Tag Archives: R-7 Semyorka

4 January 1958

Replica of Sputnik 1 satellite at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum (NSAM)
Replica of Sputnik 1 satellite at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum (NASA)

4 January 1958: After completing 1,440 orbits, Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and was destroyed.

Простейший Спутник-1 (Sputnik 1, or Elementary Satellite 1) had been launched 4 October 1957 from Site No. 1 at the Scientific-Research Test Range No. 5, Tyuratam, Kazakh S.S.R. (now, Kazakhstan), aboard a two-stage Sputnik 8K71PS rocket, a variant of the R-7 Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile.

Mikhail S. Khomyakov
Mikhail S. Khomyakov

The satellite was designed at OKB-1 (the Special Design Bureau) by a team of Mikhail Stepanovich Khomyakov, Maksim Khramov and Oleg Genrikhovich Ivanovsky. It was constructed as a sphere with a diameter of 58.0 centimeters (22.84 inches), made from an aluminum alloy with a thickness of 2 millimeters (0.08 inch). The two halves were joined by 36 bolts and filled with pressurized nitrogen. Four “whip” antennas were equally spaced around the satellite’s shell, angled at 35° from the longitudinal axis. With three silver-zinc batteries and equipment, the Sputnik 1 mass was 83.6 kilograms (184.3 pounds).

The satellite entered an elliptical Low Earth Orbit, with a perigee of 215.0 kilometers (133.6 miles) and apogee of 939.0 kilometers (583.5 miles). The duration of each orbit was 1 hour, 36 minutes, 12 seconds.

An unidentified engineer with Sputnik 1.
An unidentified engineer with Sputnik 1. (OKB-1)

The Sputnik 8K71PS launch vehicle, serial number 1 M1-PS, was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket based on the R-7 Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 rocket was designed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, known as The Chief Designer. It had a length of 29.167 meters (95.69 feet) and maximum diameter of 10.3 meters (33.79 feet) at the base, including stabilizers. Its mass was 267.13 tons (588,921 pounds) at liftoff. The propellant was Kerosene T-1 with liquid oxygen.

The first stage consisted of four “strap-on” boosters surrounding the second, of “core” stage, each with an RD-107 four-chamber rocket engine, for a total thrust of 323.6 tons (713,409 pounds) of thrust. The first stage burn time was 120 seconds.

The second stage (core) was powered by one RD-108 four-chamber engine, producing 93 tons (205,028 pounds) of thrust. Burn time for the second stage was 180 seconds.

Sputnik I launch, Site No. 1, Scientific-Research Test Range No. 5, Tyuratam, Kazakh S.S.R., 19:28:34 4 October 1957 UTC (5 October, Tyuratam). (RKK Energiya/Solaris ID 38466)

Sputnik 1 launched at 22:28:34 Moscow time. After 116.38 seconds, the stages separated. The second stage and satellite entered orbit 295.4 seconds after liftoff at an altitude of 228.6 kilometers (142.05 miles) and velocity of 7,780 meters per second (17,403.36 miles per hour). The satellite separated from the second stage 5 minutes, 14.5 seconds after launch.

The second stage reentered the atmosphere 2 December 1957.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

2 January 1959

Luna 1 was launched from Tyuratam at 16:41:21 UTC, 2 January 1959. (Sovfoto/UIG)

2 January 1959: First Cosmic Ship (which was later known as Мечта (Mechta, “Dream”) and today is called Luna 1) was launched from the Scientific-Research Test Range No. 5 at Tyuratam, Kazakhstan (later named the Baikonur Cosmodrome) at 16:41:21 UTC aboard a Vostok-L 8K72 three-stage launch vehicle.

Mechta was the fourth in a series of lunar probes, and was intended to impact the surface of the Moon.  It was spherical with a diameter of 0.9 meters (35.4 inches) and had several antennas. The probe weighed 361.3 kilograms (796.5 pounds). The probe carried a magnetometer, Geiger counter, scintillation detector and micrometeorite detector. It was powered by batteries. Radio telemetry equipment relayed the data to Earth.

Luna I probe installed in upper stage. (Don P. Mitchell)

Data received from the space probe revealed that The Moon has no magnetic field, and the existence of a “solar wind”, an ionized plasma coming from The Sun.

It was intended that the spacecraft would impact the lunar surface, but an error in programming the third stage burn time caused a near miss. After 34 hours of flight, at 02:59 4 January 1959 (UTC), the probe passed within 5,995 kilometers (3,725 miles) of the lunar surface at approximately 8,900 kilometers per hour (5,530 miles per hour). It then entered a solar (heliocentric) orbit between Earth and Mars, where it remains today, circling the Sun every 450.0 days.

Replica of Luna 1 on display at the Kosmos Pavilion of the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy of the USSR. (RIA Novosti Archive)
Vostok-L 8K72 (RKK Energia)

The Vostok-L 8K72 was a modified R-7A Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 rocket was designed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, known as The Chief Designer.

The 8K72 version consisted of two core stages with four external boosters. The first stage and each of the boosters were powered by a four-nozzle RD-107 rocket engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen. Total thrust was approximately 1,100,775 pounds of thrust (4,896.49 kilonewtons). The second stage used a RD-0105 engine, producing 11,015 pounds of thrust (48.997 kilonewtons). The Luna 1 was propelled by a third stage which remained attached during the translunar coast phase of flight.

The first two stages were 30.84 meters (101.18 feet) high and weighed 277,000 kilograms (610,680 pounds). The Luna 1 third stage weighed 1,472 kilograms (3,245 pounds), empty. It was 5.2 meters (17.06 feet) long with a diameter of 2.4 meters (7.87 feet).

The 8K72 rocket was capable of launching a 4,000 kilogram (8,818.5 pound) payload into Low Earth Orbit. The last launch of an 8K72 was in 1960, but the current Soyuz launchers are based on this early rocket.

Luna 1 was the first space vehicle to reach escape velocity and leave Earth’s gravitational field; the first to reach the vicinity of the Moon, and the first man-made device to orbit the Sun.

The Chief Designer, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, photographed in 1938. (The Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documents)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

7 October 1959

Luna 3 space probe.

7 October 1959: An E-2A space probe, Luna 3, was launched by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at 00:43:39.7 UTC, 4 October 1959, from the Tyuratam Launch Complex (now known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The launch vehicle was a 3-stage 8K72 rocket, a variant of the R7 Semyorka two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. Luna 3 was approximately cylindrical, 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3.2 inches) long, with a diameter of 120 centimeters (3 feet, 11.2 inches). It weighed 278.5 kilograms (614 pounds).

At 1416 UTC, 6 October, the probe made its closest approach as it passed over the lunar south pole at 6,200 kilometers (3,852 miles) and continued around the far side of The Moon in an highly eccentric orbit. For 40 minutes, between 0330 and 0410 UTC, 7 October, cameras aboard Luna 3 took a series of images of the surface. These photographs, taken at a distance of 63,500 to 66,700 kilometers (39,457 to 41,445 miles), were the first photos ever taken of The Moon’s far side. Exposed film from the cameras was processed on board, then transmitted to Earth as television signals.

The orbit of Luna 3 was highly eccentric with a 15 day period. It came as close as 40,638 kilometers and as far as 460,755 kilometers (25,251 miles to 286,300 miles) from The Moon. Contact was lost 22 October 1959. It is believed to have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere after April 1960.

Image of the far side of The Moon captured by Luna 3, 7 October 1959.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes