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By Academician Boris CHERTOK,* Rocket and Space Corporation "Energiya" named after S. R. Korolev

The world's first artificial satellite was launched in the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957 at 10:28:34 p.m. Moscow time. For the first time in history hundreds of millions of people could watch a man-made star moving along the roof of heaven in the rays of sunrise or sunset, which was not created by gods but man's hands. The world community took this event as the greatest scientific achievement.

The history of creating the first satellite relates to the work over a rocket as such. All the more so that both in the Soviet Union and USA it had the German origin. As a result of the ban under the Peace Treaty of Versailles (1919) to develop new types of artillery armament and build battle planes, the German military men paid attention to the prospects of long-range missiles - this document did not envisage a ban on them. The proper work was started especially actively in Germany after 1933 with the rise of Hitler to power. At that time the work of a small group of enthusiasts headed by a young talented engineer Werner von Braun obtained the support of the army and then became the priority state armament program. In 1936, here they began building the powerful science and production test rocket center Peenemunde (district of Rostock). In 1943, combat ballistic long-range missile A-4 which was later propagandistically called V-2 ("Vergeltungswaffe 2" from "Vergeltung" - vengeance) had been successfully launched for the first time. It became the first unmanned automatically controlled long-range unit: the maximum firing range was 270 - 300 km, initial weight - up to 13,500 kg, the weight of a nose warhead - 1,075 kg, fuel components were cryogenic oxygen - oxidation material and ethyl alcohol. The propulsion of a power plant at the Earth was 27,000 kgf. An active flight phase replaced a cannon trunk. The technology of multiple production of powerful liquid-propellant rocket engines and flight control system were the main achievements of the German specialists. The ideas of Russian scientist and inventor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, German Hermann Obert, American Robert Goddard and other loners of genius at the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century were turned into specific


* An abridged version of the article by B. Chertok from the book "The First Cosmic" (Moscow, 2007).

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engineering systems by the collectives of such powerful firms as Siemens, Telefunken, Lorentz and others, local universities which carried out research by assignments of Peenemunde. Later on, studying in Germany its experience in rocket production during 1.5 years, our specialists, including myself, came to the conclusion that their rocket was neither a shell, nor a cannon but a large and complicated system requiring the use of the latest achievements of gas and aerodynamics, radio electronics, combustion engineering, materials science, and high production standards.

On May 13, 1946, Josef Stalin signed an enactment on creation of rocket branch of science and industry in the USSR. To develop it, in August 1946, Sergey Korolev (academician from 1958) was appointed chief designer of long-range ballistic missiles. At that time none of us foresaw that by working with him we would be participants of launching the world's first man-made satellite and soon of the flight of the first man in space - Yuri Gagarin*.

After capitulation of Nazi Germany I was among those who studied the German rocket technology in Germany. Already at that time we were sure that there was no need in opening new physical laws to create powerful long-range missiles flying through outer space. In 1947, the work on real development of rocket technology was started in the USSR** by flight tests of the V-2 assembled in Germany.

In 1948, the rockets R-1 - copies of the German V-2 but manufactured completely of domestic materials - were tested at the first state launch site Kapustin Yar (the inter-fluvial area of the Volga River and its left arm Akhtuba). In 1949, a series of high-altitude flights of these devices was carried out to research outer space. In 1950, the tests of the next rocket - R-2 - were started with the range of 600 km.

Our rocket R-5 at the range of 1,200 km, the tests of which were carried out in 1953, became the final "separation" from V-2 heritage. At the same time by means of the R-5 we, together with other national scientists, developed researches to use the rocket as a carrier of an atomic bomb.

Academicians Sergey Korolev and Yuli Khariton headed the respective search. Cold War flared up in the world, the USSR was surrounded by the military bases of the United States Air Force from which A-carrying planes were capable to strike the main political and economic centers of our country. The last analogues in the USSR could not reach the territory of the Americans. That is why missile specialists were made responsible for the creation of relevant carriers capable to reach intercontinental bases.

