A Sound of Thunder: The Rise of the Soviet Superbooster

The title of that video makes me wonder if L3M will land on the Moon before 1980, or at all. I wonder if the Moon landing will be ditched and the Groza relegated to simply being the lifter for the Soviet response to the Space Shuttle. Glushko had Lunar plans for Energia as well, but they never panned out.
 
Well, we know the USSR has an expiration date…

Yeah, I’m not saving the USSR this time. I did that for The Snow Flies, for those interested in that sort of thing. ITTL, L3M and the Shuttle programme are filling the space of Energia-Buran IOTL, so those inclined towards the theory that lavish spending on space contributed to the collapse of the state will still have something to point to. The exact shape of the collapse, and its impact on space activities, is a topic for the future…

I understand your desire to keep a tight butterfly net but the timing and exact nature of the collapse of Soviet Union is very, very susceptible to butterflies with some very small personnel changes. By the mid 80's pressure within the system for some kind of deep seated reform was strong and difficult to butterfly (assuming you keep Brezhnev in post and prevent early reforms) and the difficulty of actually successfully pulling off a reform program that can thread the needle of reforming the system while keeping it together is still high. But the 26th of December 1991 be just another day with a PoD in the 60's is a 99.99% chance IMHO.
 
Another interesting update! I'm not sure if the L3M architecture is based on any OTL design, but it certainly captures the Soviets' aesthetic sensibilities in designing spacecraft. As has been implied, a successful launch before the 80s probably won't pan out, but at least there'll be some probe launching and station building to occupy the Groza in the meantime.
 
So this is the Lunar Expeditionary Complex (LEK) of TTL? It does seem to carry a fair bit from the later LEK/Energia LK designs, but those were later designs that I suspect drew from the prior L3M.

Always did wonder just how the various pieces actually did fit together regarding that particular design.

Gotta know though. Just how much usable interior volume is there, with the Re-Entry Capsule taking up a fair bit of what's available? And just how much Hydrogen Peroxide is needed, for both the Landing and Return?


Another interesting update! I'm not sure if the L3M architecture is based on any OTL design, but it certainly captures the Soviets' aesthetic sensibilities in designing spacecraft. As has been implied, a successful launch before the 80s probably won't pan out, but at least there'll be some probe launching and station building to occupy the Groza in the meantime.

There is a design that matches what Nixonshead is going with, the L3M-1972 at least insofar as the habitat module is concerned. The Propulsion Unit appears closer in appearance to the LEK/LK Energia.
 
I also do think it's interesting how both L3M and Convair's Apollo proposal used that "let's put the capsule inside the habitat" approach. It does seem to simplify some things, though it also complicates some other things...

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Some remarks on L3M complex (the soviet designation)
the plan was launch 2 to four N1 for rendezvous in low orbit and lunar orbit
depending if they use kerolox or Hydrogen engines

The Crew of L3M would be three cosmonauts, for mission time up to 45 days
to accommodate the Cosmonauts the use a bigger Soyuz reentry capsule with diameter 3,7 meter.
(older L3M proposal use standard Soyuz spacecraft on lander/accent stages)

Sadly the literature about L3M complex is rare and incomplete
 
The Habitation Block was mounted atop a Propulsion Unit (DU) carrying a large main engine using hydrogen peroxide as a monopropellant, with no oxidiser required. This engine would be responsible for all vehicle manoeuvres from final descent through to lunar ascent and trans-Earth injection, and so reliability was vital.
The idea of using monopropellant decomposed hydrogen peroxide for the entire range of delta-V from final descent to ascent back to TEI really seems odd to me. I can certainly understand why a portion of descent thrust must be finely controlled and that points to some kind of rocket that can be very finely throttled. Apollo used dual propellant hypergol, pressure-fed with pintle valves; this cost some tens of percent of Isp versus the same or related types of propellants in a pump fed engine, but was very reliable while pump fed systems have interactions and momentum to contend with when trying to throttle it, and possible failure modes a pressure fed system sidesteps. The Apollo engine was so simple the LM could rely on a single powerful engine, with thrusters to angle it via angling the whole ship.

But already in designing the "poky" LK, as IIRC Michel Van has described it, the Soviets had already developed not one but two ker-lox engines to install in it at least OTL, and surely are able to do this in this ATL too. Indeed there was some risk that the main landing engine of the LK, being a pumped cryogenic kerlox engine, might fail, especially since it had to be designed to throttle responsively for fine landing control. So, while by default ascent back to LLO would rely on this engine (with a much simpler job of just pumping out maximum thrust steadily in this later phase) another ker-lox engine to burn the same propellant was also installed, which could match the main engine thrust but was simpler, being simple on/off constant thrust. In the event the LK main engine failed during descent, the back-up engine could cut in and abort the landing, and if the main engine failed on any point of the ascent it could again take over--indeed, with propellant provided on the assumption just one or the other would be available, it would be possible to run both and get double the ascent acceleration which would reduce gravity loss, though I am not sure plans ever envisioned doing that.

