Kolyma's Shadow: An Alternate Space Race

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by nixonshead, May 11, 2014.

  1. Patupi Paranoid Android Technician

    Mar 2, 2014
    OK, nasty isn't the right word. Corny perhaps. I was tired at the time. It just seemed a real groaner to me.
  2. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013

    Don't worry, I'll try to leave puns to the experts ;)

    And so without further ado...
  3. Threadmarks: Part I Post #2: Spoils of War

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013

    Part I Post #2: Spoils of War

    In 1945, with Allied armies pressing from all sides, the most technologically advanced rocket programme in the world was to be found in the rubble-filled husk of Hitler’s broken Reich. In the last six months of the war, prioritised by a desperate leadership and manufactured using slave labour, over 3 000 V-2 missiles were fired by German forces. Despite the rocket’s high failure rate, it was still an incredible feat for a nation on its knees. As soon as victory was won, the Allied powers set out to find the men who had made this possible.

    Following an initial political struggle in Moscow, responsibility for the development of Soviet rocket technology had been assigned to the Ministry of Armaments under Central Committee member Dimitry Ustinov. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ustinov saw rockets as the weapon of the future, especially if used to carry the atomic bombs currently being developed under the direction of Lavrentiy Beria. In a secret directive approved by Stalin in May 1946, a network of research institutions was established under Ustinov’s control with the objective of systematically exploiting the captured German rocket technology for the benefit of the Soviet military.

    The lead institute, NII-88 (the Russian acronym for “Scientific-Research Institute No.88”), was to be the central institute responsible for rocket designs, with an initial focus on developing Soviet versions of the V-2, Wasserfall, Schmetterling and Rheintochter missiles. Another institute, OKB-456 (“R&D Institute No.456”) , would focus on rocket engine development, reproducing and then exceeding the V-2 engine capabilities. Additional institutions were established for guidance and control systems (NII-885), gyroscopes (NII-10), and launch equipment (GSKB). Together, these institutes would allow the development of a complete range of ballistic, cruise and ground-to-air missiles for the defence of the Motherland.

    The May 1946 decree also affected the future of the Soviet specialists then working at Bleicherode in occupied Germany, with many promoted to leadership positions in the new institutions. Valentin Glushko was assigned to be Chief Designer of OKB-456 in Khimki, whilst Vasily Mishin was assigned to NII-88, working under Chief Designer Yevgeny Sinilshchikov. The decree also ordered that the German rocket scientists who were working with the Soviets in Bleicherode, led by Helmut Gröttrup, be relocated to the USSR at the earliest opportunity. The purpose of this was not so much to have the Germans design Soviet weapons, but rather to pass their knowledge and expertise on to Soviet workers, with the aim of eventually ending the USSR’s reliance on the German specialists.

    A rare photo of future NII-88 Chief Designer Yevgeny Vasilyevich Sinilshchikov (circled), taken in 1932.
    Photo credit: coollib.com

    The first priority for the Soviet Union’s rocket scientists was to reproduce a domestic version of Germany’s V-2 rocket. Many of the scientists and engineers involved, eager to try out their own new ideas, saw this approach as a pointless waste of time. After all, despite being an impressive technological achievement for the time, in combat the V-2 had proven itself to be militarily useless. Far from turning the Allied tide, Hitler’s “wonder weapon” had if anything accelerated the Third Reich’s downfall by diverting critical resources from conventional forces. What was needed were larger, longer ranged rockets capable of carrying the future Soviet atom bomb direct to enemy cities, not a puny V-2 clone.

    Ustinov disagreed. The USSR had been devastated by the war, both in terms of physical destruction and in the loss of a generation of workers to the front. Moreover (though he would never raise this point in public), the purges of the pre-war years had decimated the ranks of the nation’s brightest and best. Ustinov realised that the USSR of 1946 simply didn’t have the industrial or intellectual capacity to design and build all-new rockets from scratch. Far better, in his opinion, to use the captured and re-created V-2 plans as a starting point to train a new cadre of technicians, engineers and specialists in rocket production, and only then taking the next step to a fully domestic rocket. Studies could and would be started into designs for potential longer ranged rockets, but the R-1 (the designation given to the Soviet version of V-2) would be the priority.

    Work proceeded rapidly, and the first launches of the N-series V-2s that had been built with German components in Bleicherode took place from the new test range at Kasputin Yar in October 1947. The first launch attempts failed due to faulty wiring, and a team of Gröttrup's specialists were brought out to the site to help fix the problems. Even with their assistance (or perhaps, as some darkly alluded, because of their sabotage), many of the rockets veered off course, exploded, or otherwise failed. Given that the operational reliability of the V-2 had never been much more than 50% this was perhaps unsurprising, but it did nothing to convince people like Glushko or Mishin that they had anything left to learn from the Germans. Many in the military and political hierarchy agreed, and the Germans found themselves increasingly isolated, with Soviet plans to duplicate the V-2 kept secret from them.