On February 13, 1953 a new enactment of the Soviet Government was issued at the suggestion of the Council of Chief Designers obliging to start developing a two-stage intercontinental missile with the range of 7 - 8 thous. km. However, on August 12, 1953, the first nuclear fusion bomb was tested. By specialists' top secret hints we understood that mass and dimensions of new armament would be so large within the next few years that we needed to radically change our ideas.

In November 1953 Korolev called his nearest deputies for a top secret conversation. He said: "The Minister of Medium-Scale Engineering, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Vyacheslav Malyshev suddenly came to see me. He categorically suggested that we should forget about an A-bomb for the intercontinental missile. The authors of hydrogen bomb promise to reduce its weight to 3.5 tons, which means", Korolev emphasized, "that we must develop the intercontinental missile preserving its range of 8,000 km but based on "net load" of 3.5 tons."

A small design team was completed to whom Korolev delegated preliminary working out of the characteristics of a new missile to be discussed at the Council of Chief Designers. In January 1954, there was held a meeting of S. Korolev, V Barmin, V Glushko, V Kuznetsov, N. Pilyugin, M. Ryazansky with the participation of their deputies and main developers of monitor and control radio systems. Their main resolution was a refusal from a traditional launch pad. Young planners suggested ground equipment systems be created with missile tie bar on special fallaway frameworks, which would allow not to load its bottom and reduce total weight. The decision to arrange a missile from five units with standardized power plants, the central unit being the second stage, was unusual. However, the engines of all units had to be turned-up on the Earth at the same


See: N. Sevastyanov, "The Cause of Legendary Designer Lives On", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2007. - Ed.

** See: N. Koroleva, "His Name and Cosmos Are Inseparable", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2007. -Ed.

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time. The weight of the warhead with an H-bomb was preliminarily valued at 5,500 kg. To ensure the given accuracy of steering control and range, there was a need to strictly specify engine aftereffect pulse. However, V. Glushko proved unreality of executives' requirements. Thus, for the first time there appeared an idea to refuse gas-jet carbon fins which had been traditional since V-2 and develop special microthrusters instead of them. They had to "bring" the second stage of missile at the last seconds of flight to the required characteristics in terms of speed and coordinates. To reduce the weight of fuel, there were suggested regulator systems of tank depletion, measurement and control of apparent speed.

On May 20, 1954 a government order on development of the two-stage intercontinental missile R-7 was issued, and only a week later, on May 27, S. Korolev sent a memorandum to Minister of Defense Dmitry Ustinov on possibility and advisability of placing into orbit of a man-made satellite based on the future missile. It should be noted that with the exception of Sergey Korolev, not a single member of the Council of Chief Designers or their deputies thought the idea of launching a man-made satellite serious.

A draft design of the device was suggested and approved by the USSR Council of Ministers on November 20, 1954, and its construction is well-known to the whole world now. It consists of four similar side units, which are fastened to the fifth - central one. As to internal arrangement, each of them is similar to a one-stage missile with front location of oxidant tank. Fuel tanks of all units are carrying. The engines of all units start operating from the earth but at separation of stages the side ones are switched off, while the central one continues to work. Controlling equipment is located in an inter-tank bay of the central unit and turns on an autopilot, control device of normal and side stabilization, regulation of apparent speed, and radio system of range and correction control in lateral direction. According to calculations, the missile post-boost vehicle enters the atmosphere at the rate of 7,800 m/sec. Total length of a fallaway warhead is 7.3 m and its weight is 5,500 kg.

Of course, a lot of problems emerged in the process of work, which had to be resolved in the shortest possible time. They had to choose a place for a new launch site, build a unique launch facility, put into operation all necessary services, build and put into operation stands for firing tests of the units and the package as a whole, to develop a controlling system; to find and test respective heat-insulation materials to preserve integrity of post-boost vehicle when entering the atmosphere; to suggest a telemetry system which did not exist yet (according to preliminary data, only at the first stage of flight tests, there are up to 700 characteristics); to create a new system of radio control and control of flight trajectory, and finally, to build a command-and-measurement complex, including the posts watching the missile and accepting telemetric information along the whole path till the Pacific Ocean. In a word, it is not by accident that in 1955 the designers developing the required documentation to manufacture the missile R-7 joked that, as a result of round-the-clock work, drafting tables "steamed". At that time there was no trace of computer technology: "hot" drawings went directly to the workshops of a pilot plant.

