R-9 launch silos

The draft project for the GR-1 was completed in May 1962. Planning and drawing release for the GR-1 was completed on 24 September 1962 with test flights originally scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 1963. However continued development problems with the NK-9 engine resulted in continual delays. Finally in 1964 Korolev's GR-1 was cancelled and Yangelís R-36 was selected for the mission.

Cancellation of the 8K713 had a significant and perhaps fatal impact on the project for Korolevís N1 moon rocket: it was hoped that the GR-1 could be used to prove N1 engines and guidance systems. In a final bit of disinformation, the 8K713 mock-up was paraded in Red Square, and identified by NATO as an operational 'Scrag' ICBM. This confused Western defence analysts for many years to come.


Launch Vehicle: N-11 1963.

A military variant of the N-11 which would use a powerful third stage, probably derived from the first stage of the 8K713 GR-1, to put up to 24 tonnes in low earth orbit. This was a competitor with Chelomei's UR-500K, which was selected instead for the heavy military payload mission.


Launch Vehicle: N-11GR.

This 1962 project was designed by Korolev's OKB as a competitor to Chelomei's UR-500 against the military GR-2 (Global Rocket 2) requirement. The N-11GR was an adaptation of the basic N-11, derived from the second and third stages of the N1 heavy booster. The GR-2 was to be a kind of enormous multiple-warhead FOBS (fractional orbit bombing system). Surrounding the top of the second stage of the rocket, like bullets in an enormous revolver, were six final stages derived from the 8K713 GR-1 last stage. Each stage had a 1,500 kg nuclear warhead. The stages would separate from the main vehicle, and make violent maneuvers using independent guidance systems to put each warhead in a different low 160 km altitude orbit. At the end of 10,000 to 12,000 km journey along their separate orbital paths, the warheads would appear on US radar screens at the last moment with minimal warning. The total spread of the warheads would be 1800 km from left to right; two such missiles could devestate America's major cities from coast to coast. Chelomei's UR-500 instead was selected for the mission (and in turn never put into operation as a weapon).


Launch Vehicle: N11.

It was originally planned the N1 would form the basis of a family of launch vehicles that could replace existing ICBM-derived boosters. The N11 would use the second, third, and fourth stages of the N1. This would give it a lift-off mass of 700 tonnes and a 20 tonne payload into low earth orbit. It could replace Chelomei's Proton launch vehicle in the medium-lift role.


Launch Vehicle: N-IF 1965.

The N-IF would be the first follow-on version with increased performance. The first stage engines would be increased in thrust from an average of 150 tonnes to 175 tonnes, and those in the second stage from 150 tonnes to 200 tonnes. The second and third stages would be substantially enlarged.


Launch Vehicle: N-IFV-II, III. N-IFV-II, III would use only the first stage from the N-1F, and use new cryogenic second and third stages. This cryogenic second stage seems not to have been pursued beyond the study phase.

Launch Vehicle: N-IFV-III. Then N-IFV-III would add the Block V-III cryogenic third stage to the first and second stages of the N-IF.

Launch Vehicle: N-IM 1965.

The N-IM would mark an tremendous increase in vehicle size and was the ultimate pure liquid oxygen/kerosene version considered. The first stage engines would be increased to 250 tonnes thrust, without reducing reliability, through use of higher engine chamber pressure. Propellant load in the first stage would be almost doubled. Second stage engine thrust would increase to 280 tonnes each and the second and third stages again enlarged.


Launch Vehicle: N-IMV-II, III.

N-IMV-II, III was the ultimate conventionally-powered N1 ever considered. It paired the monster N-1M first stage with new cryogenic second and third stages. Both liftoff thrust and payload of this vehicle would have been double that of the American Saturn V.


Launch Vehicle: N-IMV-III. Then N-IMV-III would add the Block V-III cryogenic third stage to the first and second stages of the N-IM. This provided the second-highest performance of the variations considered and would certainly have been cheaper than the N-IFV-II, III.

Launch Vehicle: N-IU.

The N-IU would be the initial production version of the N1 following the mad rush to make the lunar landings. It would have essentially the same payload but would be substantially re-engineered for sharply improved reliability, most notably with autonomously operating engines. It is interesting to note that four years before the disastorous first flight Korolev already foresaw the potential engine problems that would be the downfall of the project.


Launch Vehicle: N-IUV-III.

