Korolev's R-7 Semiorka
rocket, similar to the one that launched the Sputniks.
the era of spaceflight began in 1957, the (now former) Soviet Union has
introduced several generations of launch vehicles for putting spacecraft
into orbit around the Earth and into deep space.
rule, the Soviets used common “base” rockets equipped with a variety of
upper stages to “build” different satellite launch vehicles. Nearly all of
these “base” rockets were military ballistic missiles.
common “base” rocket was the famous R-7 (or SS-6) intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM) developed in the 1950s under the leadership of
Chief Designer Sergey Korolev at the OKB-1 design bureau (now known as
Energia). Since 1957, the Soviets and Russians have launched more than
1,600 R-7-derived rockets, more than any other launch vehicle in the
world. The R-7 launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik,
into orbit in 1957.
consists of a core rocket (what the Russians call the second stage)
surrounded by four boosters (what the Russians called collectively the
first stage), each shaped like a tapered cylinder. The first and second
stages ignite simultaneously at lift-off. Each of the strap-on boosters has
one engine that produces about 100 (metric) tons of thrust at sea level.
The four strap-ons separate from the core about two minutes after lift-off,
leaving the core to continue firing. After the core finishes firing,
additional upper stages fire to insert the payload into orbit.
have been numerous variants of the “R-7-plus-upper-stage” combination.
Each upper stage was traditionally known as a “Block.” For example, the
Vostok launch vehicle, introduced in September 1958 (in its original
version), used an R-7 with a “Block Ye.” This launch vehicle, which was
used to send the first Soviet cosmonauts into space, was capable of
sending about 5 tons into Earth orbit. An upgraded version known as the
Vostok-2M has launched a variety of spacecraft including Meteor weather
satellites, Zenit-2 reconnaissance satellites, and Tselina electronic
On October 7, 1957, this
rocket inserted the first USSR sputnik (satellite)
into a circular orbit above the atmosphere, causing a great commotion
throughout the world.
R-7-plus-Block I combination was introduced in November 1963 for launching
reconnaissance satellites. This rocket was known as the Voskhod launcher.
A slightly modified version, known as the Soyuz rocket, was introduced in
November 1966. Soyuz rocket variants-such as the basic Soyuz, the Soyuz-L,
the Soyuz-M, the Soyuz-U, and the Soyuz-U2-have launched hundreds of
payloads into orbit, among them the Zenit and Yantar reconnaissance
satellites and the Voskhod and Soyuz crewed spacecraft. The Russians
continue to use the Soyuz, which can put about 7.5 tons into Earth orbit,
for launching the Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. The
Russians are also introducing new Soyuz rocket versions such as the Soyuz-Ikar,
the Soyuz-Fregat, and the Soyuz-FG that use new upper stages or new
Four-stage versions of the R-7 were first introduced in October 1960.
Typically these rockets, known as Molniya, have been used to launch
Molniya communications satellites and the early deep space probes such as
Luna, Venera, and Mars. Later versions, capable of launching 1.6 to 1.8
tons to highly elliptical orbits, have included the Molniya-M.
R-7-derived launch vehicles, including the Soyuz and the Molniya rockets
are produced by a company called the TsSKB-Progress.
Russian launch vehicles based on military missiles include the Kosmos-3M
rocket, which uses as the first stage, the 1960s-vintage R-14 (or SS-5)
medium range ballistic missile. With the addition of a second stage, the
Kosmos-3M was introduced as a satellite launcher (in an early version) in
August 1964. These launchers, capable of lofting 1.5 tons into low Earth
orbit, are manufactured currently by the Polyot Production Association.
Over the years, the Kosmos-3M has launched several different types of
small military satellites (Strela, Sfera, Tselina, Parus) as well as
international payloads. The Russians are introducing a new version of the
Kosmos-3M known as Vzlet.
related precursor to the Kosmos-3M was the Kosmos-2 launch vehicle, which
is no longer used. It was produced by adding an upper stage to the R-12
(or SS-4) intermediate range ballistic missile. Used between 1961 and 1977
to launch small military satellites, the Kosmos-2 was able to put about
450 kilograms into low Earth orbit.
more powerful launcher, the Tsiklon-3, is derived from the two-stage R-36
(or SS-9) ICBM. It was introduced in 1977. The Tsiklon-3 uses a
restartable third stage to insert about 3.6 tons into polar orbit around
the Earth. Its payloads have included Meteor (weather) and Tselina
(military) satellites. A different two-stage version named Tsiklon-2 has
launched high security military payloads such as anti-satellites and ocean
reconnaissance satellites since 1967. Both the Tsiklon-2 and Tsiklon-3 are
built by Yuzhnoye, a Ukrainian company.
