N-1 – Restarting work on the Manned Soviet Lunar Program.

I’ve restarted working on the models I did of the manned Soviet Lunar program, with a view to taking them to the next level.

I’m starting with the rotating gantry, here are the old and new versions of the hub:

hub2 hub1 Continue reading “N-1 – Restarting work on the Manned Soviet Lunar Program.”

Why did the Soviet manned Lunar program fail?

There is still much debate about why the Soviet Union – which was consistently way ahead in the early days of space exploration, failed to beat the USA to putting a man on the Moon. But while there is some disagreement over which factors were the most important, there is considerable consensus about which factors drove this.

They started later.

The USA made putting a man on the Moon the key national objective, from before they had even put a man in orbit. Pretty much the entire space program focused on this objective.  By the time this became a national objective in the Soviet Union, 2 years later, time was very tight to develop a powerful enough rocket, and get the required expertise in flight systems.

Kennedy Moon SpeechAlso, at the time the speech was made, the Soviet Union was so obviously far ahead, they did not take the US intention seriously.

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Identifying the different N-1 variants.

Identifying N-1 variants. I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post, which featured some images I stitched together from video, but here it is in a bit more depth.

You are generally trying to distinguish between 5 different N-1 variants in photographs, the four that flew, and the weight model.  This is most easily done via the colours, though there are several other differences.

This post is not about ALL the differences between the variants, just about how to tell which rocket is which.

N1-3L, the first flight.

This is easy to identify, as it is the only one with entirely grey first and second stages. The third stage is half white, with the white part facing upwards on the transporter, which is the side away from the gantry once the rocket has been erected. It was transported to the pad in winter, and there are photos of it with snow on.

N1-3L being erected at the pad
N1-3L being erected at the pad

Note that there was no green on any of the N-1 variants! This is a widely held misconception, as many museums show it as green, (including the London science museum, and many Russian museums too). Olive green was only used to camouflage missiles, (and green would make lousy camouflage in Baikonur at the best of times). This error has spread to the point where photographs have been tinted to make them look green). And sometimes it was just poor quality film stock.

Continue reading “Identifying the different N-1 variants.”

NK-33 Rocket Engines

The NK-33 engines were originally built for the Soviet Moon Rocket, the N-1. (Under the designation of NK-15, and NK-15V for the high altitude version). This design was a direct result of a blazing row between the Chief Designer, (Sergey Korolev), and the best rocket engine designer, Valentin Glushko. Glushko wanted to use propellants which Korolov considered far too dangerous. So Korolev turned to Nikolai Kuznetsov, who up until that point had only designed engines for jet aircraft. Large rocket engines are notoriously difficult to design, due to combustion instability, so they were pretty much forced into a large number of smaller engines.

Nikolai Kuznetsov with NK-33 rocket engine
Nikolai Kuznetsov with NK-33 rocket engine

Many consider this a key reason for the failure of the N-1 program.

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Unseen N-1 reference photos. Part 1.

I was dithering over what to title this N-1 post. New photos? Not exactly new, as they are based on old video, and (in most cases) stitched together from video that panned around.

Anyway, here are some photos I put together from video. If you are interested in the Manned Soviet Lunar program, it’s worth following Roscosmos on YouTube – they seem to be slowly restoring and releasing the various bits of N-1 footage at higher quality, and releasing it piecemeal in the items on the history of space exploration.

The quality of these photos is highly variable, (by which I mean that some are awful!), but given the shortage of N-1 references, I hope they will prove useful.

Let’s start with the banner image, showing the L3 (upper) section, of the N1-5L This is a pretty good shot of the farings that cover the parts that would reach the moon.

Stitched image of the L3 section of the N1-5L moon rocket
Stitched image of the L3 section of the N1-5L moon rocket

It’s worth noticing the crew escape system on the left:

escapeholesNote how the exhaust holes near the tip are two different sizes. This is so that, if it is used, it will carry the crew to one side, and away from the main rocket.

Continue reading “Unseen N-1 reference photos. Part 1.”

N-1 For the Moon and Mars – Part 1


I’m surprised to see I have not mentioned this yet here on my blog!

A few years ago Matt Johnson approached me with the idea of  putting together a book on the Soviet moon rocket, the N-1. I had previously given him some references for making a flying model, and he thought it would be cool to put together a book gathering the research, and using my CGI to illustrate it.

Here’s what we came out with!


(The picture links to the store at ARA Press, where I think you can still buy a copy).

The concept, and my role

The idea was that it would combine a history of the program with a detailed modeller guide. If I had known the effort it would take I would probably never have signed up! But with the help of some Russian friends, notably Axenadart Schliadinsky, we set about it. Continue reading “N-1 For the Moon and Mars – Part 1”

GIRD X – 1930’s Rocket by Soviet Group for the Study of Jet Propulsion

In the 1930’s the Soviet Union set up a group to study rocket propulsion, GIRD. (Lots more good info about it here!)

One member of the group was Sergey Korolov, who went on to become the chief designer, and mastermind behind all the early Soviet space firsts.

This rocket is the GIRD-X, the tenth project the group carried out.

SI-73-7133hThere’s only really one good photo, and Russian museum items have so many obvious errors, they are useless for reference. So the finer details in this model are somewhat speculative. (Though I think there are clearly some ridges and wider sections not shown in other plans or models I have found).

gird-x-bigx Continue reading “GIRD X – 1930’s Rocket by Soviet Group for the Study of Jet Propulsion”

Two different images of Vulkan launching.

Two different renders of my Vulkan superheavy Soviet rocket taking off. The first has no recovery packs on the boosters, the second one does have the parachute packs.

These were NOT included on the designs for the Vulkan, but as they were added to Energia and Energia M I think it reasonable speculation to include them.

This version has the largest payload faring considered.

The Vulkan was not built but was downsized into the energia family.


Continue reading “Two different images of Vulkan launching.”

First renders of the new project, Zenit 2 rocket

I always enjoy this stage of a project, when it developes really fast, and every render looks better than the last!

This is the Soviet / Russian ZENIT rocket. It’s part of the energia family, and developed from the boosters used to lift that monster into the sky.


zenit-1 zenit-2

The Energia rocket family – Vulkan

The Energia rocket was part of a family, apart from Buran and Polyus, no other versions flew. Energia-M was a cut down version, which got as far as a weight model – the colours and shape of my mesh are based on this.

But the original plan was to include a MUCH heavier rocket, the VULKAN.

This would have had eight of the boosters, and a second core stage that was basically an Energia-M.


I am working on this at the moment, though information is limited. The parachute packs on the boosters came after the Vulkan was cut down to become Energia, but I have done a version which includes these packs on the boosters. Seems VERY likely to me as the engines were designed to be reusable.

The boosters later underwent separate development, and evolved into the highly successful “Zenit”.


Continue reading “The Energia rocket family – Vulkan”