Kolyma's Shadow: An Alternate Space Race

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

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  1. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    I misremembered
    So there WOULD be English, but also Russian and French. Maybe he just tuned out the French...
     
  2. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    Halfway to Anywhere
    It's worth elaborating a bit on this to note that Minerva B24C actually manages about 11.7 metric tons through TLI, meaning there's about just shy of a ton of performance margin in the LV. This is attributable to the Minerva B upgrades and Columbia proceeding at roughly the same time, and Columbia thus being based on slightly more conservative performance improvements than Marshall is eventually able to eke out--something that AIUI happened with Apollo/Saturn IOTL.

    This opens up some interesting potentials for a Columbia Block II, given the mass margin and the (compared to Gemini or even Soyuz) relatively spacious 9.5 foot diameter, but I fear we'll just be in suspense of what NACAA and Nixonshead have in store. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  3. nixonshead Well-Known Member

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    I've updated the post to include French - thanks for the catch!
     
  4. su_liam Incompetent planetary engineer

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    I assume you meant, "braking burn," though,"breaking," and,"burning," do seem appropriate.
     
  5. nixonshead Well-Known Member

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    Dammit, I managed to brake English! ;)

    I've now added Columbia to the Wiki, including the following image. It's still missing a few details (instrumentation on the nose, HGA to name but two), but gives a good impression of the overall design.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. Michel Van Well-Known Member

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    Liege Belgium Europe
    Columbia look so cute :D

    off course without need to bring a Lunar lander to Moon Orbit
    it much smaller toward Gemini spacecraft (not build in this TL)

    instrumentation on the nose sounds, like Lunar orbiter Gemini proposal
    Here the Gemini carry instrument and cameras optical in nose of Gemini
    while the rest of camera film canister is installed in cockpit, making it really claustrophobic for Astronauts.

    [​IMG]
     
  7. nixonshead Well-Known Member

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    Apr 1, 2013
    e of pi helped enormously with the design for Columbia, including the shape of the re-entry capsule and its internal volumes, as well as checking and refining my mass budget. We were both quite pleased with the resulting mix of Gemini and Apollo that emerged.

    Columbia nearly ended up looking much more similar to Gemini, as I considered using a modification of the Dynasoar style Mission Module (which itself was based on OTL Gemini's Service Module), but in the end decided for the simpler, sleeker cylindrical version.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Part IV Post#3: America Decides

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2013
    After achieving President Muskie's goal of sending a man around the Moon, what's next for the US space programme? Let's find out in...



    [​IMG]

    Part IV Post#3: America Decides

    In 1976 the United States presented the appearance of having two, parallel manned space programmes. The reality was closer to one-and-a-half, given the significant role of the Air Force in supporting NACAA’s Columbia flights (not least her astronauts and ground support infrastructure), but the public perception was of one Civilian and one Military space programme.

    The civilian NACAA was nominally responsible for the Columbia circumlunar project, and by 1976 was already proposing options to build upon the initial achievements with an expansive “Columbia Applications Program”. The CAP was instigated by Edgar Cortright shortly after his appointment as NACAA Chairman in 1973, as a means of ensuring the large amounts of funding being allocated for Columbia didn’t evaporate as soon as Muskie’s target was met. When the first draft report landed on Cortright’s desk in the summer of 1975, it consisted of a veritable Christmas list of programmes that would see the Columbia capsule form the basis of a large space-based manned infrastructure.

    The central proposal was, of course, the development of a lunar landing capability to enable Columbia to complete the “final mile” to the lunar surface, now so tantalisingly close. As with von Braun and Faget’s earlier studies, the engineers’ initial preference was for development of a new super-heavy booster to loft a single-short, direct lunar landing vehicle to the surface of the Moon. However, they were well aware of the problems encountered by earlier Direct Ascent studies, and so instead proposed a two-launch approach, based around the existing Minerva B, using a separately launched Descent/Ascent module with which the Columbia Command and Service Module would rendezvous in lunar orbit. The astronauts would dock and transfer across, leaving Columbia unoccupied as they travelled to the surface. This mission mode obviously carried some extra risk, relying as it did upon two separate docking manoeuvres and the ability of Columbia to operate in an unmanned mode, but it would be possible without the need to develop a large new rocket. As such, those funds saved could be ploughed into the rest of the CAP options. These included a “ferry” version of Columbia for use with a series of Starlab-like NACAA Earth orbit and lunar orbit space stations, and an Earth-Moon Lagrange-point modular space station that would act as a gateway to further lunar and interplanetary missions.

    Meanwhile, following the post-Rhene return to flight with DS-23 in August 1974, the USAF continued to fly two-to-three Dynasoar missions per year, including DEL missions. The Starlab space station remained in orbit, but the DS-24/Starlab-3 mission of April 1975 found a station plagued by minor breakdowns and suffering an unfortunate outbreak of mould growing on the walls. Although engineers on the ground were delighted with the data obtained on the long-term performance (or not) of their systems and materials, Lee Gentry’s crew found the experience grueling, and following the recommendations of the Flight Surgeon at Vandenberg they ended the mission early, after just four days on-orbit. Using propellant transferred from Athena during the mission, the station was reboosted the following week to prolong its orbital life, but soon afterwards the Air Force declared Starlab officially retired from active service.