recent Russian launch vehicles are derived from decommissioned ICBMs no
longer used by the Russian missile forces. These include the Start and
Rokot launch vehicles. The Start, derived from the Topol (SS-25) ICBM, was
first test-launched in 1993. Since then, this solid-propellant rocket has
flown in four- and five-stage versions. The five-stage variant can put
about 1.3 tons into Earth orbit. The Rokot (often called Rockot) is a
three-stage booster derived from the UR-100N (SS-19) ICBM for launching up
to 1.9 tons into low Earth orbit. Rockot, first launched in 1990, is being
offered commercially by a joint German-Russian company known as Eurockot.
Russians have also tried to convert submarine-launched ballistic missiles
(SLBMs) for use as commercial satellite launchers. The Makeyev centre, the
developer of Russian SLBMs, has developed the Shtil class of launch
vehicles based on the R-29RM (SS-N-23) SLBM. In July 1998, a three-stage
Shtil rocket became the first submarine-launched rocket to launch a
satellite into orbit.
classes of Soviet launch vehicles designed from the beginning as space
launch vehicles rather than for use as ballistic missiles: the Proton, the
Zenit, the N1, and Energiya.
Proton is probably the most well known Russian launch vehicle of all. It
is currently the largest Russian launch vehicle in use. The basic launch
vehicle, known as the Proton-K, consists of a first-stage with six engines
that are fed propellants from a single, centrally located oxidizer tank
surrounded by six outer tanks. The second stage has four engines and the
third stage has one-each of them similar in design. For geostationary or
deep space launches, the Proton-K uses a fourth stage. The most common
fourth stage is the Block DM (and its numerous sub-variants). The
restartable Block DM allows the Proton-K to boost 4.7 to 4.9 tons into
geostationary transfer orbit. Over the years, the 4-stage Proton-K has
launched a wide array of important Soviet and Russian deep space and
Lockheed Khrunichev Energia
International (LKEI) Proton launch vehicle erection on pad, Baikonur
Three-stage versions of the Proton are used for launching heavy 20-ton
payloads such as the Zvezda and Zarya modules of the International Space
Station. In the 1970s and 1980s, all the major components of the Mir and
Salyut space stations were launched by the three-stage Proton-K.
Khrunichev, the makers of the Proton booster, have begun introducing new
upgraded models of the rocket. These include the Proton-M with improved
engines, a Proton-M with a new liquid hydrogen high performance upper
stage known as the KVRB (replacing the Block DM), and a new upper stage
named the Briz (also called Breeze). Most of these efforts are aimed at
lessening the dependence of Khrunichev on the Block DM upper stage, which
is built by the Energia corporation.
International Launch Services (ILS), a cooperative partnership between
Khrunichev, Energia, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, offers the Proton
on a commercial basis.
well known is the Zenit launcher produced by the Ukrainian Yuzhnoye
company. The two-stage version has been launching a variety of military
payloads into Earth orbit since 1985. It is capable of launching nearly 14
tons into low Earth orbit. Perhaps the most interesting modification of
the Zenit is the three-stage Zenit-3SL used as part of the SeaLaunch
project. Since March 1999, Yuzhnoye, in cooperation with Boeing Commercial
Space Company and the Anglo-Norwegian Kvaerner Group, has launched the
Zenit-3SL from a floating platform in the equatorial regions of the
world's oceans. The booster can put about 5.2 tons into geosynchronous
Zenit-2 being oriented to
vertical launch configuration.
Zenit booster was originally developed as part of the ambitious
Energia-Buran program. Beginning in 1974, the Soviet Union developed the
Energia heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of putting about 100 tons into
Earth orbit. The Energia used a central core equipped with a variable
number of strap-on boosters. These strap-on boosters were very similar to
the Zenit launch vehicle. Energia was successfully launched twice in 1987
and 1988 but the project was cancelled in 1993 due to lack of money.
Buran/Energiya on pad.
Energia-Buran, there was one other Soviet launch vehicle that never
reached operational status-the giant N1 Moon rocket. The Soviets developed
the N1 in the 1960s as part of their effort in the race to the Moon. After
four launch failures in 1969-1972, the Soviet government cancelled the
project in 1974. The NK company that built the engines for the N1 has been
attempting to sell stored N1 engines to international customers although
these efforts have not met with great success.