Sputniks... an Alternate Space Race

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by neopeius, Sep 17, 2011.

  1. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    So, Calbear's amazing Anglo-American/Nazi war timeline is over, and I now no longer have Saturdays to look forward to. As a long-time lurker, few-time poster, I've decided to give back to the community.

    As you may know, I've been running a very in-depth simulation of the Space Race for nine years. Every year, I gather ten players together (five Russian, five Americans) and model national civilian and military space programs one semi-annum at a time. Since 2002, I have run the game ten times, and we've gotten through 1973.

    Each individual session has involved hundreds of hours of research and preparation. It is possibly the most obsessive role-playing game ever.

    I'm going to post a narrative of this alternate Space Race in weekly bits. Since the story is set (like Calbear's was), I welcome your comments and criticisms, but I can't really change events. You'll just have to deal with the timeline, even in the implausible bits. I don't think anything is ASB.

    By the by, I am a space historian in real life. You can see my scholarly, published works at http://www.sdfo.org/stl. I've got a new article coming out in Quest, Space Quarterly shortly.

    Without further ado...

    ---

    [​IMG]
    (Sputnik 1, launched October 4, 1957)

    A History of "The Space Race," Part 1


    The International Geophysical Year (IGY), 1957-1958


    [Prelude]


    On October 4, 1957, the Soviets made history with the launching of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 atop the world's first ICBM, the R-7. Though not completely unexpected, it did cause the Americans to compress the timetable of its civilian launch program, Vanguard. The Vanguard rocket was far less powerful than any Soviet booster, and its payload correspondingly tiny. Thus, Wernher von Braun's team in Huntsville, employing a derivative of the Redstone IRBM dubbed Jupiter-C, was tasked with the job of serving as back-up to the unreliable Vanguard program. Such foresight proved wise. When the October 23 and December 6 Vanguard launches ended in fiery failure, Wernher von Braun's team was ready to launch, and on January 1, 1958, America's first artificial satellite, Explorer I, soared into orbit. Explorer orbited for a full 113 days and returned exciting data about a region of charged particles trapped around the Earth latter named the "Van Allen" belt.


    [The First Probes]


    The Soviets did not remain idle. On March 18, 1958, using an improved version of the R-7, Sputnik 2 was propelled into orbit. It weighed a ton and a half and was an unprecedentedly complex physical laboratory. Though trumped by Explorer I in the discovery of the Van Allen belts, Sputnik 2 had the instrumentation required to map them. A second large Sputnik was orbited on May 15. International newspapers gushed over the superiority of Communist science and lampooned the Americans for their tiny efforts.


    The Army's Explorer series proved robust, however. Despite a failed launch on March 1, 1958, Explorer III flew without a hitch on the 26th. Explorer IV did not fly until July 26 with Explorer V following soon after on August 24. Both provided valuable data on high altitude nuclear tests. Explorer VI, launched atop the Jupiter-derived Juno II booster, represented the last of the Army payloads, but was destroyed along with its carrier only a few seconds after liftoff. Any future scientific satellites would be flown under the auspices of the newly created civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


    Meanwhile, the Vanguard program continued apace suffering further explosive setbacks on February 5, March 17, and April 28. It was not until May 27 that Vanguard I finally arrived in orbit. The tiny satellite avoided historical oblivion through its geodetic discovery that the Earth sported a pear-shaped deviation from its expected smooth oblate shape. Vanguard 2 followed on June 26, providing excellent data on the reflectivity of the Earth's atmosphere. The IGY would see no more successful Vanguard launches with the launch on September 26 ending in an improper stage separation. The program would continue into 1959, however.


    [To the Moon]


    On October 1, 1958, President Eisenhower signed into existence the National Aeronautics and Space Administration whose function would be to oversee all civilian manned and unmanned space programs. Their first project, though still officially under the auspices of the Army, was a lunar flyby series. Utilizing the Juno II, the tiny spaceship was dubbed "Elaine I" in accordance with the new naming scheme which employed Norse mythology. The first Elaine became the first craft to fly past the moon on August 19, 1958. Approaching within 26,328km, this probe discovered the complete lack of a lunar magnetic field.