    Despite this widespread distrust and disdain for the Germans’ contributions, the experiences of next year seemed to validate Ustinov’s view of the lack of readiness of Soviet industry to support missile production. In building the R-1, Sinilshchikov’s team faced daunting problems, ranging from the duplication of delicate guidance instrumentation to the more basic problem of simply sourcing the numerous specialist grades of steels and synthetics needed from Soviet industry. Entire chemical and metallurgical factories were handed over to NII-88 control in order to create local substitutes for German materials, and the most prestigious Soviet scientific institutes were instructed to provide the rocket industry with support in radar technology and aerodynamics. Only Beria’s atom bomb project received a higher priority from the State.

    By November 1948, Sinilshchikov was ready to begin flight tests of the R-1. The extra experience gained and greater understanding of the systems meant that the R-1 tests went far better than the V-2 launches had, with only two of the eight missiles failing. A second test campaign in 1949 went even better, confirming the missile’s range at 280 km, and the R-1 quickly entered into full production for operational deployment. Regardless of the statistics from the R-1’s test campaigns, its main purpose, that of training up the Soviets in missile development, had been a complete success.

    Underutilised by the Chief Designers, when the captured German specialists were given substantial work they applied themselves with vigour. In May 1947 Gröttrup's group were given the task of designing a rocket with a range of 600 km. Designated G-1, the intention was to use the German design as a benchmark against which to assess a design proposed by NII-88 to meet the same specification. When the designs were compared in December 1948, Gröttrup's G-1 was found superior to Sinilshchikov’s R-2. A similar competition in June 1949 for a multi-stage missile able to launch a 3 tonne warhead over 3 000 km again saw Gröttrup's design, the G-4, preferred to Sinilshchikov’s R-3.

    Despite these apparent victories for the German team, they were still denied access to experimental equipment, and so had no hope of developing their designs any further. Instead, aspects of Gröttrup's rockets were incorporated into Sinilshchikov’s designs. The R-2, now a Gröttrup-inspired cylindrical shape rather than Sinilshchikov’s original ogive, began state trial flights in September 1949, and was accepted into military service in 1951. The R-3A technology demonstrator incorporated numerous aspects from the G-4, including the distinctive sloped first stage. By the beginning of 1951 the Germans had been almost completely isolated from the real work of the Soviet rocket programme, and by the end of 1953 all had been repatriated to East Germany.

    Although progress was being made, Ustinov and his deputies weren’t entirely happy with the output of NII-88. The relative poor quality of the original R-2 and R-3 design submissions had been bad enough, but there was also a palpable discontent with Sinilshchikov’s management style amongst the workforce, as well as friction between the NII-88 Chief Designer and his counterparts at other institutes. Finally in May 1952, following slow progress on development of an ICBM, a major restructuring of NII-88 was proposed. OKB-1 was created within NII-88 with its focus purely on land-based long range ballistic missiles. Sinilshchikov would remain as Chief Designer of OKB-1, but all responsibility for ground-to-air, cruise and naval missiles would be removed to other departments. Additionally, Mikhail Yangel was appointed as the institute’s Director, and therefore as the immediate superior of Sinilshchikov, with instructions to whip OKB-1 into shape and get the ICBM project back on track. However, at first it was far from clear if this change of leadership was a good idea.

    Yangel had joined NII-88 from the aviation industry in April 1950 as head of the the guidance systems section. Despite some initial friction with Sinilshchikov (not uncommon amongst the Chief Designer’s subordinates), Yangel soon developed a productive working relationship, and became heavily involved in the re-assessment of NII-88’s design approach following the shortcomings exposed in comparison to Groettrup’s designs. During the course of his work on the R-5, R-11 and R-12 draft projects, Yangel became convinced that the kerosene-oxygen propellants being proposed by NII-88 were not well suited for military purposes. Although giving good performance, they were bulky and posed severe difficulties in maintaining the launch readiness at short notice needed by the military. Glushko had been experiencing his own problems in attempting to scale up kerolox engines for their rocket designs (the failure of his RD-110 being one of the main issues with the original R-3 design), and this reinforced Yangel’s impression that “high boiling point” storable, hypergolic propellants, that could be pumped around without complex insulation and kept on-station in their rockets’ tanks for weeks at a time, would be a much better fit to the military’s needs. Indeed, such propellants were already being successfully used in the smaller ground-to-air, air-to-air and naval missiles coming from other design bureaux.

    When a decree in December 1950 authorised a project for the "Development requirements for a liquid rocket with a range of 5 000 to 10 000 km and a warhead of 1 to 10 tonnes", the initial expectation was that this would be a scaled-up hydrocarbon-liquid oxygen rocket along the lines of the R-1, 2 and 3 proposals. However, as the draft projects proceded over the following year, Yangel started to push for a storable propellant solution. Sinilshchikov was willing to listen to Yangel’s approach, but the proposal faced strong internal dissent within NII-88, led by Vasili Mishin. Mishin and his supporters argued that not only were the storable propellants extremely toxic, but they also had a considerably lower theoretical performance than kerolox. Even at this early point, Mishin had one eye on an eventual space launcher, and he knew that every second of specific impulse would be crucial in orbiting a useful payload. Additionally, all of NII-88’s experience for large ballistic missiles up to then had been with liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon vehicles. Proposing the new storable approach on their largest missile yet would be to throw away the knowledge gained so painfully on earlier projects.