    Following Starlab’s retirement, there was naturally much speculation over a successor station, but in truth few within the service, right up to the Secretary of the Air Force, saw a pressing need. Starlab had demonstrated no key benefit to a manned station, and 90% of any missions that might be of interest could be met far more flexibly by individual DEL or Dynasoar Mk.I flights. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), with support from NACAA, continued to push for a replacement to advance understanding of the physiological effects of long-term spaceflight, as well as investigations of in-space manufacturing and perhaps the use of a manned base to support satellite repair and maintenance, but theirs was a quiet voice in a vacuum of indifference. Air Force Space Command as a whole had a far more urgent matter to resolve.

    That urgent matter was the Shuttlecraft. Even as Boeing were assembling the Mk.I glider Tara to replace Rhene, the Air Force were looking into a successor system for their pioneering spaceplanes. Following the experience gained with Dynasoar, Space Command placed the emphasis for the new Shuttlecraft upon short preparation times, reduced ground support requirements and rapid turnaround. In comparison to its predecessor, much less weight was placed upon cross-range capability, a key design driver for Dynasoar that in practice had never been needed. A crew of at least two was considered desirable, but perhaps the most important requirement was an expansion of down-mass capability. The Air Force had found the Dynasoar Mk.I’s cargo bay to be extremely useful in allowing flexible payload deployment and return, but it was too small for many of the missions they wished to fly. Alternatively, the Dynasoar Experimental Lab attached to the Mk.II gave more room and capabilities, but didn’t permit the return of expensive equipment for re-use. What they wanted was to find the happy medium, a craft with a payload bay sized between the Mk.I and DEL, but which could return its entire cargo to Earth.

    Beyond those directly operating and maintaining the Air Force space programme, there was a wider concern that this payload range would not be large enough. Within both the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, there were forces pushing for the Shuttlecraft to be not just an operational recon asset, but a multi-user “space truck”, providing an alternative to the expensive, disposable Minerva with a reusable launcher capable of carrying all critical national security payloads. This group was less concerned with the down-mass capability than in maximising the up-mass whilst minimising costs, and garnered considerable support from those both within the Air Force and Congress who considered America’s reliance upon Minerva as its sole heavy space launcher to be a worrying concentration of eggs in a single basket. To meet this aim, this “Spacelift Faction” wanted the Shuttlecraft to carry not the 2-3 tonnes envisaged by the “Operational Faction”, but closer to the 20 tonnes currently provided by Minerva-B22, which would replace the concepts for a new expendable launcher that were also being considered at the time. This fundamental split over the basic role of the Shuttlecraft led to wildly diverging concepts being put forward when study contracts were awarded to industry in 1974.

    By 1976, as the detailed analysis within the Air Force continued, it was becoming clear that the Operations Faction was gradually winning out for one key reason: cost. The benefits of the giant two-stage Space Truck concept being pushed by the Spacelift Faction, best represented by North American’s proposal, relied upon amortising the development and maintenance costs over a large number of missions. However, the size and complexity of the proposed concepts inevitably drove these costs up, to the point where flight rates would have to be on the order of once per week to be competitive. Efforts to downplay the number of man-hours that would be needed between missions were greeted with a sceptical eye following the experience with Dynasoar, whose maintenance costs were three or four times what had been anticipated before going operational. The development costs were also questioned, especially for key components such as the all-new ceramic heat shield technology that would have to be developed, the Truck being far too massive to allow for use of a metallic shield as on Dynasoar. The large, reusable hydrogen-oxygen engines needed to power both stages were also considered high-risk, well beyond the current state-of-the-art. The Spacelift Faction tried to make a virtue of this, promoting their design as a way of encouraging the development of new technologies, but it was an uphill battle. This was especially true given the promising results of the “Future Expendable Launch Vehicle” studies that the Air Force had been pursuing in parallel, which gave a number of options for an expendable heavy-lift solution which could be developed far more cheaply than the Shuttlecraft, although with higher projected operating costs.

    By comparison, the alternative “Dynasoar-Plus” architecture exemplified by Boeing’s proposal, was far more of an evolutionary development. Under this concept, a winged orbiter, about 20% larger than Dynasoar, would be launched from the back of a carrier aircraft. The carrier could be an all-new plane, or perhaps a modification of a commercial aircraft such as the 747 jetliner that had entered service a few years earlier. The orbiter would take its propellant from a simple, disposable drop-tank, partially sacrificing the concept of reusability in favour of simplifying the overall design. This sacrifice meant the orbiter would be small and light enough to make use of a metallic “hot skin” thermal protection system based on a modest improvement upon that used on Dynasoar. With the large cross-range requirement deleted, it could also make use of far simpler, straight-edge wings rather than deltas - an option unavailable to the Space Truck due to the thermal loads its greater mass would impose. Costs would be lower than for Dynasoar even without an increased sortie rate or improved maintainability simply due to the substitution of the expensive Minerva booster with a relatively conventional carrier aircraft-plus-droptank.