    [​IMG]
    (launch of Elaine 1, August 19, 1958)

    Beaten to the punch, the Soviets nevertheless sent a much large spacecraft on September 23 (using a further modified R-7) to fly just under 6000km above the Moon's surface. Though it was considered a tremendous feat of navigation at the time, recently recovered documents indicate that "Lunastrela 1" in fact *missed* the moon and was intended to be an impactor mission. Lunastrela 2, an identical craft, did hit the moon on October 12 scattering Soviet pendants across the lunar surface. Close on its heels, on October 13, Elaine 2 duplicated her sister's feat, flying by the moon at a distance of 23,817km.


    The American lunar follow up was to be a series of small lunar orbiters employing the new Atlas ICBM coupled with the second stage of the Vanguard rocket. Few were hopeful about the marriage of two unreliable booster systems. The project was begun on July 12, 1958 and dubbed Valkyrie. If possible, it was hoped that a mission could be reserved for the first interplanetary jaunt--to Venus. Around the same time, the Soviets began construction of a lunar flyaround designed to photograph the back side of the moon.


    [The Military]


    The battle for a dominant role in communications ended swiftly and amicably. The military was given control of active satellites and NASA oversight of passive satellites. The first military comsat, Project Achilles, failed to orbit on December 18, 1958. Other DoD projects included an early warning satellite detection system and, working with the CIA, a satellite reconnaissance system. The latter took on heightened importance after the shooting down of an American U2 spyplane over the Soviet Union in January of 1958 which resulted in a shut down of all aerial overflights of Russia. The spy satellite project, dubbed Discoverer, was begun on February 2, 1958.


    [Soviet machinations]


    The Soviets put a lower priority on satellite reconnaissance. Khruschev had a vision of the importance of manned space flight, and he dreamed of cosmonauts treading the vast expanses of space and the foreign soils of other planets far ahead of any American pretenders. In this climate, the architect of the Soviet space program, head of OKB-1, Sergei Korolev, found no difficulty in securing resources to launch the first manned spaceship, called Nievo. The Nievo project was begun in December of 1958. The Soviet spy satellite version, entitled Otkrivat, would languish as the military, and its patrons Ustinov and Suslov, angrily fumed.


    Mikhail Yangel's head of the space megacomplex, OKB-586, had a more practical goal. He had just completed flight tests of the R-12 IRBM, scheduled to enter service in 1959. Though the bureau was kept busy as it developed the R-16 next generation ICBM and the R-14 MRBM, Yangel sought and won approval to modify the R-12 to serve as a satellite booster. Of course, the R-12 could only launch small payloads, being roughly equivalent to the American Jupiter. Thus, Yangel was forced to embark on a difficult but ultimately successful program to develop miniaturized components for small satellites. Both the rocket and satellite programs were begun in early 1958.


    Hypersonic jet pioneer Vladimir Chelomei of OKB-52, the third leg of the Chief Designer triad, was a virtual unknown in 1957. All this changed when he scored a political coup and hired Sergei Khruschev, son of the Premier, in early 1958. As a result, early 1959 would find Chelomei with three new bureaus under his command, enabling him to pursue a variety of dreams. 1958 was spent primarily in the completion of draft projects and work on the M-50 supersonic bomber.


    [Toward an American in Space]


    Early 1958 saw a whirlwind of proposals for the first American manned spacecraft. By the second half of the year, three emerged as viable opponents, each securing funding. The first was the minimalist Man In Space Soonest (MISS) USAF program, canceled within a few months of its initiation. The second was a zero-lift capsule civilian project scheduled for orbital launches in 1961. It was appropriately named "Magellan." A top secret third project involved a highly modified version of the X-15 experimental spaceplane. Three X-15s were delivered in October of 1958 for flight tests. The ultimate plan involved mating the specialized X-15b with three Navaho cruise missile boosters to send a man around the Earth once. This risky project was green lighted as a hedge against possible Magellan delays. Though the mission was originally designed to end with the pilot ditching the spaceplane into the Gulf of Mexico, it was eventually decided that the pilot should land the plane both for publicity and engineering reasons.


    [A Year (and a half) of Accomplishments]


    In the end, the IGY saw a flurry of space activities motivated by a competitive spirit between the two superpowers. Both sides were now poised to seize the high ground for both scientific and military purposes...
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  2. Jukra Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2007
    Location:
    Tuborg at Uborg
    I'm glad to see you posting to this forum, your posts have always been a pleasure to read thanks to combination of expertise and being well written!
     
