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Tests of the A-4 rocket in Kapustin Yar

Birth of the Soviet missile development program in the aches of the World War II predetermined the creation of the Kapustin Yar test range. The 1946 decree, officially founding the rocket industry in the country, directed the Ministry of Armed Forces led by Bulganin to propose the location for the Central Test Range for all jet-propelled weapons. The major factors which favored Kapustin Yar over other locations were the access by railroad, relative proximity to industrial infrastructure of the city of Stalingrad (Volgograd) on the Volga River and land availability for the construction of the range. The future range designated the 4th State Central Range (4th GTsP) centered around the point 48.4 degrees Northern latitude and 56.5 degrees Eastern longitude.

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Tests in Kapustin Yar

Along with working on prospective designs during summer of 1947, NII-88 completed assembly of several A-4 rockets of the "T" series, in addition to "N" series assembled back in Germany. Both batches, along with auxiliary hardware from Germany were shipped to a newly founded test range in Kapustin Yar. On July 26, 1947, the Soviet of Ministers officially scheduled test launches of the A-4 missiles in Kapustin Yar during September-October 1947. (52) Launches were to be conducted by the USSR's special missile unit designated 22nd Special Purpose Brigade, BON, which had been formed back in Germany. (473)

One day, to the surprise of Gröttrup's family "half of the Ministry" (of Armaments) descended onto his house for a meeting at the conclusion of which, he had to gather his winter clothes and leave in the unknown direction. Gröttrup, joined all leading officials from NII-88 at Kapustin Yar.

According to Irmgard Gröttrup's memoirs (64), she followed her husband to Kapustin Yar several weeks later -- the claim vehemently denied by the veteran of the Russian space program Boris Chertok. Yet, discounting some confusion with dates and few misinterpreted technical details, Mrs. Gröttrup's descriptions of events and the atmosphere in Kapustin Yar can now be confirmed almost by the letter from Russian witness accounts published half a century later.

By the time, the NII-88's "rocket train" arrived at the range, soldiers were still erecting most essential infrastructure at the site. The construction of a special test stand out of hardware shipped from Germany was hardly completed, as the first rocket No. 02T was installed for the test.

After some troubles with fueling, the live firing of the A-4 engine was conducted on October 17, 1947, at 0:30 Moscow Time. Next morning, Russians and Germans started preparing another rocket for launch. At the end of the day, at 21:00 Moscow Time, the vehicle No. 010T was rolled out to the launch site.

The first launch of the A-4 rocket designated No. 010T, was preceded by a short delay caused by a failure of the ignition system. Three Russian technicians run to a fully loaded rocket and replaced pyrotechnic device initiating the launch. The vehicle blasted off on October 18, 1947, at 10:47 Moscow Time and after a short arc into the stratosphere impacted 206.7 kilometers from the launch site deviating around 30 kilometers to the left from the target. Absence of a large crater at the impact site showed that the rocket apparently disintegrated before crashing. Still, the launch was qualified as a success.

The second launch took place on October 20, 1947 at 11:14 Moscow Time and proceeded in the wrong direction due to control system failure. It fell 231 kilometers from the launch site, but 181 kilometers off target. (170)

Search for the cause of the failure, forced Gröttrup to summon two of his compatriots from NII-88 to Kapustin Yar. During the flight to the range, the security policy officer, who escorted two men, tried to get them drank as a way of preventing Germans from figuring out the geographical location of the "secret" test site. In spite of such treatment, engineers set out to work immediately upon landing and soon were able to resolve the problem.

Launches of the A-4 rocket from Kapustin Yar in the fall of 1947 (84, 473):

- Vehicle No.
Flight range, km Official result Mission details
Oct. 18
The vehicle disintegrated during atmospheric reentry and fell 30 kilometers off target. The launch is qualified as successful.
Oct. 20
The vehicle of the T series deviated 181 kilometers from the intended flight path.
Oct. 23
Observations of the rocket during the flight were hampered by low cloud cover. Vehicle disintegrated, possibly due to the warhead failure, while flying 3.9 kilometers off target.
Oct. 28
The vehicle reached target area falling just 4 kilometers off target and was qualified as a success.
Oct. 31
The vehicle developed roll along its longitudinal axis immediately after launch, then started moving erratically and crashed one kilometer away from its planned path. It is considered a failure.
Nov. 2
The vehicle reached target area, falling five miles off target.
Nov. 3
The vehicle developed roll along its longitudinal axis immediately after the launch, lost its fins and fell 0.9 kilometers off its path.
Nov. 4
The vehicle reached target area just 1.1 kilometers off target.
Nov. 10
The vehicle lost control and fell 18.2 kilometers off its flight path.
Nov. 13
The vehicle disintegrated during atmospheric reentry, but impacted just 80 meters from the target point.
Nov. 13
Second rocket of the day launched five hours after the first. The rocket fell 700 meters from the target area.

A total of 11 rockets had been launched, five of the launches were classified as successful, one as a failure and the rest as partially successful. (52) The latter category primarily included vehicles, which landed outside of the designated target area.





Construction of the test firing stand for the A-4 (V-2) rockets in Kapustin Yar. Credit: RKK Energia

Test firing of the A-4 engine in Kapustin Yar. Credit: RKK Energia

The A-4 (V-2) rocket is being erected on the launch pad in Kapustin Yar. Credit: RKK Energia

Fueling of the A-4 (V-2) rocket in Kapustin Yar. Credit: RKK Energia

The A-4 rocket on the launch pad in Kapustin Yar. The archive of Anatoly Zak

Soviet officials walk to the viewing stand, with the A-4 rocket ready for launch on the background. The archive of Anatoly Zak

A railway car for processing telemetry data from rocket launches, parked on the siding in Kapustin Yar during A-4 (V-2) trials in 1947. Credit: RKK Energia

The main road in Kapustin Yar. The archive of Anatoly Zak