    [​IMG]

    A marketing illustration of Boeing’s “Dynasoar-Plus” proposal for a future air-launched Shuttlecraft.

    Both the Air Force and NACAA plans for the future were of course contingent upon support from the government, which following the 1974 mid-term elections that had returned a Republican majority to both the House and Senate, was far less easily swayed by the recommendations of the incumbent Democratic administration. Columbia in particular was widely viewed within Congress as an expensive vanity-project, despite NACAA’s efforts to promote the idea of a “trickle-down” of technologies from Columbia into the civilian economy. With the economy contracting and inflation picking up, in the FY-76 budget Congress restricted funding for active development of any aspects of the Columbia Applications Program, and completely blocked the acquisition of additional Columbia spacecraft beyond the initial batch of ten already on order from Lockheed.

    In this environment, the March 1976 launch of Sapfir-2 was a godsend for NACAA. After a widespread perception that the US was way out in front in the Moon Race - perhaps the only area in which the US wasn’t in relative decline - the Soviet mission came as a splash of cold water in the face for many. Although it quickly became apparent that the Soviet fly-by was a less capable copy of the Columbia lunar orbit mission profile, it nevertheless panicked Congress into action. For the FY-77 budget, passed in late June 1976, Congress not only approved Muskie’s proposed allocations for NACAA to define a lunar landing architecture that could be implemented by 1981, but also authorised additional funding to start long-lead item procurement for an extra five Columbia capsules - a complete U-turn on their position from the previous year.

    In contrast, the Air Force still faced a slight squeeze, although not as severe as that NACAA had faced in 1975, given the still chilly relations with Moscow and the Defense Department’s greater skill at budgetary shell-games. However, they were unable to gain a go-ahead for either of their Shuttlecraft concepts. Both the House and Senate Armed Service Committees indicated a willingness to plan for some kind of future replacement for Dynasoar, but were unhappy at the Air Force’s continued indecision over the basic requirements of such a system. Members of Congress were themselves split over their preferred option, with the result that no decision was taken before the 1976 elections.

    Those elections were to dominate the second half of 1976. After a fractious primary campaign, the Democrats had selected Robert Kennedy as their candidate, with Mo Udall as his running mate. The brother of the failed 1960 presidential candidate and former Ambassador to Eire John Kennedy, “Bobby” had served as Secretary of State during Muskie’s first term as part of a quid-pro-quo for standing aside in the 1968 presidential race. Despite this link, he was seen as the candidate to provide a clean break with the incumbent administration, as his primary opponent was Muskie’s serving Vice President, George McGovern.

    Kennedy’s Republican opponent was the Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, who was finally selected at this, his fourth attempt, having previously put himself forward in 1960, 1968 and 1972. Seen as a uniting figure who could swing undecided moderate voters away from the Democrats, Rockefeller and his VP candidate, Daniel J. Evans, projected the image of a no-nonsense, experienced choice to re-build America. Given the unpopularity of Muskie and the Democrats, the Republicans expected a relatively easy win, and didn’t want to spook the centre-ground with a more radical candidate.

    As things transpired, the race was a lot closer than many had predicted, with the choice between two northeastern moderate candidates turning a lot of people off. Both men were charismatic, and both were able to deploy considerable personal and family resources to their campaigns. Both were also dogged by some sections of the press with allegations of infidelity, but neither side chose to use this as a weapon against the other, and the stories soon faded into the background. Despite predictions to the contrary, the bicentennial celebrations, including Albert Crews’ and John Kaminski’s successful Columbia-7 mission in September, had very little impact on the campaign. Kennedy was keen to distance himself in the public mind from the incumbent administration, and his decision appeared increasingly wise as the year progressed and “Bicentenary Fatigue” became a growing phenomenon.

    In the end, the voters decided narrowly in favour of Rockefeller’s executive experience over Kennedy’s youth and international standing. At just 51.2%, the voter turnout was the lowest for a presidential election since 1948, partly reflecting the apathy many felt at the lack of choice on offer. Rockefeller and Kennedy were virtually neck-a-neck in the popular vote, securing 48.9% and 48.4% respectively, but the electoral college system translated this into a 285-236 victory for Rockefeller, with Alabama and South Carolina returning votes for the American Independent party. The Democrats did receive a consolation prize by regaining control of the Senate, but it was Nelson Rockefeller who was inaugurated as America’s 37th President on 20th January 1977.

    [​IMG]


    As a follow-up to the first Soviet circumlunar mission failed to materialise, and with Columbia-7’s successful mission of September 1976 under their belt, the political momentum for an expansion of the NACAA programme faltered. During the preparation of Rockefeller’s first budget proposal, Chairman Cortright was told to pick from his grand cis-lunar architecture one manned spaceflight option to focus on, or face the prospect of losing all funding for Columbia. Cortright quickly concluded that the lunar landing goal was too long-term, requiring too much development before showing results, to be able to sustain support in Congress.