Meanwhile these late-60s Soviet small ker-lox engines achieved quite high Isp near the theoretical limits of such an engine in vacuum, and the D-Blok engine serving on Proton OTL, meant for Korolev's N-1 D-Blok OTL and used as such in Mishin's ATL successes here, as well as in the stretched (more propellant, I gather) crasher block for LEK (and for LK too, the main reason the LK could work was that most of the landing delta-V was taken up by its D-Blok using up its last propellant in crasher mode) proved to be pretty reliable.

I suppose that hydrogen peroxide is being favored as a monopropellant "fuel" "requiring no oxidizer" because it is the basis of Soyuz and other Soviet maneuvering thrusters, so the designers are familiar with it. Certainly there is some advantage to making sure the delicate fussy thrusts involved in landing can be well controlled by relying on a very simple system of pressure fed propellant continually catalyzed into decomposing, and hydrogen peroxide of high purity that is so decomposed makes a fairly high speed jet, around 1200 or so meters/sec IIRC, maybe substantially more. Wikipedia gives an upper limit of 1600 m/sec or so actually.

However--with the Russians having already committed OTL and apparently in the ATL to a pumped ker-lox engine in the ballpark of 350 sec or so, that is about 3500 m/sec effective exhaust speed, I find it pretty amazing they'd fall back on monopropellant peroxide for this entire range of delta-V.

We don't need to consider the landing problem as a major contributor to total delta-V needed, because for both the OTL planned and ATL accomplished (uncrewed to be sure) LK scheme and this more ambitious LEK mission, the crasher stage takes most of that hit, leaving only a fraction of terminal speed reduction and brief hovering time.

The big bites come in when we consider the job of getting the combined mass of the return capsule, its surrounding "cocoon" habitat, and the infrastructure of the propulsion module itself first off the Lunar surface and then injected to Earth. In energetic terms, we can imagine these two phases as combined into one for a direct ascent--the LEK minus landing infrastructure just burns hard and winds up in its coast back to Earth at shutdown, no faffing around with intermediate parking orbits. This would require a delta-V not much less than 3 km/sec, and if we round it up to include the landing phase, that is a reasonable yardstick of what it takes.

Now then, compared to a pure ker-lox system such as used on the LK, and taking 150 sec as a reasonable high performance (short of theoretical maximum to be sure) Isp for peroxide monopropellant, versus 350 sec for the high-performance if potentially unreliable ker-lox engine, we have for the canon proposed all-peroxide system a mass ratio of over 7, since the delta-V is twice the specific impulse speed and e squared is 7.3 or so. I am estimating that the assembly to be boosted back to Earth is somewhere between 10-15 tonnes, call it 12. Thus upon separating from the crasher stretched D-blok, we have over 72 tonnes of propellant initially, most of which must be landed on the moon along with say 15 tonnes of "payload" including the habitation/return structure, the engines and the landing stage with its legs and instruments.

Now if we could rely on the higher performance ker-lox engines, we have a mass ratio of only 2.4 or less, meaning that we only need about 20 tonnes of propellant to accomplish as much as 75 or more of simple peroxide.

What I would think they would have considered doing is compromising to get the benefits of both approaches. As many of us well know, we can call hydrogen peroxide a monopropellant if we want to, but we can also use it as an excellent oxidizer. By substituting liquid hydrogen peroxide, which is managed in liquid state in much the same ranges as water is and behaves a lot like a denser version of water, for the oxygen flow in a modified version of the same sorts of engines already developed for the D-blok and for the LK, the outcome is a jet that is somewhat slower than ker-lox, but in the same close ballpark, but using denser oxidant in a much higher mass ratio with the same sort of fuel the ker-lox engine uses. The greater density tends to offset most of the drawback of moderately lower Isp. There are other advantages too many of us know well here.