  3. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    High praise! Thanks very much. I've got several weeks' worth already. At the rate of 2K words per week, this could take me a couple of years. :)
     
  4. The Oncoming Storm Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Location:
    Fighting the system from within
    Very interesting subscribed!

    So Laika didn't go on Sputnik 2? At least the poor thing didn't suffer the death she did IOTL for what was essentially a gimmick.
     
  5. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Good eyes. Yes, no Sputnik 2. You will find a more-focused Soviet program, less interested in stunts. It will have its own set of foibles, however, including some amazing blunders, which somehow became advantageous to the Commies. Sometimes, the dice roll funny...
     
  6. Hnau free radical

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2007
    Location:
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Very cool. I'm interested in this. I love alternative space races. :)
     
  7. General Tirpitz Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2010
    Location:
    The Kingdom of Finland
    Interesting, you may continue. :)
     
  8. Sausage Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2009
    keep it up!

    quite excited about this. fascinating period. guess because of the expense of the work the politics of the US/USSR really helped and hampered the space programs.
     
  9. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Part 2!

    Part 1 was put up in some haste, so I apologize for the less-than-sexy writing. I will make things more interesting from here out.

    This is Part 2 of my long, alternate Space Race history. Part 1 dealt with International Geophysical Year. This installment covers American unmanned and booster developments from 1959 to mid-1961:


    [American booster development]


    In 1957, the United States had just a few launch vehicles at its disposal: the Navy's tiny and unreliable Vanguard and the Army's Redstone IRBM-based Juno. Within just a couple of years of the launch of Sputnik, the Americans possessed a large stable of rocket boosters--thanks to the new IRBMs and ICBMs coming on-line. The Thor IRBM provided the base for the Thor Able and Thor Agena launchers (the former using a Vanguard second stage, the latter using a top-secret military stage). The former went through such teething difficulties that alternatives were considered, but the bugs were eventually worked out of the system, and the booster evolved into the reliable Thor Delta system. The flakiness of the Thor Able kept the Jupiter-based Juno II in business until 1961, however. Juno II's replacement, the new solid-fueled Scout, entered service early that year. The civilian version of the Thor Agena, the Thor Vega, never panned out.


    America's first ICBM, the Atlas, was to be the base for a whole family of boosters. The Atlas Able was an unmitigated failure, but the Atlas Agena enjoyed success and provided the heaviest launch capability of the time.


    As of 1959, the Titan 1 (based on the Titan ICBM) was slated to launch the planned successor to the X-15b (tentatively labeled X-20), but its use of toxic fuels and the scheduled arrival of the Titan 2 in 1962 quickly eliminated the Titan 1 from consideration as a booster.


    Civilian projects included the Centaur second stage. Conceived at the same time as the canceled Vega, the Centaur would cheaply launch moderately heavy payloads to geosynchronous orbit and beyond. A desultory design schedule delayed completion until 1965.


    On the other hand, development by Von Braun and Co. of the enormous Saturn I continued with little impediment, flight testing to begin in late 1961. With luck, the huge (and expensive) booster would be operational in 1964. While the Saturn I itself had limited application potential, it would provide heavy launch capability in that critical window between 1964 and 1966 should the civilian or military agencies need it for any projects. More importantly, the Saturn I could be upgraded to serve as a heavy booster in support of initial NASA lunar missions.


    Even larger Saturns, from the two-engine C-2 to the five-engine C-5 were conceived for a variety of manned lunar missions. Work on the tremendous F-1 engine was begun while NASA mulled the benefits of Earth Orbit Rendezvous (wherein the components of the lunar mission assembled in Earth orbit and landed in a big stack on the moon) versus Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (which involved sending two docked spaceships to the moon, one separating from the other and land on the lunar surface). The former method was deemed safer and easier, the latter cheaper and lighter.

    [​IMG]


    [Unmanned American flights]


    The Office of Space Science at NASA followed up the IGY with a mixed bag of success and failures:


    Vanguard


    The Vanguard program continued into 1959 with four remaining boosters and four potential experiment loads. Unfortunately, the Vanguard booster was only to prove successful once more. Vanguard III flew on February 17, 1959 and measured the flow of x-rays from the sun providing baseline data for comparison with future solar flares. Micrometeoroid experiment data was inconclusive, but suggested micrometeoroids posed no significant threat to satellites. Long after the satellite's transmitter's three month lifespan, radar studies were still conducted on it from the ground to determine upper atmosphere density for months. The subsequent three Vanguard launches all resulted in booster failures.