    Cortright did seriously consider a DEL-sized lunar orbit space station, but there were growing concerns over the potential risks of solar radiation in lunar space. 1976 had been a solar minimum year, but as the projected maximum in 1982 got closer, so the odds of a high-intensity solar radiation event during a Columbia mission increased. A lunar station mission lasting several weeks would present a correspondingly larger target, and the prospect of losing a crew to a solar flare was too awful to contemplate. NACAA therefore recommended that their focus for the next few years should be in Earth orbit, using Columbia spacecraft to support a series of civilian space stations that would develop the science and operations skills, as well as preserving the hardware capability, that would be needed for the “horizon goal” of landing a man on the Moon. The Columbia-8, 9 and 10 circumlunar missions already planned would be carried out over the next two years, whilst the five new-build capsules on-order would be adapted for Earth orbital use with a new Starlab-style space station, to be launched by 1979.

    This proposal is what appeared in Rockefeller’s budget proposal in Spring 1977, but it immediately came under fire from all sides. Those in Congress who saw the need to expand NACAA’s space activities (led by representatives from Virginia, NACAA’s home state, and Missouri, where McDonnell built the capsules) found the Earth orbit proposals too timid, a step backwards on the road to the lunar surface. On the other side, those who had long opposed Columbia for its association with Muskie, or those who simply felt that manned spaceflight was none of NACAA’s business, were able to point to a duplication of the Air Force’s existing capabilities. The Air Force themselves supported this view, wishing to return manned spaceflight to their exclusive control, even as they internally debated whether manned spaceflight was militarily useful at all.

    The end result was a typical political compromise. Columbia would continue to be funded through to Columbia-10, but the contracts for new capsules would be frozen and the remaining funds switched to a Phase-A study on the best, most affordable option for a lunar surface mission (with McDonnell heavily tipped to benefit from these study contracts). At the same time, appropriations were made for the development of the Air Force’s air-launched Shuttlecraft as a replacement for Dynasoar. With the Soviets apparently unable to keep up, there seemed no reason to rush towards a lunar landing. Even at this reduced pace, a manned lunar landing was surely no more than a decade away.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
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  9. Roger Redux The Revisionist

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    Interesting, the DynaSoar's successor looks like they're leaning in more of a manned X-37 direction. After all the talk about lifting bodies, I'd have thought they'd go in more of an upscaled X-24B/X-24C direction.

    Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that the Soviets are going to land on the moon first? :confused:

    So that's twice a Kennedy has run for President and lost. I did not see that coming.

    You sure know how to leave us on the edge waiting for next week, and the update's only 3hrs old! :D :p
     
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  10. TheBatafour Complete Anarchy

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2012
    Another exciting update! With this post-lunar planning, this week has a bit of an ETS-taste to it, I like it! But seriously, who would even think such a 'space truck' would ever work? You clearly showed its flaws:p

    So, the Air Force is getting itself a Dynasoar Plus. Excellent! With experience in both the fields of spaceplanes and capsules, I think the people of TTL (including the alternate historians of course) might come to doubt these decisions less. They will still lament the low funding to NACAA of course, but I don't think they'll be longing for TTL's Space Shuttle as much as we in OTL are for something a tad more 'Eyes Turned Skywards'.

    As always, you truly manage to show us An Alternate Space Race. Rock on Nixonshead!
     
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  11. Michel Van Well-Known Member

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    Liege Belgium Europe
    intriguing update,

    USAF goes Analog to "Air-Launched Sortie Vehicle" 5 year earlier.
    While NACAA is send again on waiting room with there Lunar Plans for next 5 years.

    by the Way, What do the Europans Space Flight ?
     
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  12. Archibald space jockey ! Banned

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    Jan 22, 2008
    wow, very interesting. Slower race to the Moon than OTL, but a larger role for manned systems. I like it.
     
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  13. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

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    Jul 28, 2010
    Clearly lot of issues surrounding the question of 'what next?' with regards to where do they go.

    And it seems that Columbia may enter a period of 'Deep-Sleep' until they're ready to use it again in BEO operations, seeing as Dynasoar-Plus appears to already be entering the initial phases of actual hardware-building to get it up and running. Which is exactly what the USSR needs if they want to catch up to the US in this respect.

    But with Michel, I'm also wondering what the Status of the European Space Efforts is at this time, and how they got there, and what plans they might have.
     
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  14. nixonshead Well-Known Member

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    Apr 1, 2013
    As the world’s only operational military spaceplane (since the end of USAF Shuttle missions), X-37 was in the back of my mind when considering the types of mission that Dynasoar (and the future Shuttlecraft) might practically carry out ITTL. Of course, neither has the duration on orbit of the unmanned X-37, but on the other hand a crew allows for some spacecraft servicing missions not (currently) possible with X-37.