    The debate raged within NII-88 and between the Chief Designers and their staffs for the next one and a half years until finally, tipped by Yangel’s newfound influence as OKB-1 Director from 1952 onwards, Sinilshchikov selected the storable propellant option. The former artillery man did not have the same romantic vision for future spaceflight as Mishin, and following his recent dressing-down from the leadership he wasn’t prepared to risk producing a sub-standard ICBM in the hope that it could one day send men into orbit. At Yangel’s suggestion a compromise was reached whereby Mishin was put in charge of a team that would continue to study kerolox rockets as a potential fall-back option should the preferred design prove to be unfeasible, but the draft concept of the R-6 missile for presentation to the Council of Ministers would be fueled with storable propellants.

    Despite the time lost to the propellant debates and the leadership shake-up, the R-6 requirements project was completed and a proposal for further development ready for presentation by the end of February 1953. But just as it was due for discussion by the Council of Ministers, Joseph Stalin died. All other government and Party business was put on hold as various factions began the drawn-out and highly dangerous process of choosing a successor to the dead dictator. When the initial dust had settled, Georgy Malenkov was the new Chairman of the Council of Ministers (and so de jure head of the Soviet government), whilst Nikita Khrushchev was elevated to the re-created role of General Secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Committee (head of the Party, and therefore the de facto leader of the nation). Dimtry Ustinov, who had been such an active patron of Soviet rocketry, remained on the Central Committee, and even saw his role in government expanded as the Armaments Ministry and Aviation Ministry were consolidated under him in the Ministry of Defence Industry.

    Following this reorganisation of the Soviet government, a decree was issued in December 1953 authorising the start of development on a slew of rocket programmes, including the R-5, R-11, R-12 and R-6 missiles. At the same time, at Khrushchev’s insistence, it was decided that a new, autonomous rocket development institute should be created in the Ukrainian SSR to ensure that in the event of a nuclear strike on Moscow, the USSR would still retain an effective missile industrial capability at a separate location. Following his success as Director of NII-88, Yangel was quickly chosen to be Chief Designer of the new OKB-586, charged with development of the R-12 MRBM. Development of the Soviet Union’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the R-6, would remain with Sinilshchikov at OKB-1. It would not be an easy job.

    As soon as the end 1953 it was realised that the 3 tonne warhead initially specified for the R-6 (or “Article 8K61” as it was referred to in all official documentation) would be insufficient. The USSR had exploded its first atom bomb in 1949, and it was hoped that this would soon be followed by a thermonuclear “Hydrogen” bomb, but despite these efforts to catch up with the US, Soviet bombs remained for the time being cruder and heavier than their American counterparts. The R-6 would have to deliver a payload of at least 5.5 tonnes to be an effective weapon of war. Fortunately, this change of requirements occurred early enough in the programme that adaptations were manageable, and the basic design of the R-6 was completed in October 1954. The missile was to be a two-stage design, with both stages using Sinilshchikov’s favoured nitric acid/UDMH propellants rather than Gröttrup's kerosene and liquid oxygen. The first stage would be powered by four of Glushko’s twin-chambered RD-215 engines working in parallel, with the second stage using a altitude-optimised engine dubbed RD-221. This combination would be more than capable of delivering the heavy warhead over 8 000 km. It was on the basis of this concept that development of the R-6 was authorised in January 1955. However, there was one more external factor that would significantly affect the R-6 project.

    In 1950, the International Council of Scientific Unions had declared that the period from 1st July 1957 to 31st December 1958 would be designated as the International Geophysical Year. Modelled on the earlier International Polar Years of 1882-83 and 1932-33, the IGY was intended to encourage East-West scientific cooperation in various fields of Earth sciences. Plans proceded throughout the early fifties, propelled by a strange mixture of cooperation and one-upmanship between the two Superpowers, with each side seeing it as an opportunity to demonstrate that they, not their Cold War opponent, were the leading scientific nation of the world. The pinnacle of this competition came in July 1955 when the Eisenhower administration announced plans to launch Earth orbiting satellites during the IGY. Not to be outdone, just a few days later the Soviet government announced that they too would soon launch a satellite. With that announcement, the Space Race was on.
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
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  4. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    HN03/UDMH on a two-stage ICBM then? Reads a lot like the OTL R-16 then.

    IIRC one reason the OTL R-7 became so effective as a Space Launch Vehicle was that it was massively over-designed with all stages fired on the ground (since this made it easier to check the systems/engines prior to launch AFAIK) so while very ill-suited as an ICBM, it was very easy to adapt it into its eventual role to allow a massive early lead with Space Firsts.

    Here though, it's already well suited as a military missile which will make adapting it for Space Launches much more difficult. So at this early stage, they may have a lot of trouble establishing, and then maintaining an apparent lead, but it could force them to revise their tactics and method of work sooner to help them dodge the worst problems they faced from the mid-60's onwards.
  5. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Jul 11, 2007
    Liege Belgium Europe
    yes, yes, yes, More of this ! :cool:
  6. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

    Apr 13, 2007
    Syracuse, Haudenosaunee, Vinland
    1) do you have the Soviets using alcohol longer? I understood they dropped it iotl as fast as possible for fear of soldiers stealing it...