    Muspelheim


    On July 12, a new, entirely civilian program of orbital science satellites was initiated. Continuing the tradition of naming civilian unmanned spacecraft after persons and creatures from Norse mythology, the newly dubbed "Muspelheim" series provided invaluable data about the near Earth space environment for years, continuing to today.


    Muspelheim I was launched on July 16, 1959, Muspelheim VIII on June 30, 1961. Scientific bonanzas were reaped in the study of the ionosphere and exosphere, electron and proton radiation energies at altitude, cosmic ray intensity, Earth's magnetic field, and the demonstration of the first panning TV scanner.


    Echo program


    On August 12, 1960, NASA ushered in the era of passive telecommunications with the launch of the Echo satellite. Experiments with the balloon and a successor project continued, although the future of passive communications was not to be auspicious.


    Tiros


    On April 1, 1960, NASA launched Tiros (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), the world's first weather satellite. Thousands of pictures were relayed before the premature end of mission due to equipment failure. Scientific benefits included better understanding of large scale cloud structures, especially at high altitude. Commercially, Tiros afforded the potential for offering high accuracy weather maps and predictions. It was followed by Tiros 2 on November 23.

    [​IMG]


    [To the moon and beyond]


    Valkyrie


    Initiated in July of 1958 along with Musplheim (and in parallel with Elaine), this sophisticated spacecraft series was designed to orbit the moon and return photographs and scientific data. In December, 1958, NASA made one of the four missions a Venusian flyby; it was launched in early 1961. Their launch vehicle was the Atlas Able, a booster mating the Atlas missile to the successful Able stage.


    Booster failures occurred on November 26, 1959, February 15, and September 25, 1960. By late 1960, it was clear the unreliable Atlas Able combination was simply not up to the task of launching space vehicles, and the comparable civilian "Vega" had still not reached completion (despite absorbing some $45 millions in development costs). For fear the whole program could be a bust, President Kennedy proposed that the Agena booster, used by the military as a second stage, and previously kept under strict secrecy by the USAF and DoD, be lent to NASA so the upcoming interplanetary mission might have a chance of success. Defense Secretary MacNamara at last deferred to the wishes of the Chief Executive, and using the Agena, the United States was able to launch the first probe into interplanetary space.


    This was Valkyrie 1, launched on February 8, 1961. Though the craft ultimately failed due to a power fault just a few days away from its Venusian encounter, the probe did travel an unprecedented 40 million kilometers, and its aim was true. This terrific achievement along with America's first manned endeavors, did much to increase American prestige.

    [​IMG]


    In the wake of the Valkyrie moon probe failures, NASA initiated the next generation lunar impactor project, dubbed "Odin". An ambitious design, it entailed five planned missions, two of them engineering flights with sophisticated sky science packages, and three designed to photograph potential lunar landing sites at close range. The first flights were scheduled for later 1961.


    Additionally, two Block 1 Odins were earmarked for a flyby of Venus, scheduled for July of 1962. While this version of the spacecraft did not carry a television camera, its designers felt the sky science experiments would pick up a wealth of data, regardless.


    [Military American]


    The Department of Defense was very active in exploiting the potential of the orbital high ground.


    Communications


    In late June 1958, the U.S. Army Signal Research and Development Laboratory (SRDL) at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey was directed to construct a communications satellite with a maximum weight of 150 pounds. Turning out to be as much of a test of the Atlas launch system as well as of communications technologies, Achilles was placed in orbit along with the upper stage of its Atlas booster some eight months behind schedule (after the failed launch described in Part 1). On August 7, 1959, the following message was broadcast to the world:


    "This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere."


    Achilles worked perfectly for nearly two weeks, responding to 78 real-time and store-and-forward voice and teletype transmissions between ground stations located in Georgia, Texas, Arizona and California. After 12 days the batteries failed. On August 18, 1959, the satellite reentered the Earth's atmosphere and burned up.