Of course there are drawbacks versus just using pure oxygen as well, but in this case they seem to have been mooted by comparing to the canon proposal to use monopropellant high test HP! Generally we get somewhat higher Isp with pure oxygen, but that is irrelevant here. And there are objections based on the potential instability of HTHP in storage--but since peroxide was considered and largely rejected in this application, as the main oxidant in a chemical bi-propellant rocket, it has been discovered that the two keys to minimizing these risks are 1) fairly obviously, to chill the peroxide down to near its freezing point, which obviously provides a considerable thermal buffer since the heat capacity of hydrogen peroxide is comparable to that of water; and 2) much less obviously, to increase its purity to as near perfect as we can manage.

The Soviets of course have been managing hydrogen peroxide, in less than perfectly pure form, for around a decade at this point in their Soyuz and other spacecraft as thruster monopropellant. As for the semi-cryogenic approach, the TL canon has already mentioned chilling the kerosene propellant down, mainly to achieve higher storage density; freezing at temperatures a few degrees below that at which water does, HTHP would store at about the same temperature as the chilled kerosene.

Now if the LK comes in, per this post, at between 5 and 6 tonnes when separated from its D-blok, and one throttling engine is adequate to land it and later boost it back to LLO, if the mass to be sent through TLI is under 15 tonnes, three engines of the same thrust as the LK main engine would be about adequate. If instead we provide six such engines, we can land another 15 tonnes it would seem.

Will those throttling ker-lox engines convert to using peroxide instead of LOX to provide a similar thrust with similar throttling? I daresay they would, because as noted the deficit in thrust resulting from the specific impulse of kerosene-peroxide is offset by the denser mass flow--the engine operates at somewhat lower temperatures, the hot gases are somewhat denser, and the outcome is overall about the same thrust, albeit guzzling down more mass flow per second. But most of that flow is actually hydrogen peroxide and not fuel; the fuel consumption will be markedly lower since the mass ratio of peroxide as oxidant is higher than that of pure oxygen to the fuel--basically, for each oxygen atom required, we also bring along one water molecule.

So, taking the problem backwards--we must push a pessimistic (but perhaps realistic!) 15 tonnes of ship off the Lunar surface, up to Lunar escape velocity, and beyond it enough to place it on a return trajectory to Earth. Exactly how much velocity we must add beyond escape velocity depends on what kind of return orbit we want; the minimum is a Hohmann orbit, which encounters the Moon's orbital speed at about 850 or so meters per second velocity difference. For a faster transit such as used by Apollo, orbits near a "free return" orbit, the speed is 1000 m/sec or more. Say the Soviets adopt a 900 m/sec encounter speed. We are actually adding energies here, not speeds--Lunar surface escape velocity is given as roughly 2400 m/sec or a bit lower; adding the corresponding kinetic energy to that of the transfer orbit encounter speed we get 2563 m/sec. Now that would be a speed that we'd like to achieve in one impulse instantly--but of course we can't, it takes time to build up to it with realistic acceleration. During that time to accelerate, we need to counter the pull of Lunar gravity--at a full Earth G, which is just under 10 m/sec^2, we'd need something like 260 seconds or over 4 minutes of thrust, in which time at about 8/5 of a m/sec^2 Lunar gravity would drag back some 416 m/sec. You can see where I got the nominal 3 km/sec figure for direct ascent from here.

If the "dry" mass (which I suppose still has some propellant in reserve for midcourse corrections) sent back is 15 tonnes at burnout, and our ker-peroxide engines get a mediocre 300 sec or 3 km/sec specific impulse, we have exactly "e" as the mass ratio; at takeoff from the Moon, we would have had to have 41 tonnes landed--which note is still just half or so of what we'd need to do it with pure monopropellant peroxide! We need to store 26 tonnes of propellant, but this is easier than storing 15-20 which includes liquid oxygen as the lion's share of the total, clearly.

Even this large mass does not require more than 8 of the sort of engine used to land LK. If we install 12, we can have as many as four of them fail and still be assured of the ability to return the crew to Earth.

If there is any doubt of our ability to control 12 such engines finely enough for suitably smooth landings, we can bulk up the peroxide reserves a bit and add supplemental pure-peroxide thrusters to be sure.

With 12 engines installed, major control would be similar to that of launching the three A,B,V blocks of the N-1--the 24 outer ring engines of the A Blok were meant to be mounted fixed, and pitch/yaw control achieved by varying the throttle. As with the N-1 system, if one engine fails, the opposite engine is also shut down to maintain thrust balance--if we also have some robust peroxide monopropellant thrusters, control authority over all axes of translation and rotation should be well assured, given reserves of peroxide beyond what is needed to burn with kerosene for the heavy lifting phases of landing and launching.