    2) Sinilshchikov is far more prominent ittl? Id never heard of him before.

    3) keep up the good work.
  7. Shevek23 Spherical Cow-poke

    Aug 20, 2010
    Reno, Nevada USA
    I didn't see this new timeline, nixonhead's first, until late last week--subscribed right away of course but I've held off saying anything since most of my speculative questions would be answered in the course of the already-written and expert-reviewed narrative; this makes suggestions from an amateur like me rather superfluous too.:eek:

    Sinilshchikov is obscure all right; I'd certainly never heard of him; I wonder how much our resident experts knew about him before nixonhead turned him up. Recourse to Google search turns up very few references. He has an entry in Encyclopedia Astronautica but it's just a one-liner; one learns a lot more from the entry on the R-101, the Soviet version of the German experimental Wasserfall surface-to-air missile he was charged with developing OTL.

    The best reference I turned up was this volume of Rockets and People, apparently a NASA historical series of volumes on development of Soviet rocketry. Reading in the Google books Preview, I get the impression Chertok saw him as a rather gray, stolid artilleryman. I'd have thought that SAMs would be a top regime priority, at least equal to if not more important than developing long-range ballistic missiles--ICBMs would give them the means of threatening their biggest foes in the future, but the Americans already had the means, via long-range bombers, to threaten the Motherland in 1945 which the Russians would have a very hard time reciprocating, and stopping Western bomber attacks would have seemed of great immediate importance I'd have thought.

    So Sinilshchikov's failure to command the attention of the other teams (notably Chertok himself, I gather from one passage) suggests to me that other teams had bypassed him in their tasks, that other approaches to anti-aircraft missiles progressed faster. That seems to be the gist of Mark Wade's article on R-101 too--eventually Sinilshchikov was replaced and the program moved over to Lavochkin's bureau, under the Air Force.

    nixonhead's account makes it clear that Sinilshchikov does not fall into the same obscurity here, but I suspect the means of that is that he was humble enough to recognize he was outclassed and instead evolved into an administrative coordinator, listening closely to good advice coming from below him and to the side in the chain of command, and thus positioned himself as the point of contact for a more or less coordinated, unified Soviet rocket mafia, integrating the ambitious and idiosyncratic notions of various hotshot designers with the concerns and priorities of the defense apparatchiks.

    This might explain why, if it is the case, the Soviet attempt to replicate and then improve upon the V-2 involved a longer use of alcohol despite the obvious risk of pilfering (and degradation of the workforce)! Sinilshchikov just wasn't driven by his own visions of evolving the rocket into a true spacecraft the way Korolev was OTL, and plodded along until the whole notion of LOX-oxidized rockets was bypassed--at which point he seized on the hypergolic alternative with none of the reluctance Korolev had, and positioned himself at the head of the parade.

    That's how I'm reading it anyway, and it answers one set of questions and suggestions I'd have had.

    I suppose we'll hear more about developments in the USA eventually. I'd also guess these are considerably less butterflied than the Soviet ones, until the Americans are reacting at last to the alternate Soviet course.

    I get the impression that as of 1958, the Soviets are very roughly in the same position as OTL--that is, they are just starting to deploy their first generation of ICBMs. But these are hypergolic from the beginning, with no initial dependence on ker-lox rockets--the hypergolics started development later than the R-7's ancestry did in OTL, but perhaps earlier than hypergolics got the green light in Russia OTL. But with the entire mass of the Soviet missile industry united behind this one line of development, it proceeds faster, so that 1958 is the balance year--after this, for good or ill, that industry and its spin-off astronautical subset will proceed with more focus and speed.

    Thus, as of now, the Americans are somewhat more complacent than OTL, not having been one-upped by Sputnik. I'm guessing, until it is clarified anyway, that US politics are pretty much as OTL up to this point, with Eisenhower as President and Nixon as VP. As I understand Ike's vision and plan for rocketry and space, he was personally confident that US industry was comfortably ahead of Soviet, and in addition we had a strong lead in strategic striking power--he was mainly worried to have some effective means of surveillance of the USSR and was willing to pay high prices to get it. Including offering his "Open Skies" proposal, whereby Soviet scout planes would be free to fly over the USA without restriction provided they extend the same courtesy to ours--in his view, if we could be confident the Soviets were not preparing a surprise attack, we would of course remain at peace thus guaranteeing everyone's security. The Soviets on the other hand, keenly aware of how backward and inadequate their strategic forces were--quite capable of devastating Europe but not of retaliating against American strikes on their homeland with effective strikes of their own against the US, were terrified at what might happen if their vulnerability were exposed.