The government regulation to create an unoriented man-made satellite under the secret code "D-object" with the weight of 1,000 - 1,400 kg, including equipment for scientific researches of 200 - 300 kg was prepared in January 1956 and signed on January 30.

General scientific management and provision with equipment for scientific researches of outer space was delegated to the USSR Academy of Sciences, while the satellite development - to OKB-1 (design bureau headed by

стр. 6


Korolev), and carrying out of experimental launches - to the Ministry of Defense.

When the regulation was signed, Korolev and his main deputies (including myself) were at Kapustin Yar launch site. Together with atomic scientists we prepared the missile R-5M with real nuclear explosive for tests. And it was realized on February 2, 1956: the explosion took place in desert steppe at the distance of 1,200 km from the start. Soon the missile R-5M with an atomic warhead was made operational.

By July 1956 a draft of the first man-made satellite was finished, composition of scientific problems was determined, including measurement of ion composition of space, corpuscular emission of the Sun, magnetic fields, cosmic rays, the satellite thermal conditions, its breaking action in the upper atmosphere, orbit life, accuracy of definition of the orbit coordinates and parameters, etc. Command radio link equipment for control from the planet and onboard system to process commands to connect scientific data and deliver results of measurements by a tele-metric channel were installed on the satellite. On the Earth there was built a package of means to obtain necessary information (15 of them were designed in the USSR).

By the end of 1956 it was found out that the term of creation of the man-made satellite would be ruined due to the difficulties of manufacturing reliable scientific equipment. Nevertheless, the project of "D-object" was approved by special committee of the USSR Council of Ministers. Earlier, on February 12, 1955 building of research and test launch site No. 5 (since 1961 this place has been known as the launch site Baikonur*) started in semi-desert near station Tyuratam by the forces of the army under command of General Shubnikov.

During 1955 - 1956 manufacture of the first technological body of the missile R-7 was finished, its tests were carried out at Leningrad Metal Factory together with a real launch system. Firing tests of separate units of the missile began at firing test stands near Zagorsk (now it is town of Peresvet). Modeling and overall finishing off of the control system were carried out under the direction of N. Pilyugin.

On January 14, 1957 the USSR Council of Ministers approved a program of flight tests of the missiles R-7. The first technological "model" missile was sent to the launch site in Tyuratam as early as in January. I spent many days and nights at test-and-control station. We conducted autonomous and integrated electrical checks of the missile: at first, by units, then we assembled the package and conducted its tests as a whole. And not in vain: we found a lot of errors in documentation and complicated electric circuits. However, there is nothing to be surprised at: we had five power plants instead of a customary one power plant! There were 12 control engines! There were 32 combustion chambers (20 main and 12 steering ones).

In the assembling shop of the factory the missile seemed to be a fantastic structure. Korolev invited the First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Nikita Khrushchev there. He arrived together with the main members of the Central Committee Political Bureau. They were shocked, and not only they. Chief ideologist of our H-bomb academician Andrei Sakharov wrote in his reminiscences: "We thought that we had large scales but there we saw something which was larger by dozens of times. We were amazed at great technical culture which could be seen with the naked eye, agreed work of hundreds of people of high proficiency and their almost everyday but very business like attitude toward those fantastic things they had to deal with..."

Meanwhile, Korolev, being sure of frustration of the terms to manufacture the first man-made satellite in the variant of a space laboratory, put forward the proposal to the government: "There is information that in connection with the International Physical Year, the USA intends to launch a man-made satellite in 1958. We run the risk of losing priority. I suggest to launch the simplest satellite instead of the complicated laboratory of "D-object". His suggestion was accepted - preparation of launch of the simplest satellite "PS" started.

Korolev sent me and other deputies - L. Voskresensky and V. Abramov - to the launch site to accept the first missile and prepare it for launch.


See: Yu. Markov, "Baikonur: 50 Years of Serving Mankind", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2005. -Ed.

