13 march

Pride and gravity: what can be seen in the "Space and Aviation Centre", part 1

In Pavilion No. 34, Space, full-scale preparations for the opening of the Space and Aviation Centre are underway. All the showpieces have already been placed, hung and fixed in their spots. Igor Marinin, editor-in-chief of the Space News magazine and academician of the Russian Space Academy will tell us about the ten most unusual ones.


In 1965, a new Design Bureau opened, to be headed by Vladimir Chelomey. It was to solve military issues and had no relationship whatsoever to the Ministry of General Mechanical Engineering, which oversaw, for example, Sergey Korolev's Design Bureau. So Chelomey began developing a military space station. He called it "Almaz". Later, when the Americans landed on the Moon, the Soviet moon programme was closed, and we said: 'Time to make space stations'. But because no one at Korolev's bureau had been designing space stations, a few segments of the Almaz station were simply taken from Chelomey's space bureau. Solar batteries and docking stations were attached to them, and this resulted in the "Salyut". And Chelomey, because the ready segments were taken from him, fell behind several years in the making of his own station. And yet in 1986 he launched the first "Almaz", which did not make it into orbit, and then the second. With this one, everything worked out. Many people flew there — Popovich, Volynov, Glazkov... All the military astronauts, even the space engineers were members of the military. They even had cannons on the Almaz, specially developed in Tula to shoot at enemy foreign objects. They had a huge telescope, they photographed the Earth and developed them right then and there, scanned them and sent them to Earth. Essentially, a space surveillance post. But then optical and electronic means of communication appeared, and it became more cost-effective to send automatic devices into space that could take photographs and send them back to Earth themselves. So that's how the programme was shut down.


This was designed by the Korolev Design Bureau, which is now called "Energia". In 1962, Korolev decided to create a Moon flyover programme. It was then calculated that this would require five space links, which is very difficult: what if even one doesn't work out? It was than that we decided to make the N-1 super rocket, or a rocket with an enormous payload capacity. At the same time, the Saturn-5 super rocket was being developed in the USA. It could deliver two crew members to the Moon and lift 130 tonnes, which was quite a lot. We didn't have capabilities or powerful engines like that, so Korolev decided to opt for quantity: set up 30 engines on the first stage of the lunar super rocket. It had a payload capacity of 95 tonnes. Launching sites were built for the rocket and four launch tests were conducted, the first of which took place in 1969, before the Americans landed on the Moon. Unfortunately, none of the launches were successful: N-1 would explode when the first stage detached. The programme was shut down in 1972, and in 1972 the head designer of Energia, Mishin, was removed from his post. At the same time everything relating to N-1's design, including the technical documentation, was destroyed. It was all thrown under the knife. The new person in charge was Glushko, an esteemed engineer and a principled adversary of Korolev. He believed that the concept of N-1 was wrong, and made his own Energia rocket, which, by the way, could lift 100 tonnes. It was launched twice, both times successfully.


These are the very engines that Korolev tried to place on his super rocket. They later blew up. They were first called NK-15, an abbreviation of Nikolay Kuznetsov, who was a designer in the Samara Design Bureau where they were developed. After Korolev's death, after four unsuccessful launches of the lunar rocket, Mishin ordered the project to be redone and the engines to be made more reliable. And in the very same Kuznetsov Design Bureau, more reliable modifications were produced: NK-33 and NK-43. They had already been checked and tested, and the fifth launch would have definitely been a success, and the lunar rocket would have finally flown. But Mishin was removed, the programme was closed and the engines turned out to be useless. They were saved from destruction and remained sealed for 30-40 years. We sold about 20 of them to the Americans, but then they had an accident (our people insisted that it was their own carelessness), and they stopped buying the engines. These NKs are still sealed in Samara. They are periodically opened and checked, even burned through, or turned on. But nothing else happens.


The first civilian space station, was, as I've mentioned, Salyut with one docking station. Meaning only one spaceship could go there. It was impossible to replenish the fuel stores or bring extra food. Then Salyut-6 and Salyut-7, which both had two docking stations, were made, and it became possible to link two spaceships and two crews there. Then they thought: We need one more module to hold experiment equipment there. So they made a multi-module station with docking stations on all sides. They started adding additional blocks. All in all, they finished with this huge thing weighing about 150 tonnes. This was the "Mir" space station. It was launched in 1986 and remained in orbit for 15 years. That said, its resources had been calculated for five years. However, it was carefully checked and all the critical spots were examined, and the resources were extended as usual.

At the end, Mir began falling apart, of course. At the time our government had essentially stopped funding the space programme. While the Americans had decided to build their own space station, but something wasn't working technically for them. Then we offered them a copy of the base block for the Mir station, so that they could assemble new modules around it. They agreed, and that's how the ISS came about. And for some time Mir and the ISS were simulataneously in orbit. Then, Mir was sunk in the Pacific Ocean, where most space waste ends up. How is this done? The "Progress" transport rocket flies to space, it's loaded up with rubbish — biological waste, useless and broken devices... Then Progress automatically brakes, and, because it's not equipped with a heat shield, it is destroyed by the temperature and overload. All the debris, including the rubbish, falls into the ocean. By the way, we aren't the only ones who do this — the Americans do it too. And there's no harm from it. Kerosene is supposed to be harmless. Heptyl turns to fertiliser when it comes into contact with water, so everything grows quickly. It's just important that it not fall on people.


BOR is an acronym from the Russian meaning "unmanned orbital rocket-plane". This is an old story. In the mid-1960s, the Ministry of the Aviation Industry suggested to Mikoyan's Experimental Design Bureau, where MiG planes are made, that they make a space patrol plane. So that the Earth could be patrolled from an object in orbit. Everyone was thinking about this then, including the Americans. The idea was that a pilotable orbit plane would be placed above a powerful big accelerator plane, which would lift it about 10 kilometres in the air. The rocket plane would then launch from it and go into orbit. This system was called "Spiral", and Lozino-Lozinsky, an engineer, was in charge of it, but the programme was shut down after three unsuccessful launches. Marshal Grechko said: 'We're not going to indulge fantasies', and all the specialists from Mikoyan's Experimental Design Bureau, including Lozino-Lozinsky, were moved to Lightning Science and Industry Office to work on the "Buran" programme. It was there that BOR-4, an unmanned rocket-plane weighing 800 kg, was successfully tested. This is a sort of experimental reduced-size copy. In the early 1980s, BOR-4 was launched on a light rocket, it made one and a half circles around the Earth and landed on a parachute in the Indian Ocean. That's where it was found by the Australian Air Force, photographed, and a big hubbub began... In short, in 1987 the BOR flights were stopped. They began testing the heat shield for the future Buran on it.


It is an acronym from the Russian meaning "multi-goal aviation and space system". This story developed at the same time as the BOR, and the point is more or less the same. One plane is the carrier (in this case it was the An-225 "Mriya"), and the orbital rocket plane sits on its "back". This is also a design of the "Molniya" Science and Industry Office and Lozino-Lozinsky, circa the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, at that stage the USSR was falling apart and no one had any money. As such, it was not a time for extravagance. Most importantly, the idea was not supported by the military. They like economy, and this was a completely new system that required a lot of people. So that's how the programme was shut down.

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