    Therefore Open Skies was rebuffed, and every effort made to shoot down the spy planes the Americans sent; Eisenhower therefore hoped to develop orbital surveillance in a top-secret program. To cover his future spysats from the risk of getting shot down in turn, he hoped also to establish the principle of free navigation of orbital space and beyond. To do that, he wanted the first satellite, which of course he assumed would be American, to be part of a peaceful scientific program in no way associated with any military mission. Hence his advocacy for Vanguard--a program delegated to Navy execution to be sure, since no civil body capable of carrying out the mission existed, but much ballyhooed as a peaceful scientific enterprise and quite obviously of no threat to anyone--save of course for the implications of being able to orbit an object at all. But Vanguard was a tiny little thing; even translating its low mass to the higher throw-weight of a suborbital missile trajectory would not amount to much of a bomb. Whereas if the Kremlin wanted to worry their intelligence was good enough to know that missiles developed explicitly as weapons systems--Atlas, Titan I, not to mention the supersecret Corona spy sat launchers that they may or may not have known something about--were already capable of serious strikes on the USSR from American bases. So the message Vanguard was meant to send was not so much "Americans can launch stuff" as "space is for peaceful scientific exploration--therefore civilized people don't shoot at satellites."

    All of this is OTL. I don't see that it is any different in the USA yet. Ike's plan regarding Huntsville and von Braun was to keep them on ice until after the Vanguards had established the principle of free passage over Earth territory in the free navigation of orbital space, then and only then was the admittedly capable and valuable German-influenced team, with its unfortunate associations with a Nazi past and its current association with the Army, to be permitted to resume developing actual capabilities in space. This seems to be exactly what happened to von Braun here--Vanguard went up, only then was he permitted to act himself.

    It could be otherwise of course, but the USA would be little affected by Korolev's death up to this point.

    However--going forward, it is possible that despite hobbling themselves with very dangerous propellant formulations that will from time to time lead to terrible setbacks, that Soviet capabilities will be more systematically developed, at a higher pace. Circa 1958 the infamous "missile gap" that would haunt politics in the next few years in the USA would most probably be as per OTL actually in American favor--by 1961 though, perhaps the darker fears of the USAF that they ginned up by cherry-picking evidence and covering ignorance with the worst-case projections might turn out to have become sober fact.:eek:

    So a 1960s that begins with American complacency may not end that way, despite the occasional Soviet disaster of epic proportions.
  8. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Indeed, that is its closest OTL analogy, though not one-to-one.

    A note on the R-7, one of the main reasons all stages were ground-lit IOTL is that Korolev and Glushko weren’t confident they could develop an air-lit kerolox rocket in the time needed. Hence Korloev came up with the idea of lengthening the “second stage” into a “sustainer core” that could be lit at the same time as the “first stage” boosters. ITTL, use of hypergolics means air-lighting is not as serious a problem, so they go for a more normal (to our eyes) stacked approach.

    Of course the R-6 is still erring on the over-engineering side, as it still has the requirement for an oversized warhead.

    We’ll see ;)

    Thanks for the enthusiasm! Rest assured, there’s a lot more to come!

    Whoops! This is actually a mistake in my text!

    In fact it’s kept for the N-series V-1 and the R-1, but they move away from it more or less at the same point as IOTL, mainly for performance reasons. (Though certainly there was a considerable “Angel’s Share” disappearing from the tanks on long, cold nights…) The text above should read “hydrocarbon” rather than “alcohol” - I’ll edit it. Thanks for the catch! :eek:

    Indeed, he is an obscure fish. I’ll expand on him a bit more below…


    All comments are welcome! No space-based TL is complete without at least a few Shevek Super Posts ;) Plus, as shown by both you and Bahamut-255 spotting the alcohol error, it’s always possible things get missed.

    Indeed, this translation of Boris Chertok’s epic biography of Soviet rocketry was my source for him, as well as for a lot of other tidbits (including Isaev’s amusing catchphrase “Blow my brains out!” used in the Teaser). I highly recommend Rockets and People to anyone interested in the development of the Soviet space programme. Chertok is a highly engaging writer, and the translation team at NASA seem to have done a top-notch job, plus the book is free to download.

    Sinilshchikov was apparently Ustinov’s second choice to lead NII-88 after Korolev, but IOTL instead went on to direct the ground-to-air missile development effort. Chertok states his opinion that Sinilshchikov would have been “a disaster” in Korolev’s role, but doesn’t really expand on why. Here I’ve assumed that he is a competent technical manager and engineer, but lacking Korolev’s legendary people management skills, passion for space exploration, and touches of genius - in other words, Sinilshchikov is human! As we’ve already seen, one of the more visible effects of this is he focuses much more tightly on the military (especially Army) needs, not worrying about whether he can then use the rockets for space. As you’ve deduced, he’s also more likely to listen to advice from others, in particular Gröttrup and Yangel. Another less visible effect is he doesn’t manage to pull in and keep the same level of top experts that Korolev was able to (in fact IOTL Korolev poached several guidance experts from Sinilshchikov’s team).

    If anyone can point me towards more details on Sinilshchikov I would be very interested to read them - though with Part I already drafted I hope it won’t push me into major revisions! Similarly, any more photos would be great, as putting his name into Google Images for some reason returns lots of pictures of Russian Ladies Looking for Love...

