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N1 rocket
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N1 rocket

in early July 1969. (NASA)]]
N1 or N-1 was the Soviet rocket intended to send Soviet astronauts to the moon, preferably ahead of the Americans. The Russian moon rocket program was first led by Sergei Korolev until his death in 1966 and later by Vasily Mishin. However, the project was not a success.

The overall rocket system actually bore the designation N1-L3: N1 was the boost rocket, while the L3 was mounted on top for the trip to lunar orbit and, it was hoped, lunar landing.

Incidentally, there is a great deal of confusion among Russian online sources as to whether it is N1-L3 (Russian: Н1-Л3) or N1-LZ (Russian: Н1-ЛЗ) because of the similarity of the Cyrillic letter for "Z" and the number "3". Sometimes both forms will be used within the same Russian website (or even the same article [1] [1]). However, English sources refer only to N1-L3, and it seems clear it is a number because there were lunar projects with code names from L1 to L5. [1]

In terms of size and lift capacity, the N1-L3 was massive. It was designed to send 95 tons of payload into lunar orbit, and stood over 100 meters tall — easily the tallest Soviet launch vehicle ever produced, even today. Unfortunately, it was also the most complex Soviet rocket ever produced, and in the rush to production, its NK-33 rocket motors (of which it carried over 30, see photo) were never ground tested in combination, only as individual units. Because of this, the complex and destructive vibrational modes (which ripped apart piping and motors) as well as exhaust plume fluid dynamic problems were not discovered and worked out before flight.  It is worth noting that the successful American Saturn V rocket had only five F-1 engines, rather than the 30 of the Russian design.

As a result of its technical difficulties, the N1 never successfully flew. All four test launches ended in failure, with the longest flight lasting only 107 seconds. Two test launches occurred in 1969, one in 1971 and the final one in 1972. The program was terminated in 1974 before a final test launch which the engineers believed would have been a success.

The program was followed by the "Vulkan" concept for a huge Proton like hypergolic fueled vehicle, and then in 1976 by the commencement of the Energia/Buran program.

The program left behind a large stockpile of — even by today's (2004) standards — quite advanced liquid oxygen/kerosene engines (the NK-33), which have survived the N1 cover-up hardware destruction. The U.S. company Kistler Aerospace Corporation continues to work on incorporating these engines into a new rocket design, with which Kistler seeks to eventually become able to offer commercial launch services.

Launch history:

References

External links