Doing it with peroxide alone means tremendously more mass to land, thus more for the crasher stage to brake and have previously put into LLO, and thus counting the extra propellant needed in that stage for these purposes, the TLI stage and entire stack must be all considerably larger. Vice versa, if it would be technically possible for the evolving "Groza" to send enough through TLI in however many launches to land this massive monopropellant stack, switching over to kerosene-peroxide would at a stroke double or triple the amount of useful payload landed and assure lots of margin for safe return of considerably more--for this, the constraint is the limits on the Soyuz style return capsule, but it might be possible to design the massive thing to have two or more such capsules and allow for a much larger crew of six or more, along with both habitation extensions and lab space along with food and other consumables to allow very long stays.

Knowing that the Groza is despite its huge pad mass somewhat limited per launch, I don't expect such grandiose single-shot landings, but I do all the more doubt it is even possible to do the LEK mission with monopropellant alone beyond the D-Blok; kerosene might or might not enable this sort of instant semi-moonbase, but it seems vital to enable the crew to return to Earth at all.
 
I understand your desire to keep a tight butterfly net but the timing and exact nature of the collapse of Soviet Union is very, very susceptible to butterflies with some very small personnel changes. By the mid 80's pressure within the system for some kind of deep seated reform was strong and difficult to butterfly (assuming you keep Brezhnev in post and prevent early reforms) and the difficulty of actually successfully pulling off a reform program that can thread the needle of reforming the system while keeping it together is still high. But the 26th of December 1991 be just another day with a PoD in the 60's is a 99.99% chance IMHO.
It's not obvious to me that you can establish a chain of events that would prevent the rise of the liberal faction headed by Gorbachev and the anti-establishment ones like Yeltsin. Well, just preventing the rise of the liberal faction would be enough to butterfly the other away. Continued perestroika is still going to tank the Soviet economy, though to a lesser extent because you don't have the breakup of the Union involved, and you might not have shock therapy as a factor. It's still going to tank it pretty badly though. There might be pretty big political unrest since you don't have Yeltsin to follow the demands of the nationalist factions. You can also argue that he stroked the flames of that movement.

If you want N1 to continue flying you need to prevent the rise of the liberal faction, or it's too late.
 
It's not obvious to me that you can establish a chain of events that would prevent the rise of the liberal faction headed by Gorbachev and the anti-establishment ones like Yeltsin. Well, just preventing the rise of the liberal faction would be enough to butterfly the other away. Continued perestroika is still going to tank the Soviet economy, though to a lesser extent because you don't have the breakup of the Union involved, and you might not have shock therapy as a factor. It's still going to tank it pretty badly though. There might be pretty big political unrest since you don't have Yeltsin to follow the demands of the nationalist factions. You can also argue that he stroked the flames of that movement.

If you want N1 to continue flying you need to prevent the rise of the liberal faction, or it's too late.

I don't think you can prevent the rise of a "liberal" faction and I wouldn't call Yeltsin anti establishment so much as anti Gorbachev. What you can very easily butterfly with a PoD this early is having either Gorbachev or Yeltsin be significant figures in that liberal movement. At the moment Gorbachev is running Stavropol at an unusually young age so he's on the fast track but he's still very junior. Yeltsin in OTL had just been promoted to run Sverdlovsk but his promotion is further after the PoD and might very well have been butterflied.
Post Brezhnev* something was very likely to change and any reform movement is going to face massive challenges but if you change some of the key personnel you could very easily have a very different result. Most importantly perestroika didn't have to happen simultaneously with glasnost.

*a Brezhnev that dies 5 years earlier, before the collapse in oil prices and is succeeded by a healthier Andropov is a very interesting PoD.
 
I don't think you can prevent the rise of a "liberal" faction and I wouldn't call Yeltsin anti establishment so much as anti Gorbachev. What you can very easily butterfly with a PoD this early is having either Gorbachev or Yeltsin be significant figures in that liberal movement. At the moment Gorbachev is running Stavropol at an unusually young age so he's on the fast track but he's still very junior. Yeltsin in OTL had just been promoted to run Sverdlovsk but his promotion is further after the PoD and might very well have been butterflied.
Post Brezhnev* something was very likely to change and any reform movement is going to face massive challenges but if you change some of the key personnel you could very easily have a very different result. Most importantly perestroika didn't have to happen simultaneously with glasnost.

*a Brezhnev that dies 5 years earlier, before the collapse in oil prices and is succeeded by a healthier Andropov is a very interesting PoD.
Well, there will be a liberal faction, it just won't rise to power, that is what I mean. Can you establish a chain of events from the PoD to butterflying away the careers of Gorbachev and or Yeltsin? I don't think so.
 
careers of Gorbachev and or Yeltsin? I don't think so.
Gorbachev's career can be derailed if he loses the leadership contest in 1985 with a few list of Pods.