    Despite three failed attempts including one booster failure and two failures on orbit, the second-generation Prometheus satellite accomplished all objectives between launch date of April 5, 1961 and shutdown on April 21, 1961. Developed and built under the supervision of the Army Fort Monmouth Laboratories, Prometheus demonstrated high-volume communications, up to 100,000 words per minute, could be relayed through space. The storage and transmission capacity was much greater than that of the Achilles satellite. While operational, the satellite relayed more than 50 million words of teletype data. Prometheus paved the way for a new generation of military communications satellites. Though no money was officially allocated, DoD shuffled funds around to begin work on Icarus—a constellation of operational defense communications satellites.


    Spurred by the military's communications triumphs, Defense Secretary MacNamara urged President Kennedy to give the military sole control of the production and operation of all active comsats, civilian and otherwise, but the President dismissed out of hand the suggestion that both commercial and military needs be served from the same satellites.


    Missile launch detection


    Begun in mid 1959, the Ares satellite was designed to detect Soviet ICBM launches with its infrared sensor. The unprecedented success of the Atlas Agena launch system as well as the satellite hardware development enabled DoD to have Ares I in place on June 23, 1960. Within hours, the Ares satellite reported dozens of Soviet missile launches bringing the United States to full alert. It was quickly discovered, however, that the launches were false alarms owing to the oversensitivity of the original sensor design.


    On February 18, 1961 Ares II was successfully placed in orbit. Designed to be a test-bed, it was qualified success reducing the number of spurious false alarms from cloud-top sunlight reflected on the infrared sensor. Despite the spotty success of the system, the Ares program was continued. It was hoped a useful satellite could be deployed within 2-3 launches.


    Reconnaissance:


    Counterpart to the CIA's Discoverer series, DoD's "Athena" satellites tested a variety of reconnaissance techniques including conventional film canister recovery as well as real-time visual surveillance. While results for the latter were disappointing, film canister recovery missions were successful. They were launched in October and December of 1960.

    [​IMG]


    As a surveillance satellite, the Athena was larger and more expensive than Discoverer. On the other hand, the real-time relay of images (potentially allowing American to keep track of Soviet troop movements) was deemed to be invaluable in time of war despite the significantly lower resolution. The decision was made to continue launching and refining the Athena satellites.


    Navigation


    The two objectives of the little Hermes saellite program were (1) to develop and demonstrate equipment to provide a reliable means of fixing the position of surface craft, submarines, and aircraft--anywhere and in any weather--more precisely, and (2) to provide more accurate maritime and aerial navigation in any weather than currently available. Designed as a testbed, Hermes demonstrated the feasibility of doppler positioning by satellite. After several booster failures in June of 1960, the first satellites was a success, and DoD greenlit the completion of the navigation constellation in 1961.


    ELINT


    America's first ELINT or radar signature detected satellite was the Pandora satellite, which weighed only 19kg. Launched in tandem with Hermes I, Pandora I operated from orbit insertion on June 22, 1960 until power failure on November 1, 1960. During this time, Pandora I successfully evaluated the locations and wavelengths of many Soviet radar installations. In addition, Pandora I acquired useful solar scientific data on the 108Mhz band. Published accounts of the launch emphasized the first dual satellite launch as a victory of American space engineering. Development of a heavier, second generation ELINT craft, to be launched into polar orbit, was begun in 1961.


    [Successes for the CIA]


    Developed jointly with the Department of Defense, the Discoverer reconnaissance satellites originally were billed as scientific missions. The pretense was later dropped. There were five flights in 1959, one of which was astoundingly successful and proved the value of film recovery surveillance. However, on June 2, 1960, Discoverer VII’s Thor Agena blew up in a spectacular conflagration which decimated the launch pad. Flights did not resume for six months, but when they did, successes resumed. By mid-1961, it was clear a new agency was required to manage space surveillance missions. Called the National Reconaissance Office, it came into existence on June 30, 1961, and took over Discoverer as well as DoD’s Pandora, Ares, and Athena programs. The new agency retained close ties with the Defense department.

    [​IMG]

    (In Part 3 we get to the Soviets. Bear with me. If you're not excited yet, you will be next week. :) )
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2011
  10. Flashman A Real Go-Getter

    Joined:
    May 14, 2011
    Location:
    The United Fruit Company, Arkham Office
    I hope single stage rockets make a comeback in this TL.
     