    Regarding lifting bodies, there has been work on them, but the practical experience with Dynasoar (and the likely limited budget) is tilting the discussion towards a more traditional airframe. However, the illustration this week is just for an initial concept proposal - things could change during development…

    Soviet plans will be discussed in our next update, so stay tuned :)

    Back in Part-III I was very close to having Bobby win in 1968 and make a Moon declaration, but in the end dropped him because a) ITTL he didn’t have enough political experience to be credible (note: I was writing before Trump declared…), and b)... well, it just would have been a bit too cute to have a Kennedy issue a Moon challenge ;)

    A positive comparison to ETS is high praise indeed - thanks! It helps having one of the authors advising me :)

    I figured there’d be pressure ITTL as IOTL for a big, new fully reusable space shuttle development, but with more practical experiences in the benefits and costs of reusable spaceplanes, and without an Apollo-bloated NASA pushing it (NACAA has expanded under Columbia, but to nowhere near the same extent as OTL’s NASA with Apollo), it doesn’t win over enough supporters. Also, as hinted, the Air Force is looking at other options for its spacelift needs, which will be explored more in future posts. They don’t want to give up their manned spaceflight role (and in fact want to re-gain a full monopoly from NACAA because… well, Empire building!), but don’t feel the need for anything too far beyond their current Dynasoar capabilities.

    That’s pretty close to the mark :)


    We’ll be taking a look at Europe’s progress - particularly ESLA’s Theseus rocket - in a later update.

    Well, a larger military role, certainly!


    Columbia missions are still ongoing - they’re budgeted up to Columbia-10. The Shuttlecraft programme has been formally kicked-off in 1977, so they’re still several years away from bending metal, and as noted above, the detailed design is still open to discussion.

    On the Soviet side… make sure to check in next week ;)
     
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  15. Threadmarks: Part IV Post#4: Restructuring

    nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2013
    It was pointed out to me this week that Kolyma’s Shadow has now moved into the #2 spot for a space-themed timeline on this site in terms of number of views and number of replies. Thanks to everyone reading and commenting! Only around 2 800 more replies and 740 000 views to go to catch up with Eyes Turned Skyward ;)

    With that aim in mind, let’s continue with...

    [​IMG]

    Part IV Post#4: Restructuring

    The Sapfir-2 mission had done much to boost the image of the Soviet Union as maintaining its parity with the US in technology, an impression that the general malaise in American politics and the stagnation of the US economy helped to reinforce. However, those within the leadership structure of the USSR were only too aware that this was in fact a fragile illusion. In much the same way that the Sapfir mission was on close inspection revealed to be an inferior version of Columbia, so the enormous military strength the Soviets had built up over the Shelepin years - a strength put on vivid display in 1975 during the belated Red Army intervention in the Yugoslav civil war - was just a thin veneer over an economic infrastructure that was teetering on the edge of disaster.

    The formal appointment of First Secretary Andrei Kirilenko as permanent Chairman of the Politburo in September 1975 had brought an end to the paralysis of the rotating chairmanship that had been in place since the death of Shelepin. Together with Premier Maxim Teplov at the Council of Ministers, Kirilenko sought to reorganise the Soviet political establishment in order to revive the civilian economy, which had become completely subservient to the military over the previous decade. At a special Party Congress held over ten days in April 1976, Kirilenko and Teplov put forward a far-reaching package of reforms under the title of “Khozraschyot” ("economic accounting") which would require all state enterprises to take account of the real economic costs of production in their pricing, whilst also clamping down on corruption and (almost as damaging) the mis-reporting of economic indicators.

    These reforms caused something of a splash in the Western media, with speculation (forcefully denied) that the Soviet Union was moving towards a market economy, but in its initial stages Khozraschyot had little impact beyond a few high-profile arrests of particularly conspicuous corrupt officials. Of a far greater importance was the ongoing high price of oil and the effect this had on Soviet trade. The USSR had for many years been supplying oil to allied nations at subsidise prices, but from the summer of 1976 onwards those subsidies were gradually scaled back. Though still far below the global average, the communist nations of Eastern Europe soon found themselves paying much more than they’d become accustomed to. Most of the satellite nations were able to adapt themselves to the hike in prices through tougher rationing, but it was Horst Sindermann’s East Germany that pioneered the idea of re-selling the Soviet oil to western nations.

    With the Suez canal still closed off, Europe had been particularly hard hit by the oil crisis, and even at the higher prices now being charged by the Soviets, the DDR stood to make a tidy profit from onward sales to West Germany, Italy and France. With the SPD back in power in the Federal Republic, and Shelepin’s 1967 directive against engagement with former chancellor Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik” now defunct, Sindermann quietly agreed to a number of deals with his Western counterpart, Egon Franke, that started the westward export of Soviet-supplied oil paid for in internationally accepted West German Deutsche Marks. This infusion of hard currency in turn helped pay for critical upgrades to some of East Germany’s more outdated factories with Western equipment (as well as upgrades to some less outdated summer houses and drinks cabinets belonging to high ranking Party members). What started out as a furtive deal across the Iron Curtain was soon placed on a more formal footing, with the establishment in 1977 of a joint office with the USSR State Committee for the Oil Industry and the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade (abbreviated to “Gosneft”) in the Soviet-controlled Berlin Free City Zone. Gosneft would go on to form the nucleus of a group of similar state enterprises with the aim of expanding East-West trade, providing Eastern Bloc governments with a much needed boost to its foreign exchange reserves.