    IOTL hypergolics ran about 3 years behind kerolox for ICBMs (basically Yangel’s R-16 in 1960 vs R-7 in 1957), but IOTL and ITTL they had been used for some time in ground-to-air and naval missiles, including OTL Sinilshchikov’s R-101, so they’re not a completely unknown quantity. And not to forget, von Braun was looking into large scale storables as far back as the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. The part of the Post describing Yangel’s view in the early ‘50s is taken pretty much directly from OTL, with the difference ITTL being he has a more receptive audience in Sinilshchikov.

    At the point where Post#2 ends (the July 1955 IGY satellite announcements), the Soviet ICBM programme is running around 9 months behind OTL.

    We’ll be taking a look at what the Americans are up to next week, so I won’t go into details here. Suffice to say that Soviet secrecy does indeed make a pretty effective “Butterfly net” in the early years.

    Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting! This Post was originally in two parts, but as much of the detail is relatively similar to OTL I decided to merge and edit them down into one post, so we can more quickly get to the really fun stuff ;)
  9. Unknown Member

    Jan 31, 2004
    Corpus Christi, TX
    Take this to today and focus on pop culture, if possible...
  10. Historyman 14 Well-Known Member

    Sep 27, 2013
    In the Land of the Ancients.
    Yes. If the Space Race is set back by a few years, it will have big effects on pop culture.
  11. Brainbin Kingpin of the Cultural Cartel

    Jul 26, 2009
    The British Empire
    Bah! Who wants to read a timeline that focuses on pop culture? ;)

    But in all seriousness...

    Let's just say I'm not being retained for my bookkeeping skills :p
  12. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Thanks for reading, Unknown and Historyman14! Although the focus of this TL is definitely more in the technical side, there will be the odd Post sticking its head up and looking around at the wider world, including popular culture (though I’ll be honest, not so much in Part I as I’m planning for Part II). You’re certainly correct that the timing and manner in which the Space Race develops will have a wider impact than just which rockets are used or when particular spacecraft get developed, and I hope to reflect that.

    As to the duration of the TL, right now I’m planning in 10-Post blocks (Parts), so I don’t have a clear, fixed end date for this TL. If you guys keep reading, I guess I’ll keep writing!

    Very true, it’s also to make sure I have a fellow Subject of HM to back me up when I insist on spelling “colour” with a “u” :p
  13. Threadmarks: Part I Post #3: Race to Orbit

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Today is Sunday, so that must mean it's time for...


    Part I Post #3: Race to Orbit

    Following President Eisenhower’s July 1955 announcement of US intentions to launch a satellite into orbit, the Department of Defense moved quickly to determine how best to meet the challenge. Within two months of the President’s announcement, the United States' Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Special Capabilities was established under the chaimanship of Homer J. Stewart. The objective of the Stewart Committee was to assess the feasibility of a satellite launch, review existing missile projects and recommend the best way forward in meeting the 1958 deadline. The options before the Committee for a launch vehicle were split between the Army, Navy and Air Force.

    The US Army had been investigating ballistic missiles since 1943, and had the advantage of being the custodians of von Braun’s team of V-2 experts from Project Paperclip. Their Redstone missile (previously known as “Hermes”) had made it’s first successful test flight in January 1954, reaching a maximum height of 90 km. The Redstone was designed to carry a 3.5 tonne payload over 320 km, but assessments of its potential to orbit satellites had already been started, with von Braun proposing in 1954 to augment the basic Redstone with a clustered solid rocket upper stage.

    The Air Force had the most powerful option on the table. Since inheriting jurisdiction over the development of rockets with a range of over 1 600 km from their forerunner, the Army Air Corps, in 1947, the Air Force had been working on a range of ballistic and cruise missiles with intercontinental range. In January 1951 they had started Project Atlas to develop a missile able to deliver over 3 600 kg of payload across 9 000 km. Building on the earlier MX-774 project, Atlas raised the possibility of orbiting almost a tonne of payload. However, despite this alluring promise, in 1955 Atlas had yet to fly, with a contractor not even confirmed.

    The Navy option was Viking. This was a sounding rocket in use with the Naval Research Laboratory since 1949. Whilst not itself capable of reaching orbit, the addition of an upper stage based on Aerobee-HI sounding rocket would enable the launch of a small payload on the order of 20 kg. An additional consideration was that, being based on scientific sounding rockets rather than nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the Viking-Aerobee combination would appear more ‘civilian’ than its Army or Air Force alternatives, and so more in keeping with the peaceful aims of the International Geophysical Year.

    In the end, the Stewart Committee recommended a two-phased programme. The first phase would place a small, very simple satellite into orbit in time to meet the 1958 IGY deadline. By a margin of 5-2, the Committee recommended the Viking-Aerobee option over the Redstone as the launcher for this first satellite. The follow up Phase II would direct the Air Force to develop the Atlas ICBM into a heavy launcher and orbit a more capable scientific satellite at a later date. This recommendation was accepted, and selection of the NRL’s Viking-Aerobee rocket, now called “Vanguard”, was confirmed in August 1955.