стр. 7


In February 1957, the launch site was being completed at full speed. A small residential town was built at the Syrdarya River bank. Installation and test building for preparation of the missiles was almost finished. However, the most mighty structure - launch pad - site No. 1 - was not finished yet. From railway station there was laid a concrete road, railway branch; high-tension-line towers were installed. Lines of dump trucks with liquid concrete, trucks with building materials, covered wagons with soldiers-builders headed for the launch site. I, as a participant of the War, remembered the military roads of the 1940s in the nearest rear areas of the Soviet army before big attacks: the same overworked buzz of hundreds of trucks, each of which is in a hurry with its cargo. No, today there was no rumble of tanks and cannons, but again soldiers were at steering wheels of all cars and trucks.

The driver of our car was a soldier, too. I had to settle in this "front", as we thought, atmosphere for a long time. While other deputies of Korolev and I, as well as hundreds of civil and military specialists who had moved to the launch site, assembled, tested, prepared the missile and dozens of complicated ground systems for launch, in the design bureau (OKB-1) Korolev designed and then manufactured the simplest satellite.

The first R-7 (factory serial number M1 - 5) arrived at missile preparation area of the launch site at the beginning of March 1957. Long-term tests of units started, noticed defects were eliminated, onboard and ground devices were updated, in-line documentation was worked out. In April, firing bench tests of devices and package as a whole were successfully finished. At the meeting of the State Committee Korolev reported about the work carried out at preparation and parameters of the first missile for flight tests. He said that the initial weight of a fully fueled missile would amount to 280 t, its nose section together with a useful load imitator would weigh 5.5 t. Weight of the components to be fueled-cryogenic oxygen, kerosene, hydrogen peroxide, compressed nitrogen-would be 253 t. Speed at the time of the second-stage shutdown at full range firing must reach 6,385 m/sec, however, launch would be realized only at 6,314 km at the test range of Kamchatka. Specific data to set up a control system would be calculated separately. One of the main problems is to examine mutual dynamics of the missile and starting device, as well as stability of motion, though calculated given accuracy (+8 km) is not guaranteed for the first launches.

On May 5, 1957 the R-7 was taken to the launcher-launch pad No. 1. Fueling started on the eighth day. The launch itself was scheduled for May 15. After all examinations at the launcher had been finished, I went down to the underground bunker at a depth of 8 m at the distance of 200 m from the start. The last operations and launch were controlled from the main console premises equipped with two sea periscopes. A separate big room was for members of the State Committee, the other - for consulting engineers ("first-aid repairs"). In the still other underground room there was monitoring equipment to control fueling, starts and mechanisms. Information about the state of onboard systems was reflected in displays of the main console and transmitted to connection bunker from the tracking station which received radiation of the three onboard telemetric systems installed on the missile. Deputy of Korolev for tests L. Voskresensky and Head of Range Operations Directorate Lieutenant-Colonel Ye. Ostashev were at battle periscopes of launch control. The latter gave the last launch commands.

Everything happened at 19:00 local time. By visual observations and following processing of telemetric information the missile normally left the start.

"It is the sight which shocks imagination", those who had watched the start taking shelter in trenches at the distance of 1 km said later. A strongly broken noise reached the bunker. A controlled flight lasted till the 98th second. Then the motor power of the side unit "D" fell down, and it separated from the missile without a command. It lost stability, and at the 103rd second the command to switch off all engines was given due to great deviations. The missile fell at 300 km from the start.

Everybody congratulated Korolev with the fact that the launch system had survived and stability of flight of the whole package at the most responsible first area had been proven. However, he was upset. The following processing of telemetric information and examination of the remains of the units showed that emergence of fire due to leakage in kerosene communication of high pressure of the power plant had been the cause of the accident.

стр. 8


The second R-7 (No. 6L) was prepared taking into account the already gained experience. On June 10 - 11, we made repeated attempts to launch, though automatic system of launch control "discharged a scheme" in the last seconds. The missile did not leave the start. The reason was congelation of the main oxygen valve on the unit "B" and error in installation of nitrogen purging valve. The components were discharged, the missile was removed from the start and returned to the missile preparation area.