    The Khozraschyot reforms affected the Soviet space industry in a number of ways, few of which were beneficial. It had been a long time since the heyday under Stalin, when Soviet space programmes had held a national priority second only to atomic weapons and when entire industries could be called into creation by decree to meet the Chief Designers’ technical requirements. Even under Shelepin, the space industry had been able to access resources without consideration of cost. Availability of scarce resources, yes. Manpower, of course. But costing had always been vague, something handled by the apparatchiks at Gosplan, not something engineers need concern themselves with. From 1976 onwards, this started to change.

    As the full costs of space projects started to be enumerated, so too were they subject to reduction. For decades, the key to winning resources was to align your project with the needs of the military. Now the mood in government was shifting, with an emphasis on growing the civilian economy rather than continuing to feed the military beast. Instead of being asked “How will this help secure the Rodina?”, Chelomei, Kulik and new TsKBSO Chief Designer Dimitri Kramarov were being asked “How will this benefit the economy?”

    Despite the protests of both Kramarov and Chelomei, one project which failed this economic test was the Moon missions. Although causing something of a stir when Sapfir-2 was launched so hot on the heels of Columbia-6, the gradual public realisation that the Soviet flyby mission was in fact far less capable than its American counterpart sapped at its positive propaganda value. The lack of any sign of a follow-on mission compounded this impression, and was explained to the world as the Soviets having “more important things to work on than demonstrating the falsehood of American claims of superiority”. It was actually due to severe misgivings over the technical reliability of the Sapfir spacecraft to support repeated and extended missions. On top of the technical problems that had plagued the later stages of the Sapfir-2 mission, there were real concerns over the psychological issues of having two crew members in such a tight space for long duration missions. Petrov and Mēness had not been on speaking terms since their return, and there were concerns that such interpersonal issues could result in a dangerous lack of cooperation or even physical violence on future missions.

    There was of course the option of switching to the one-man Zarya-V, but this would do nothing to reduce the capability gap with Columbia. In response, Chelomei and Kramarov were ready with proposals for multi-launch mission profiles, with Glushko and Chelomei each also proposing development of a new super-heavy rocket for lunar missions, including landings and eventually permanent outposts on the surface. However, despite the gradual influx of petrodollars, such schemes remained extravagant fantasies for a Soviet government more interested in boosting the civilian economy and shoring up its East European buffer states. In the end, the Politburo decided that the effort was not worth the candle, and in February 1977 ordered the cessation of active work on manned lunar missions.

    Another victim of the new direction of Soviet policy was the Orel Raketoplan. Unlike the American Dynasoar, Chelomei’s Orel had never truly developed into an operational military asset. It’s almost total lack of downmass meant that it wasn’t useful for as wide a range of technology test missions as Dynasoar, whilst its use as a crew transport was clearly inferior to Zarya, and even Sapfir. This lack of capability was reflected in its low flight rate, fewer than one per year since its orbital debut in 1966, which in turn led to questions over the effort and cost of maintaining its dedicated supporting ground infrastructure. Chelomei himself had since come round to the opinion that the capsule-based Sapfir would better fit his ambitions, and so put up little fight when the same decree that shut down the moon programme also directed the retirement of Orel.

    [​IMG]

    In 1977 the Orel spaceplane was put out to pasture - quite literally in this case, as an exhibit at the Central Air Force Museum at Monino.

    The 1977 decree had done much to identify those projects that would be discontinued, but was far less clear on what (if anything) should replace them, and so for a time the Soviet manned space programme continued to function on autopilot. For Kramarov’s TsKBSO, this first meant the completion and launch of the Chasovoy-3 space station. A more sophisticated upgrade of the basic Chasovoy design, Chasovoy-3 incorporated a number of innovations, perhaps the most significant of which was a second docking port to allow supply and crew rotation flights to take place while the station was occupied. Crew flights were initially to be carried out using the venerable Zarya-B, though Kramarov hoped to soon replace these with a new upgrade based on the Zarya-V lunar ship and optimised for brief Earth orbital ferry missions.

    After several years of relative neglect during which Mishin had focussed his efforts on Zarya-V, Chasovoy-3 was dusted off and made ready for launch in June 1977. Reflecting the shift in funding priorities (as well as the mediocre results from earlier flights) Chasovoy-3 carried far fewer military experiments than previous missions, with a greater focus on remote sensing relating to agricultural and resource management activities. There were also two experiments relating to zero-gravity crystal growth and alloy production, which it was hoped could one day provide a boost to Soviet industry.