    On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Eisenhower’s challenge was being met with the R-6 ICBM. By February 1956, Sinilshchikov had frozen the design and component fabrication was started, but the launcher still needed a payload.

    OKB-1 had been conducting studies into potential satellites for a number of years, partly with the aim of further justifying their expenditure by providing new military capabilities to their patron, Ustinov. A prime candidate mission identified was reconnaissance. Unlike the US with their U-2 aircraft, which Soviet agents were informed had taken its first flight in August 1955, the Soviets had no corresponding system that would be capable of providing overhead imagery of the US. Sinilshchikov proposed to provide this capability from orbit, far beyond the reach of any anti-aircraft missile system. Around the same time the R-6 design was being finalised, OKB-1 gained approval to begin studying a reconnaissance satellite system, code-named Sammit (“Summit”), in collaboration with Special Design Bureau 385 (SKB-385). This would be a 1.5 tonne satellite that would operate from a low polar orbit, taking photos that would be returned in a small re-entry capsule a few days after launch. Although some within SKB-385 had attempted to leverage Sammit into a system that could also form the basis of a manned spacecraft, Sinilshchikov acted decisively to keep the team focussed on the military mission, and so the preliminary design for the satellite was completed by April 1956.

    However, it was immediately realised that Sammit would not be a suitable payload for the IGY satellite, not least because the Soviet military would not want to publicise that they possessed such a capability. It was therefore decided that SKB-385, in cooperation with the USSR Academy of Sciences, would build an appropriately scientific satellite for the mission. Dubbed the ISZ (the Russian acronym for “Artificial Earth Satellite”), code-named “Object D”, this would be a 1 tonne physics laboratory in space. Intended to investigate upper atmospheric conditions and the near-Earth radiation environment, Object D would directly contribute to the scientific objectives of the International Geophysical Year. The preliminary design was completed in July 1956 and formal approval for the ISZ/R-6 combination for the IGY was granted in a decree the following September.

    In contrast to the heavy Object D, the Americans’ planned Vanguard satellite was to weigh less than 1.5 kg. In line with the Stewart Commission’s recommendations, Vanguard-1 was to be a proof-of-concept vehicle, little more than a radio transmitter. Despite this lack of instrumentation, it was expected that careful monitoring of the position and frequency shifts in the carrier signal would yield valuable data on the density and electromagnetic properties of the upper atmosphere. The satellite would also test the use of photovoltaic solar cells for use on spacecraft. If successful, this technology would mean future missions would not be limited by the endurance of their electrical power sources. In April 1957 a prototype of the Vanguard satellite was tested on a suborbital sounding rocket. Launched from the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex in Florida, the payload reached a maximum altitude of 195 km and successfully met all of its test objectives. The Navy Research Lab team were delighted, and they pushed ahead with plans for a second suborbital test later in the year.

    By October 1957, the fourth month of the International Geophysical Year, the NRL had established a world-wide network of tracking stations to monitor their orbiter as it circled the globe, but the Vanguard launcher was still experiencing technical difficulties. Although none of the problems were considered critical, the decision was nevertheless made to try to iron out all the bugs before proceeding with a launch. The second launch finally took place in early December. This was a test of the Viking first stage with dummy second and third stages, intended to verify the first stage performance and aerodynamic characteristics of the stack. This test was also a complete success. For many of the Navy men the success was especially sweet coming in the same month that the Air Force’s first Atlas launch failed, causing a proliferation of “Fly Navy!” posters to appear around the Cape. As 1957 came to a close, confidence was high that the third Vanguard would soon reach orbit.

    Confidence was not so high in Moscow. As the Americans were celebrating their first Vanguard launch, the Soviets were still working on ground tests. Intelligence reports kept them well informed of US progress on the Vanguard and (more ominously) Atlas and Titan missiles, and OKB-1 was put under increasing pressure to speed up the R-6 development.

    One of the loudest voices criticising Sinilshchikov’s slow progress was that of Vladimir Chelomei. Having pioneered the development of cruise missiles for the Soviet Navy, Chelomei had ambitions to move into the more exciting field of space technology, and was developing concepts for an entire infrastructure of launch vehicles and manned and unmanned spacecraft building on his experience with encapsulated, storable cruise missiles. As the delays in getting the R-6 to the launch pad increased, Chelomei began to actively lobby to take over the project from Sinilshchikov, including making strong efforts to cultivate a relationship with Khrushchev. But as long as Minister of Defence Industries Dimitri Ustinov continued to support Sinilshchikov, Chelomei’s efforts were in vain.

    Ustinov’s support was severely tested in October 1957, when a wiring fault in the first prototype R-6 Blok-A caused one of the oxidiser tanks to explode during ground handling tests at Tyuratam. Seventeen technicians who had been working on the rocket were killed immediately, but the toxic cloud of vapour that resulted when the UDMH and nitric acid propellants dispersed would claim ten more lives, including that of the Range Test Director. The test stand was left highly contaminated and could not be approached without chemical protection gear until late November when rain washed away most of the residuals.

