41Paddy

What do you think went wrong with the N-1 Program?

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What is your idea of the N-1 Russian Moon Program failure? How do you think it fell apart?

My opinion:
1. The person who led the program had died, and nobody could figure out where to go from there.

2. Lack of knowledge of improving rockets. They were first to space, but their engine development failed miserably after a few milestones.

3. Lack of funding. They ran out of money to develop the program.

4. Design flaws and construction failures. Putting 30 engines on 1 stage? Wires broken everywhere? Fuel tanks not big enough to support it to orbit? Something's going to go wrong...

Share your ideas below!

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Well it certainly had something to do with the fact that the N-1 was not initially designed to be a moon lifter, rather a heavy lifter to LEO. This meant it had to be adapted

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Perhaps slightly ironically, I think that a big issue with the Soviet space program as a whole was the number of competing design bureaus involved and the reluctance of the Soviet government to manage the program from the top. In contrast, after the initial planning stage for Apollo, everyone involved settled on one mission architecture, one booster, one program. Everyone had their job to do and everyone got on with it. The Soviet program suffered from in-fighting between designers (especially once Korolev died) and a lack of clear direction and political buy-in for a Moon program. A lot of the political support from the Kremlin was fairly opportunistic and the I don't think the will was there to fully back a project of that size.

Technically, the N-1 was right on the very edge of what could be done at the time. I think a lot of their problems were down to the KORD system for controlling all 32 engines (or whatever the number was) in the first stage, and at that time control systems were just not up to the task. Funding was also an issue - the resources weren't there for a methodical test program, so effectively each N-1 launch was an all-up test flight. In particular - or so I've read - each of the engines could only be fired once with any sort of reliability, so they weren't tested individually before integration with the booster. Finally, quality control was an issue, probably due to a lack of resources and political pressure to get the job done regardless.

 

Edited by KSK
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The engines were outstanding. The rocket? Not so much. KORDS failed, and it just fell out of the sky. Not to mention the other failures.

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An attempt to replace a giant with 30 dwarves carrying enormous spheres of fire and ice liquids.

16 minutes ago, Bill Phil said:

The engines were outstanding.

Afaik, the engines were poor and got well after being upgraded to NK-33 version. Glushko didn't bless them.

Edited by kerbiloid

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1 hour ago, kerbiloid said:

Afaik, the engines were poor and got well after being upgraded to NK-33 version. Glushko didn't bless them.

http://www.astronautix.com/n/nk-15.html

318 is pretty outstanding for RP-1, especially in the 60s. Nk-33s are better, yes, but Nk-15s were still great engines. Even had a T/W of 126.

The F-1s on the Saturn V were outstanding as well.

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So, all four failures were caused by the excellent engines failure.

https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=ru&ie=UTF8&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.ru&sl=ru&tl=en&u=https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9D-1&usg=ALkJrhgYyLWJNZ0ZlQYS5vm20CU1mduqgg#.D0.9F.D1.83.D1.81.D0.BA.D0.B8

(section 3)

(Huge spherical tanks welded manually in situ, with dozens of pipelnes, were also nice)

Edited by kerbiloid

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The son of Krushev (the president of the URSS in that time) was in a rival design bureau competing for the same goal. :P

Little resources and too divided. Ironically the Capitalist state went full centralized, focused and public funded and the Communist state went to competition between companies (or design bureaus if you prefer that way) with poor public funding.

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One of the big shortcomings of the N1 program was the lack of test firings. The first time each stage was tested was for the launch. They never bothered to build a test stand to test each stage before assembling the stack. 

The fact that the rocket was assembled in sheds in the middle of nowhere didn't help. The spherical design with an outer skin made it heavier than necessary. The whole effort was underfunded. Most people probably knew this, but the chain of command in the USSR didn't encourage honest bottom-to-top reporting.

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7 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

So, all four failures were caused by the excellent engines failure.

https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=ru&ie=UTF8&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.ru&sl=ru&tl=en&u=https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9D-1&usg=ALkJrhgYyLWJNZ0ZlQYS5vm20CU1mduqgg#.D0.9F.D1.83.D1.81.D0.BA.D0.B8

(section 3)

(Huge spherical tanks welded manually in situ, with dozens of pipelnes, were also nice)

We're forgetting that these are rockets. Rocket engines, even great ones, still fail.