The N-IUV-III would replace the N-IU's conventional third stage with a LOX/LH2 cryogenic third stage. This was seen at the time as the first step in exploitation of cryogenic technology in Russia. Although pursued for some time, this large stage never went into development. The more modestly-sized Block R, Block S, and Block SR instead were put into development in the early 1970's.


Launch Vehicle: N1M.

The N1M was to be the first Soviet launch vehicle to use liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen high energy cyrogenic propellants. It was designed to launch payloads in support of the LEK lunar expeditions (two cosmonauts on the surface), the Zvezda DLB (long-duration lunar base), and heavy unmanned satellites into geosynchronous and interplanetary trajectories. As originally conceived, the advanced propellants would be used in all upper stages. However due to delays in Kuznetsov development of a 200 tonne thrust Lox/LH2 engine, the final version used an N1 first stage, with a Block V-III second stage, and Blocks S and R third and fourth stages.


Launch Vehicle: N1F-L3M.

The N1M was to be the first Soviet launch vehicle to use liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen high energy cyrogenic propellants. As originally conceived, the advanced propellants would be used in all upper stages. However this more ambitious work was revised. The first proposed launch vehicle to use such stages would by the N1F, which would have only used the Block S and Block R fourth and fifth stages in place of the N1's Block G and Block D.


Launch Vehicle: N1.

Korolev OKB lunar landing launch vehicle. Built on-site at Baikonur from major components fabricated at Progress factory in Samara. These test vehicles did not exceed 2735 tonnes liftoff mass and 70 tonne earth orbit payload capability, as opposed to design requirement of 2750 tonnes and 95 tonnes. Four flight tests, all failures. Cancelled and Energia developed for heavy lift requirements.


Launch Vehicle: N1 1964.

The N1 launch vehicle for the N1-L3 lunar landing mission as described in the draft project of 1964. The actual N1 that flew in 1969 to 1972 had lighter first and third stages, but never demonstrated a full fuel load using superchilled propellants as planned in the draft project..


Launch Vehicle: N1F Sr. The final more modest version of the N1M replaced the fourth and fifth stages of the N1 with the single liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen Block Sr stage. Development of the Sr stage was from May 1971 until cancellation of the N1 project in May 1974.

Launch Vehicle: N1-MOK.

Ultimate derivative of N1. Single-stage-to-orbit vehicle based on N1 Block A. Propellants changed to LH2/LOX, 16 x modified NK-33 engines + 4 Liquid Air Cycle Engine Liquid Air/LH2 boosters. All figures estimated based on tank volume of Block A and delivery of 90,000 kg payload to 450 km / 97.5 degree MKBS orbit. Briefly described in RKK Energia official history and in some detail in Peter James'

    1974
book Soviet Conquest from Space!

Launch Vehicle: N1F.

The N1F would have been the definitive flight version of the N1, incorporating all changes resulting from the four flight tests of the vehicle, including the new Kuznetsov engines and 10% greater liftoff mass by using superchilled propellants in all stages. N1 8L would have been the first N1F configuration flight, with launch planned in the third quarter of 1975 at the time the project was cancelled.


Launch Vehicle: Kistler K-1.

The Kistler K-1 was a reusable two-stage launch vehicle developed by a prestigious team of ex-Apollo managers for launch of Iridium-class communications satellites to medium altitude earth orbit. Kistler was the farthest along and the most technically feasible of the privately-funded commercial launch vehicle projects of the late 1990's. Kistler followed the 'lean company' model. The structure and systems of the launch vehicle were subcontracted to major US aerospace companies. The vehicle itself used surplus Russian engines developed for the never-flown N1F launch vehicle. The first stage of the vehicle would fly back to the launch site; the second would orbit Earth before returning. Recovery of the stages would be by parachutes and air bag. Launches from both the Nevada Nuclear Test Range and the Australia Woomera launch sites were considered. Interestingly, this was the most economic scheme for a recoverable launch vehicle as identified by Mishin, chief designer of the N1. The company had raised $440 million and development was well underway when the Asian financial crisis and Iridium bankruptcy scared away investors. Northrop Grumman came to the rescue but when and if the project can be realised is unclear.


Back to Index
Last update 3 May 2001.
Contact Mark Wade with any corrections or comments.
Conditions for use of drawings, pictures, or other materials from this site..
© Mark Wade, 2001 .