    The first crew to visit the new station were Konstantin Izmaylov, a veteran of Chasovoy-2, and rookie cosmonaut Lev Yelagin, launched aboard Zarya-13 on 8th July 1977. During the two-day approach to the station the automated docking system failed, and so Izamaylov performed a manual docking to the Chasovoy station on the 10th. The following four weeks passed without incident, as both cosmonauts settled in to their new home, bringing the station’s systems up and starting a number of long-term experiments, perhaps the most important of which were a series of detailed medical examinations designed to establish a metabolic baseline. The need for this was clarified on 4th August when Zarya-14 docked at Chasovoy’s spare port, carrying Pyotr Babanin and Eduard Sarafian. This established a new record for the number of people simultaneously on-orbit, as the four cosmonauts shared accommodations aboard the station for the next three days. The mission then went on to set another record, as Sarafian returned to Earth with Izamaylov aboard the Zarya-13 capsule, making the Armenian cosmonaut the first space traveller to return to Earth in a different ship than the one in which he’d launched. Meanwhile, Yelagin remained in space with Babanin for a further five weeks, setting a new Soviet endurance record of 63 days, before returning to Earth on 9th September. Chasovoy-3 continued in orbit unmanned, but plans were already in place for a second dual mission in 1978.

    At first the 1978 Chasovoy expedition was intended to be little more than a re-run of the Zarya-13/14 mission, but Kramarov, adapting quickly to the new political mood, proposed to boost the programme’s usefulness to the regime as a tool of foreign policy. The handover period between Zarya crews meant that for one cosmonaut to continue on a long-duration mission, another would have only a few days on orbit. This short stay could be a chance to allow cosmonauts from allied nations to visit the station, as an added benefit of Soviet friendship.

    The Foreign Ministry was receptive to this idea, leading to talks with several Eastern Block nations over flight opportunities. In January 1978, a State Council decree formally placed responsibility for coordination of space missions with other nations under a new entity, Glavkosmos. Reporting to the Foreign Ministry, but with strong ties to the Ministry of Defense, Glavkosmos was placed under the responsibility of the KKRD, with day-to-day management carried out by TsKBSO (which was itself soon re-named as “KB Zarya” after its most famous product). Shortly after its creation, Glavkosmos announced that East German pilot Klaus Hartmann would become the first guest cosmonaut to fly to Chasovoy-3 in October, staying for five days as part of the Zarya-16 mission in October, coinciding with the 29th anniversary of the creation of the DDR.

    While Kramarov and Glavkosmos focused on this space station based civilian programme, for OKB-1’s future Chelomei returned to the military imperatives he’d cultivated in the past. Following formal approval of the USAF’s air launched Shuttlecraft project in the spring of 1977, Soviet generals - already concerned that the reduction in the military budget was allowing NATO to open a qualitative lead over the USSR - began worrying about the implications of America possessing such a vehicle without a Soviet equivalent to counter it. The KKRD was directed to consider a Soviet response, for which Chelomei took the lead. With support from Kulik at OKB-586, Chelomei advised against repeating the mistake of trying to simply duplicate the American capability, as had been done with Dynasoar. Given the far cheaper construction costs applying in the USSR, even under Khozraschyot accounting, reusability was less critical, with standardised mass-production giving better savings. Chelomei therefore proposed to divide the Shuttlecraft’s mission amongst systems and capabilities where the Soviets were already strong.

    For the Shuttlecraft’s main public mission of R&D, Chelomei proposed a modification of his Sapfir design with an automated re-entry capsule. This would allow various technologies and experiments to be tried out on orbit for as long as needed, housed in the AOO, with any samples required for ground testing being loaded into the VA for return to Earth. More complex experiments requiring manned intervention could be handled via a specialised AOO that would dock to a Chasovoy space station, or which could operate as a man-tended free-flying mini-station. A further adaptation would see the AOO form the basis of a large automated supply ship for supporting long duration Chasovoy missions. This would not only meet the real needs of the military, but would also allow Chelomei to save his Raketoplan system from oblivion in the hope of one day resuming manned lunar flights.

    The second Shuttlecraft capability that the Soviets wanted to match was the potential for rapid, flexible launches for payloads of up to three tonnes. To meet this challenge, Chelomei and Kulik proposed a new small launcher based upon a modification of the R-38 ICBM, which had been deployed in silos across the USSR since its introduction in 1968. The launcher version would also be silo-based, taking advantage of the large infrastructure already developed as well as giving flexibility over where to launch from, reducing the dependency on Tyuratam and Plesetsk. For the same cost as one American Shuttlecraft, Chelomei and Kulik claimed they would be able to deploy fifty of the R-38 derived rockets. They even proposed pre-integration of satellites and their storage in the silo with the launcher, allowing for rapid on-demand replenishment of vital space-based capabilities within a matter of hours if needed. The launcher would also make an ideal ride for Chelomei’s latest model of AOO-derived IS “Fighter-Satellites”, giving the Red Army a responsive low Earth orbit anti-satellite capability to match that assumed as one of Shuttlecraft’s secret objectives.