  11. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Bonus, the American team, 2003

    Here's what the American team looked like in October 2003.

    [​IMG]

    Janice was Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Jess was Abe Silverstein. Nathan was Jim Webb (and the resemblance is actually kind of scary!) Justin was DoD, and the spook with the shades was John, Director of the NRO.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2011
  12. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Sputniks, Part 3

    This is Part 3 of my long, alternate Space Race history. Part 1 dealt with International Geophysical Year. Part 2 covered American unmanned and booster developments from 1959 to mid-1961. Now it's time for the Soviet side of the story...


    [New ICBM's for Korolev]


    The R-7 had proved (and was to continue to prove) itself a versatile booster, but as an ICBM, it was found lacking. Because of its Kerosone/LOX power system, there was no way to launch the missile without many hours of preparation. This made it useless as a second-strike weapon. All three Chief Designers submitted designs for a successor.


    Korolev’s R-9, like the R-7, was powered by Kerosene/LOX, and would propel a 1.65MT payload some 16,000km. Though the new rocket still had a long set up time (two hours with no prior preparation), once erected on the launch pad, the missile could be fired inside 21 minutes—a significant improvement. Korolev was particularly keen on retaining the military’s patronage. If the R-9 didn’t work out, Korolev would likely never build rockets for the military again. In addition, the R-9 would use the same engines as the planned lunar rockets. If the R-9 were adopted by the military, it would be a boon to an OKB-1-managed lunar program. Work on the R-9 began in early 1959.


    For the entire first stage of Soviet rocket development, the Big Three Designers relied on the engine-making concern, OKB-486, run by Valentin Glushko. However, in the wake of an R-7 launch accident on June 24, 1958, Korolev accused Glushko of having sold him defective engines. This so incensed Glushko, who already despised Korolev anyway, that he refused to deal with OKB-1. Work on the R-9 hit a wall. A new engine solution was desperately needed if the R-9 and its successor boosters were to be finished on schedule.


    More bad news came in the consistent refusal of the Supreme Soviet to allocate resources for a four stage R-7 to be used for launching heavy satellites to geosynchronous orbit and beyond. This was bad for several reasons. Most importantly to Korolev, it meant he could not launch large lunar or any interplanetary spacecraft. As the Americans scored successes in this realm, the prestige disparity became more acute. Korolev was also losing the opportunity to boost military payloads to high orbit leaving the field open to Chelomei and Yangel to develop those launchers.


    Still, the three stage heavy orbital launcher version of the R-7, dubbed R-7 Lunastrela, was developed on schedule for use with the Lunastrela lunar probes as well as the Nievo manned program.


    [The missiles of OKB-586]


    1959 found Yangel’s bureau focusing on just a few projects. Priority was placed on the quick production of the R-16 to replace the unsatisfactory R-7. This new missile used a storable but toxic propellant which could be left on the pad for some thirty days without refueling or maintenance. A revolution in ICBM technology, it would also potentially serve as the building block for a much larger booster. Thus, it was given the highest priority by the government.


    Development of the R-16 was difficult. In Fall of 1960, a fully-fueled test rocket exploded on the launch pad killing dozens of technicians and several senior engineers and administrators. Despite a catastrophic explosion in late 1960 and further setbacks in early 1961, the R-16 was declared ready for deployment by the beginning of July 1961.


    A casualty of this focused development was the R-26 light ICBM. OKB-586 simply could not simultaneously work out this complicated new missile while pouring resources into the R-16. This vacancy in the missile stable gave an opportunity for other bureaux to develop their own designs to ingratiate themselves with the military.


    Also begun in 1959 was the R-14 intermediate range ballistic missile. Development was a comparatively simple affair requiring only the development of a new first stage to be mated to elements of the R-12 booster. By April 1961, the military had accepted the new weapon and begun deployment.


    As the R-14 and R-16 reached completion, Yangel requested permission to develop the next generation ICBM, a behemoth called the R-36. Khruschev cautiously deferred authorization, promising to review the proposal again in 1962. This inactivity caused the normally calm OKB-586 chief to sweat. If the Premier was edging Yangel out of the business of missile development, all he would have left was his satellites. Yet the military was consistently vetoed in the construction of military satellites in deference to the manned programs. A revolution was brewing. Yangel was not the kind of man to be on the bottom when it broke. In 1961, OKB-586 was thrown a single bone—the development of an anti-satellite program. Yangel won this contract on the strength of his ability to orbit small, sophisticated satellites. Ironically, it was expected that Yangel’s system would be launched from the shoulders of a booster designed by Chelomei or Korolev.