It failed twice due to KORD and other control software.

The real issue came with controlling so many engines as well as the extremely complex plumbing involved. And lack of ground testing.

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Well, for one, the rockets exploded. That was probably their biggest problem.

4 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

So, all four failures were caused by the excellent engines failure.

Very little of it was caused directly by the engines; it was more how they were used; i.e., in an improperly tested platform with primitive control equipment and way too many at once.

I wonder what would've happened had the Soviets not been so rushed, and decided to embark on a manned lunar program starting from improving the cosmodrome, and making sure they had the infrastructure to do it right.

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The engines for super-hyper-rocket were designed by a bureau which never had designed a rocket engine before, after Glushko had rejected this project as non-realistic in short terms, while Korolev was supporting the idea of multiple-cheap-engines -doesn't-matter-if-one-or-two-fail.
A lack of tests cannot be a reason itself. It just can highlight a problem before the total rocket crash.

Edited by kerbiloid

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13 minutes ago, kerbiloid said:

The engines for super-hyper-rocket were designed by a bureau which never had designed a rocket engine before, after Glushko had rejected this project as non-realistic in short terms, while Korolev was supporting the idea of multiple-cheap-engines -doesn't-matter-if-one-or-two-fail.
A lack of tests cannot be a reason itself. It just can highlight a problem before the total rocket crash.

Oh, it was a reason alright. I imagine there's a good chance engines were pulled from Saturn V rockets because testing revealed defects, we just don't hear about those because "test revealed minor glitch in engine 3; replaced with identical engine" is much less newsworthy than "rocket exploded due to engine failure". While I don't have a very detailed history of the Apollo project that would make note of such incidents, I can fully imagine that Saturn V rockets could have exploded if they were not-tested in the same manner as the N1 rockets were.

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Additional problem with testing was that even the 1st stage of Saturn had just 5 engines. So, testing one engine, they could test 20% of the total stage.
While testing one-by-one NK-15 meant nothing in sense of whole stage, because KORD was to eliminate disbalance between 30 engines at once. So, they should test the N-1 stage only with all engines at once.

(IRL KORD hadn't caused failures, it just appeared to be unable eliminate the problems when one or two of the engines had already failed. I.e. in situations it was purposed for).

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The only thing that went wrong was :

 

Explosions.

 

 

Specifically, the rate and site of explosions. Only after that there's the tale of perception.

Edited by YNM

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5. CIA had agent inside... Russians closed their program because saying "we were infiltrated" was worse than saying "we quit".

6. Russians didn't wanted to go to Moon, because it was stupid idea to go there just for the show and they blew up their rocket to have excuse for shutting down program.

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Poor management practices - splitting program into two - lunar landing (Н1-ЛК3) and lunar fly-by (Протон-Л1). Poor decision of making huge stage with spherical tanks - so rocket stages must be built near launch site. Catastrophic decision not to test every engine prior to flight - they do batch testing for NK-15 engines - so if 4 of 12 passed the test, rest was declared "flight worthily".

Edited by 1greywind

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Nobody would fund a program that fails al the time with the design flaws clearly visible.

It was not good.

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14 hours ago, Bill Phil said:

http://www.astronautix.com/n/nk-15.html

318 is pretty outstanding for RP-1, especially in the 60s. Nk-33s are better, yes, but Nk-15s were still great engines. Even had a T/W of 126.

The F-1s on the Saturn V were outstanding as well.

Totally agree. So far as I can tell from a bit of reading around, the NK-15s were technically far more advanced in many ways - more complex combustion cycle, advanced metallurgy to allow said combustion cycle to work, high ISP and low structural mass. The F1 was a conceptually simpler engine (and certainly far less efficient with a sea level ISP of 263s) but scaling any rocket engine up to F1 levels of thrust was an incredible achievement.