The third R-7 (No. M1 - 7) had stood in line for already a month, it was launched on June 12, 1957. It normally took off but then it started deviating around longitudinal axis having exceeded the permitted 7°. The automatic system carried out emergency cutoff of all engines. At the 32.9 sec the package fell to pieces. The units fell down and burnt down at the distance of 7 km from the start. Examination showed that the reason had been short circuit on the main body of a new mechanism of the control system which, according to the intention of creators, had to improve stability in rotary mode. As a result, a false command was given to control engines which began to "twist" the missile.

Finally, on August 21, the fourth launch was realized. The R-7 (No. 8L) worked full-time the whole active area of a pathway. According to the data of external control, its nose section reached the given area of Kamchatka, entered the atmosphere but we did not manage to find its traces on the Earth. Evidently, thermodynamic loads surpassed all expectations, while heat-insulation coating did not help.

Despite another failure (this time concerning its framework), on August 27 the TASS (News Agency of the Soviet Union) published the statement: "The Soviet Union has launched an ultra long-range intercontinental multistage ballistic missile. There is an opportunity of launching missiles to any area of the Earth."

On September 7, 1957 a regular launch of the R-7 (No. M1 - 9) was realized. All the units normally worked a whole launching phase. However, its nose section burned in the atmosphere again, though this time some remains of the framework were found.

Thus, from results of flight tests of the five missiles it was evident that the product could fly but its nose section needed to be drastically updated, which required at least six months of hard work. However, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Destruction of the missile nose sections made the way to launch the first simplest satellite: it did not need to enter the thick layers of the Earth's atmosphere. Korolev obtained Khrushchev's agreement to use two missiles for test launching of device.

On September 17, 1957 the Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences Sergey Korolev, who was practically unknown to anyone at that time, delivered a lecture at the meeting to celebrate the 100th anniversary of K. Tsiolkovsky. He said that a man-made satellite could be delivered to space in our country in the near future. Five days later the carrier rocket 8K71PS (product M1-PS) arrived at the launch site. It was significantly lightened compared to regular missiles. Dummy nose section was removed and replaced by adapter "in imitation of satellite". All equipment of radio guidance system (accuracy was not required) and one of telemetric systems were removed from the central unit. Automatic system of engine-off of the central unit was simplified. Thus, gross launching weight was lightened by 71 compared to the first samples.

On October 4, 1957 at 10:28:34 p.m. Moscow time the start was realized. In 295.4 sec the satellite and central unit of the carrier rocket entered the orbit. The first cosmic velocity calculated by founder of classical physics and universal law of gravitation Englishman Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727) was reached for the first time. It was 7,780 m/sec for the first man-made satellite. The satellite inclination was 65.1°, pericenter altitude 228 km, apocenter altitude - 947 km, orbit time - 96.17 min.

When, after the first delight, at the launch site they received the signals "beep-beep-beep" which became known to all mankind and telemetry was processed, it was found out that the missile had started at a great risk. The engine of the side unit "G" was late to enter the conditions, i.e. was less than a second before control time. Had it been delayed for a little longer, the scheme would have automatically "discharged" the device and start would have been cancelled. Moreover, at the 16th second of flight the control system of tanks depletion failed, which resulted in increased kerosene consumption, and the engine of the central unit was switched off 1sec earlier than calculated time. Also, there were other faults. If another small fault happened, the first cosmic speed could have been unattained.

However, victors need never explain! The sublime happened! On October 5, 1957 the TASS statement was finished with the words: "Man-made satellites will pave the way to interplanetary journeys and, apparently, our contemporaries will be witnesses of how liberated and conscious work of people of a new socialist society will make true the boldest dreams of mankind".

The first satellite existed 92 days (till January 4, 1958). During this time it made 1440 orbits, the central block worked for 60 days: it could be watched with the naked eye as a first magnitude star.

The world was literally stunned! The satellite changed political alignment of forces. US Secretary of War stated that the victory in the war with the USSR was no longer achievable. Having replaced a thermonuclear H-bomb with a small satellite, we gained the great political and social victory.


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