    This willingness to look beyond what the Americans were doing was indicative of a new sense of self-confidence following the disappointment of losing the Moon Race. The postponement of grandiose dreams of lunar landings and eventual settlement coincided with levels of cooperation between the Design Bureaux not seen since the early post-War period. With the passing of old-guard rocketeers like Yangel, Tikhonravov and Mishin, a new generation of professional industrial managers were becoming increasingly influential, exemplified by Kulik and Kramarov. Although still swayed by the romance of space travel, their focus on pragmatic solutions ahead of grand dreams promised a future of steady, if unspectacular progress that aligned well with the spirit of Khozraschyot.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
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  16. TheBatafour Complete Anarchy

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2012
    2800 replies you say? We'll get you there! :p Now for the update:

    Again, are the people ITTL simply smarter? Though I regret the loss of moon missions and Orel, the Soviets actually doing the thing they're good at (mass production of cheap stuff) instead of trying to copy the US space effort is really smart of them. I'll eagerly await any more updates on that. Also, I second some of the other posters here in wanting to see more of the second-rank spacefaring nations, i.e. Europe and maybe China. Nevertheless, keep up the good work, Nixonshead!
     
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  17. Michel Van Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2007
    Location:
    Liege Belgium Europe
    They are not smarter, they stay against the Wall!
    In OTL Brezhnev era, they not make the needful reforms. On the contrary, they push for more military expenses and ignore the rest, Economic problems, corruption, backwardly toward USA new high tech.
    that let in 1991 to down fall of USSR.
    here Kolyma’s Shadow they start economic reforms in mid 1970s in hope to survive

    In 2001: A Space Time Odyssey, Khrushchev stay longer in Power and the third Economic reform is a success in USSR.
     
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  18. Bahamut-255 Space Lover

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2010
    Another 2.800 replies and 740,000 views? I'd better get to work then. :p

    A re-prioritisation of the Civilian Economy impacting their Space Efforts and very little in a good way? In the short term, this is accurate IMHO, but in the years to come, the fruits of this financial pragmatism will, I believe, come to bear - as opposed to OTL's woes, especially in the 1990's.

    And matching what they can by way of doing it their own way instead of attempting to duplicate the efforts of the US for Parity's sake? Not something I expected, but with a different leadership and different priorities, I suppose it's entirely plausible.

    Still awaiting what the European Front will be like, and maybe some insight into the Chinese and Japanese efforts.
     
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  19. Roger Redux The Revisionist

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2015
    Location:
    The Mother of all ASBs (a.k.a. "The Real World")
    The Soviets actually being smart about their economy?! ASB!:p:D

    Seriously though, cool update. So much for the Soviets landing on the moon before the U.S., that is if a moon landing is even still on the table for the U.S.' immediate future. I get the impression that both of us are scaling back to focus on smaller and closer goals
    at the moment, shuttle and SkyLab.

    As far as the reply count goes, would it be cheating if the two most in-depth responders broke their replies into several posts instead of one long one?:D;)
     
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  20. nixonshead Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2013
    It’s not a competition, I suppose. The Turtledoves though, they’re a competition… ;) :p

    They’re certainly not smarter (after all, my PoD was killing off the man widely regarded as the brightest genius of the Space Age!), but they’re operating in a different context. They’ve already had their fingers burnt trying to copy a US design without understanding the mission, with the result of having to support a militarily useless white elephant (as a number of commenters have pointed out ;) ) in Orel. They’re also widely perceived to have lost the Moon Race, both in timing and quality, so are perhaps less eager in ventures that would invite a direct comparison to US activities. Coupled with a worse economic situation (see more below), they’ve decided this time to trust their own engineers rather than just assume America knows best.


    As mentioned, Europe will be featuring in Part-IV. I’m afraid I have less to say on China at the moment, largely down to my lack of knowledge of the intricacies of the power struggle that followed the death of Mao and how that might be different ITTL. I have some general feelings on the direction that takes, but nothing detailed enough to inform their rocket programme - at least, not yet. The same holds for Japan, but with less blood.

    Well, “smart” might be a strong term… ;)

    A couple of things to keep in mind about this turn of events. Firstly, they’ve come out of almost a decade of Shelepin’s neo-Stalinism, meaning a more bloated military and an even more withered civilian sector compared to OTL’s 1970s. This situation has now gotten bad enough that it’s even starting to affect military efficiency (remember the problems both Mishin and Chelomei had getting resources for their moon shots in the early ‘70s? The same issues will have been cropping up in other sectors too). This means that the need to do something to change gears is appreciated by almost everyone. Coupled with the usual reaction against the policies of the ancien regime, there’s not much opposition to Kirilenko’s proposals.

    Second thing to keep in mind is that “Khozraschyot” is not a new idea, but rather something that had been previously tried in the NEP (ITTL and IOTL) and again under Brezhnev and Gorbachev IOTL. To borrow a phrase also used by sts-200, the attitude of the Soviet Union’s leadership is “Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it”.

    One last thing, is though the situation is bad enough that everyone accepts change of some sort is needed, it’s not so critical that anyone is seriously questioning the ability of the USSR to survive. It’s an economic and political problem, but not an existential one.

    Well, the Race to the Surface may have turned into more of a marathon, but there’s still useful science to be done, as we’ll see in the next update...
     
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