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38 minutes ago, KSK said:

Totally agree. So far as I can tell from a bit of reading around, the NK-15s were technically far more advanced in many ways - more complex combustion cycle, advanced metallurgy to allow said combustion cycle to work, high ISP and low structural mass. The F1 was a conceptually simpler engine (and certainly far less efficient with a sea level ISP of 263s) but scaling any rocket engine up to F1 levels of thrust was an incredible achievement.

Can be a good example of how the aviation engines were far more developed than the rocket ones, because Kuznetsov bureau were an aviation engines bureau, and that this expertise was somewhat isolated to the space industry.

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You cant seriously blame KORD system. It was designed to monitor five critical variables and shutdown engine open seeing signs of trouble - combustion instability, bad cooling, that kind of stuff. Should be obvious it cant do nothing if perfectly working engine just exploded out of blue. Which is what usually happened.  When it was given time to act it worked well. Only serious problem with KORD was that one time it let whole stack fall back at launchpad. And even in that case it worked correctly (engines did  really fail) and it was resolved by adding simple inhibition that prevented engine shutdown until stack was clear of pad.

As for engines, let me share a little bit of historical trivia I learned from Chertoks memoirs about how they were tested: Kuznetsov's melody boys delivered batch of six engines and their deputy sworn to state commission by party, his mother, holy icon or  whatever that they were made with same tooling, same people, same procedures, same schematics… you get the idea. State commission then picked four engines at random and have them test fired. If they performed ok, they were scraped (see the "non-restartable" part) and remaining two were cleared flight ready. If any problems occurred, whole batch was scraped. Event if problem was known and could be remedied. Fun part is that from standpoint of testing, failure of all four engines was better then if some worked well, which is kinda scary thought. End result was that party higher-ups complained about wasting money on throwing away perfectly good engines, and OKB-1 engineers complained about insufficient testing. And of course everyone involved knew this is stupid waste of money, since Kuznetsov already had restartable version in works that could be tested in less silly way. But waiting 2-3 years for their development was out of question and rest is history.

As for "stupid russian engineers who could not be bothered with proper testing" meme, this is just nonsense. Stacks were routinely tested, even upper stages of N1. One and only reason why N1 first stage was not tested was that it would require really huge test stand and lunar program was not given enough money for that. People at OKB-1 knew they are taking big risk and were not happy about it, but they were out of options. What I think also affected them was idea that they could test systems of whole stage, but not actual flight hardware, because non-restartable engines again. Which brings me to point that apart from other problems mentioned here, one person mostly responsible for failure of soviet lunar program is Valentin Glushko.

11 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

…after Glushko had rejected this project as non-realistic in short terms…

It is funny how often this (correct) decision of Glushko is cited without mentioning it was his doing in first place. He held monopoly on big engines (Isayev only built specialized, small ones) and it was his obsession with high-boiling propelants that got them into this situation.
 

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45 minutes ago, radonek said:

and it was his obsession with high-boiling propelants that got them into this situation.

His obsession with hypergolics was the only thing which saved the situation with ICBM and SLBM, replacing cryomonsters like R-7.(requiring 700 crew, 12 hours and an oxygen factory to launch one warhead) with ready-to-use UR-100 and R-36 in high-protected SILOs.

And several years later he designed RD-170 instead of NK-15 bunch.

Also, about 3/4 of total orbital mass from Russia was launched with Protons (whose production Korolev tried to stop)

Edited by kerbiloid
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31 minutes ago, radonek said:

You cant seriously blame KORD system

According to wiki: "The telemetry system relayed data back at an estimated rate of 9.6 gigabytesper second on 320,000 channels on 14 frequencies. Commands could be sent to an ascending N1 at the same rate.[19]"

Is this remotely correct?  It would be fairly impressive even during the 90s internet boom, let alone with discrete transistors during the 60s-70s.  While Seyour Cray might have had been dealing with more data in the CDC6600 and CDC7600 at the time, they didn't need to strap 30 rockets to it and blow up a N-1 to test it.  I wouldn't claim that Cray* could get that to work.

* actually Cray (nor Chen) got any of their machines to work on their own, all of their working machines were finished by the same guy (possibly Thorton, but google has let me down).

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built too fast to stop the filthy capitalist Americans from getting to the mun first

                                            (^im joking right here^)

 

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