    [Bureaux for Chelomei]


    In early 1959, Sergei Khruschev, son of the Premier, went to work for OKB-52. The other Chief Designers were instantly on their guard as a rush of prestige (and resources) flowed into Chelomei’s bureau. By mid-1959, it was announced the OKBs 23, 301 and 256, as well as the heavy Khrunichev factory, were being transformed into sub-filials of OKB-52. This naked power grab, encompassing all of the Soviet bureaux currently at work on hypersonic airplanes, did much to worry Chelomei’s competitors. Moreover, Chelomei seemed to have the warmest relationship with engine designer Glushko. The only potentially bad news on the political front came when Alexander Schelepin, head of the KGB and a backer of OKB-52 was kicked upstairs for fear of him acquiring too much power, himself. His replacement, the young Vladimir Semichastny, took power in April of 1961. Chelomei quickly established a friendship with the new KGB chief, much to the dismay of all concerned. Tsybin of OKB-256 was courted by Yangel briefly, but Tsybin was ultimately compelled to stay under OKB-52.


    With these new resources, Chelomei was free to concentrate his effort on two main projects. Most important was the first of his modular rockets, the UR-200. Designed to serve both as a next generation ICBM and as a launch platform for manned and unmanned flights, its characteristics were similar to those of the R-16. The design work was begun in early 1959, the draft project done in early 1960. Work proceeded steadily from there.


    OKB-52’s other focus of development was the Raketoplan, a hypersonic spaceplane based on cruise-missile technology. Unfortunately, though the draft project was complete by the end of 1960, no authorization was given to go ahead with development. It was not until Crossfield’s flight of April, 1961, that Chelomei was able to prevail upon Khruschev for permission to develop his spaceplane in competition with the American X-15. Until then, Chelomei was tasked with the development of the M-50 supersonic bomber.


    [Unmanned Russian flights]


    On May 6, 1959, the new three stage R-7, scheduled to launch the first Soviet lunar photographic probe, exploded on the launch pad. This setback was not made public. On June 29, a duplicate probe, called Cilnii Lunastrela, was launched from Baikonur. The heavy spacecraft entered lunar orbit where it took an historic 29 pictures of the back side of the moon. The spacecraft later returned 26 noisy photographs of the Earth. Its transmitters fell silent on July 15, but echoes of the Soviet success resounded long afterward. NASA redoubled its efforts in the lunar and interplanetary exploratory sphere not realizing that the Soviets were not to be serious competitors in the field. Khruschev was simply not interested in distracting Korolev from his number one space task—getting men to the moon. “Let the Americans launch science probes. We will read their reports in our technical journals from our bases on the moon!” the premier famously stated [first revealed in Red Star Rising, 1984, Louis Tesone].


    Korolev’s bureau enjoyed further success with the development of the Yabloka heavy science satellite pair. Developed in 1960, both were launched atop the same R-7 Lunastrela rocket on April 4, 1961 (after an unpublicized failure in January). Yabloka 1’s performance was less than satisfactory, but this was largely compensated for by that of her sister, Yabloka 2. The former’s mission dealt primarily with mapping the Van Allen belts while the latter investigated higher altitude radiation.


    Also in 1960, it quickly became apparent that the small launch vehicle Yangel had developed out of the R-12 was a cheap and increasingly reliable booster. The chief of OKB-586 approached Korolev near the end of the year and suggested OKB-1 produce some small scientific payloads to match the American Musplheim series. Korolev agreed, work proceeding very quickly.


    [Yangel's little Sputniks]


    The R-12 booster, authorized in February of 1958 as a modification to the R-12 SRBM, suffered delays in development. This turned out to be fortuitous as its first payloads took longer to develop as well due to the Soviet unfamiliarity with miniaturization. Still, by mid-1959, the Soviets had a counterpart to the American Thor-Able, capable of boosting a few hundred kilograms to orbit relatively cheaply. Yangel, shut out of the spy satellite business and increasingly hemmed in my competition from Korolev and Chelomei, had found a foothold in the internal Soviet Space Race.