Yeltsin is more difficult, we could go with the quick and dirty Pod of having him drown in the river or really anything relating with alcohol bringing his untimely death, alternative Pods mostly requires that the Union lives on to the 21st Century with Yeltsin quietly shoved away and out of the picture.

However that route would ensure that the Union will last into the Information Age and if the Union can live into the Information Age then making a plausible collapse of the Union will become increasingly difficult and harder to accomplish, especially when the KGB gets its hands on facial recognition systems...
 
Gorbachev's career can be derailed if he loses the leadership contest in 1985 with a few list of Pods.

Yeltsin is more difficult, we could go with the quick and dirty Pod of having him drown in the river or really anything relating with alcohol bringing his untimely death, alternative Pods mostly requires that the Union lives on to the 21st Century with Yeltsin quietly shoved away and out of the picture.

However that route would ensure that the Union will last into the Information Age and if the Union can live into the Information Age then making a plausible collapse of the Union will become increasingly difficult and harder to accomplish, especially when the KGB gets its hands on facial recognition systems...
For more candidates, you need to butterfly away WW2 which of course isn't possible... there was only one other option, Ligachyov and by the time he realized Gorbachev was a liberal, it was too late, plus even then you need to make the hardliners more popular.
I fail to see how the changes here can cause Ligachyov to win instead of gorbachev.
 
Well, there will be a liberal faction, it just won't rise to power, that is what I mean. Can you establish a chain of events from the PoD to butterflying away the careers of Gorbachev and or Yeltsin? I don't think so.

For more candidates, you need to butterfly away WW2 which of course isn't possible... there was only one other option, Ligachyov and by the time he realized Gorbachev was a liberal, it was too late, plus even then you need to make the hardliners more popular.
I fail to see how the changes here can cause Ligachyov to win instead of gorbachev.

That's like saying you'd need a Second World War PoD to stop George Bush Snr becoming President in 1989. There were hundreds of oblast First Secretaries or department heads in the KGB and other ministries that could, under different circumstances have ended up on the Politburo instead of Gorbachev with a PoD this early.
 
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That's like saying you'd need a Second World War PoD to stop George Bush Snr becoming President in 1989. There were hundreds of oblast First Secretaries or department heads in the KGB and other ministries that could, under different circumstances have ended up on the Politburo instead of Gorbachev with a PoD this early.
The only reason Gorbachev was so popular was that he was so young, he had a lot of energy and he was considered to have fresh ideas. WW2 killed a lot of young people like that, but I do admit it may have been a bit exaggerated in retrospect. The only way I can see a direct change happening like that is if some guy who didn't make it because he wasn't popular enough could benefit from the N1 flying.
 
The biggest issue the N1F will have in Post USSR
1 . We're coming the parts to build rocket ? after the collapse some parts will coming from "abroad"
2. will government of Kazakhstan allow the Baikonur cosmodrome to build N1 rockets ? it build at launch site do size !
3. What Payload will launch ? and how to pay the workers on N1 program ??
4. On 12 May 2002 the main assembly building of N1 collapsed, killing nine worker and destroying Buran shuttle on it Energia booster !
 
The biggest issue the N1F will have in Post USSR
1 . We're coming the parts to build rocket ? after the collapse some parts will coming from "abroad"
2. will government of Kazakhstan allow the Baikonur cosmodrome to build N1 rockets ? it build at launch site do size !
3. What Payload will launch ? and how to pay the workers on N1 program ??
4. On 12 May 2002 the main assembly building of N1 collapsed, killing nine worker and destroying Buran shuttle on it Energia booster !
I think N1 will be canceled outright. I can definitely see the hardware going into new rockets though, ones that Russia can fly on their own. Especially the Soviet counterpart to the shuttle. I'm hoping it can be saved somehow. Maybe it could be modified. You could even give it delta-wings to give it crossrange once and for all.
It's also interesting to note, that without Energia-Buran, the Zenit rocket family doesn't exist.
 
You are both assuming that some time in the early 90's all 15 Soviet Republics end up as independent countries. Without wanting to get too current politics that is far from certain, especially with a PoD this early. Ignoring the needle threading option of having the Soviet Union successfully reform itself into a sustainable entity* you can very easily have the Soviet Union come to an end and be succeeded by a more successful CIS-expy including multiple former Soviet Republics. Certainly keeping Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus together seems more like something that happens in more "Soviet dissolution alternative timelines" than not.

*which does not have to be a democracy
 
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