    Mishin immediately pointed to Sinilshchikov’s decision to use storable but toxic propellants as the cause of the deaths, calling once again for the use of “clean” kerosene and liquid oxygen for launch vehicles, as in the American Atlas. Conversely, Sinilshchikov, Yangel and Glushko all maintained their assertion that the advantages of storable propellants, if treated with the appropriate care, outweighed the risks. Although unwilling to change horses mid-stream in defiance of the balance of opinion of the Chief Designers, Ustinov was concerned enough by the incident that he pushed for Mishin’s development team to be set up with their own facilities to develop designs for alternative ballistic missiles using kerolox propellants. Glad to be rid of a troublemaker, Sinilshchikov agreed, and so in December 1957 Mishin and his team were transferred to SKB-385 in Miass, which was redesignated OKB-385 and given responsibility for small rocket stage designs in addition to its existing satellite development role. Meanwhile OKB-1 continued to work to get the R-6 ready for launch before the end of the IGY, now just twelve months away.

    Despite the flawless start to the Vanguard programme, the Americans did not have things go all their way as 1958 dawned. February saw the NRL ready to test their full Vanguard rocket with all stages live for the first time, but the rocket veered wildly off course just 33 seconds into the flight and had to be destroyed by the range safety officer. The cause was quickly traced to the guidance system and a fix devised.

    The next launch attempt in April was more successful, with both the first and second stages performing flawlessly. However, when the third stage was lit, it quickly diverged from its course and rather than giving the payload a final push into orbit, the rocket plunged back into the atmosphere. The problem this time was a bad separation from the second stage, which had damaged the third stage nozzle and given it a tumbling spin from which it couldn’t recover. Considering the earlier ragging they’d suffered from their Navy colleagues, the Air Force personnel at Cape Canaveral showed no mercy in teasing the Vanguard team, especially after the successful launch (at the third attempt) of their Atlas ICBM in May.

    In Huntsville, von Braun and his Army missile team loudly told anyone who would listen that they had a Redstone rocket standing by that could perform the Vanguard mission if they were just given the word. Despite their lobbying, Eisenhower kept faith with the NRL, and the Army team could only look on in frustration as the Navy continued to fumble their way towards the Space Age.

    At Tyuratam, aware of the reports from America, Sinilshchikov watched the roll-out of the first flight model R-6. If everything went to plan, the Soviets still had a chance to beat their rivals to orbit.

    The first R-6 missile is made ready at Tyuratam.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
    Dlg123 and pattontank12 like this.
  14. SAVORYapple Resident Taiwanese Guy

    Sep 2, 2011
    Very good update.

    I have a feeling that Kazakhstan will be far more polluted ITTL, if the soviets are exclusively using hypergolics for their launch vehicles.
  15. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Jul 28, 2010
    So already the dangers associated with hypergolic propellant mixtures is brought home to them. If not on the same scale as OTL's Nedelin Disaster.

    And Von Braun is really shunted off to the side here, which will certainly have major knock-on effects in the years to come.
  16. Astronomo2010 Well-Known Member

    Jan 3, 2010
    very good new chapter/update
  17. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    I am enjoying your writing nixonshead. And I take it that the R-6 is less capable than the R-7 was at this same point in time?

  18. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Apr 1, 2013
    Thanks! Well, they are going to be getting a lot more hypergolic space launches earlier on than IOTL, but don’t forget that even IOTL Baikonur was being used for R-16 and other missile tests, including the infamous Nedelin Catastrophe, so the Kazakh steppe gets a nasty dose in either TL. The Soviets never seemed to worry too much about pollution when vital national industries (or any industry) was concerned.

    Yep, and just as IOTL they’re not going to let a few deaths change the path they’ve chosen. On the up side, this early incident will make them a lot more careful around hypergolics in the future, so Nedelin and around a hundred other people are almost certainly going to live longer ITTL.

    Yes, and trust me, he is not happy about the situation! Still, it’s probably not worth counting him out of the game just yet - von Braun is a pretty canny political survivor and incredibly driven.

    Thank-you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! It includes the first image of hardware unique to this TL, but not the last ;)

    Thanks fasquardon! In fact the R-6 ends up on paper as a slightly better performer than the R-7. Both started with the same basic requirement (although the 5.5t warhead requirement came in earlier in the design process for R-6, whereas the R-7 design needed some re-work to accommodate it), so they come out with a similar performance. Plus of course the R-6 has superior launch readiness due to the use of storable propellants. So overall the Red Army should be getting a better weapon - though they're having to wait longer for it.

    Thanks again to everyone reading! Just a quick admin note, I'm travelling this weekend so whilst I will try to keep to my schedule it's possible the next update will be a little late. Hopefully it will be worth the wait as we stand on the threshold of the Space Age :)
  19. Shadow Knight Grand Master of the BAM Order

    Aug 2, 2005
    On a BAM called Earth
    Great work nixonshead. I'm enjoying it thoroughly.

    In regards to von Braun. If this sidelining has made him driven how much will that push him to do even more than what he accomplished in OTL?
  20. Unknown Member

    Jan 31, 2004
    Corpus Christi, TX
    Good update.

    Waiting for more!!!