    After a failed launch in October of 1959, the first small Sputnik, prosaically dubbed “Yangel A”, flew into orbit on December 21, 1959. This little satellite carried just a transmitter, but it proved the concept of the R-12 booster and the miniaturized satellite. Development continued on new satellites to capitalize on the new launch medium.


    Unfortunately for the Soviet space cause, 1960 saw a string of six launch failures due to a host of causes. Khruschev seethed. Why was Yangel wasting time with such trifles at precisely the same time the R-16 ICBM required so much effort? Still, Yangel was a canny operator, separating his two divisions so that one would not interfere with the other. He maintained his faith in the R-12 even in the dark days of October. Finally, his toil paid off in the successful launch on December 13 of “Yangel MM”, a simple satellite whose ostensible purpose was to evaluate micrometeroid density and relay the information back to the ground. The satellite's non-publicized mission was to experiment in the field of coded signals. Thus, this satellite accomplished the dual goals of providing high profile scientific data (and proving that OKB-586 could conduct scientific experiments) and paving the way to more advanced communications, contributing to the eventual success future R-12 launched satellites.


    Another successful launch in February of 1961 placed the Yangel CNC satellite into orbit. Designed for the operational monitoring of cosmic rays, radiation from atomic tests, and natural and artificially-produced radiation belts, it also carried experiments to test communications and navigation equipment needed for command and control of Soviet nuclear forces to be used in later navigation satellites. The sophisticated nature of this satellite resulted in initial unreliability and the first satellite never began operations upon reaching orbit. A second satellite, launched on June 3, worked well. Though Yangel’s R-12 was still viewed dubiously by his superiors, it was clear that the rocket’s reliability was improving.


    (Next week, the Soviet manned program!)
     
    Swiftbread likes this.
  13. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Deafening silence. No interest?
     
  14. Ariosto Populist Republican

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2010
    Location:
    Wakefield, Massachusetts
    Oh there is interest. Just, a lot to take in. And unless you are "e and pi" or "truthislife" you really are not capable of offering major critiques.​
     
  15. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    Thanks, Ariosto. Well, if you want a helping hand, I'm happy to point out the (many) divergences.

    I suspect, once we get to the manned program, it'll be more (un)familiar to folks. :)
     
  16. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Location:
    Canterlot
    Well, that's quite the compliment to both of us. Though I only play a space historian on TV, I am achingly aware of the large gaps in my knowledge there (though isn't anyone who has an above-average knowledge of a field? Hm....)

    So, it looks like Yangel is doing a lot better than OTL, though that's probably as much a function of how much everyone focuses on Korolev, then Glushko, then maybe Chelomei. OTOH, no Nedelin catastrophe (you don't mention anything like that, which seems like it would be...) has to be helping him out a lot.

    Is Kuznetsov being brought online by Korolev to build rocket engines if Glushko is refusing?
     
  17. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    A *Nedelin did happen in TTL, actually, but the R-16 is so high priority (in any TL) it doesn't matter. Yangel's R-12 satellite program was really a break, and it will prove to be his source of strength when *other* things don't go his way (stay tuned).

    And you are correct on Kuznetsov. He's coming in earlier than historical, and this will have dramatic effects on the development of the N1. One of those serendipitous moments where adversity is turned to advantage.

    You'll see it again when Koslov/Khruschev happens early in '63...
     
  18. General Tirpitz Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2010
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    The Kingdom of Finland
    I like it, my knowledge is not just wide enough for me to make good comments. :eek:
     
  19. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    Really? *Rereads* Ah, I see it now. But did anyone of Nedelin's stature get blown up, I wonder? Anyways, thanks for the note--I was skimming a bit fast, so I missed that part.

    So the *NK-33/43 will, instead of having to wait till 8L, be able to fly on one of the (OTL) actually tested boosters? Oh boy!
     
  20. neopeius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2009
    There's a lot there. Probably too much. Oh well. My three fans will appreciate it :)

    Nedelin dies here, too. Historically, this hurt Yangel's stature, and it does here, too. Maybe even more. Stay tuned--this Space Race will surprise you, both the macro-Race between the Superpowers and the mini-Races within the nations...
    You're jumping ahead of the game.. but you've got the gist. :)