First launched in 1957, the R-7 became the biggest leap in the world's rocketry since German A-4. Ironically, developed to be the first Soviet ICBM, the R-7 grew obsolete as a weapon even before it started flying. Yet, as a launch-vehicle, it continued serving Russian space program more than half a century after it was originally conceived. In the 21st century, the R-7-derived space boosters have remained only vehicles delivering Russian manned spacecraft into orbit. The construction of the International Space Station also depended on the R-7-based boosters, launching supply ships and lifeboats for the outpost's crews.
General configuration of the R-7 ICBM.
Major elements of the R-7 rocket.
Base R-7 rocket tech dossier:
The R-7 development team:
Early milestones in the R-7 program (Phase I of flight testing and orbital launch attempts):
First test mission
The first R-7 missile (Number 5L) arrived to Tyuratam on March 3, 1957. After pre-launch processing at Site 2, it was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 1 in the yearly hours of May 5, 1957. Key officials in charge of the program, walked by the transporter/erector all the way to the launch pad, starting a long tradition of future Soviet space launches.
1957 May 15, 19:01 Moscow Time: The first R-7 lifted off from Baikonur. It was programmed to fly a standard test distance of 6,314.5 kilometers, however failed and crashed 3,197 kilometers downrange, deviating 12.6 kilometers from the nominal flight path. Western sources suggested that the vehicle failed after around 20 seconds, however post-Cold War Russian memoirs revealed that although the fire in the tail section of the rocket developed shortly after the launch, controlled flight went on until T+98 seconds and the emergency shutdown of the engines took place around 100 seconds after liftoff.
Problems with the second rocket
During June 10-11, 1957, there were three attempts to launch the R-7 rocket (Number M1-6). However the missile remained on the pad due to technical problems. It was ultimately removed from the pad and eventually used as a training vehicle.
Third rocket, second launch
1957 July 12, 15:53: The R-7 rocket (Number M1-7) lifted off from Baikonur. The vehicle disintegrated at 32.9 seconds in flight. Its debris crashed about seven kilometers downrange (four kilometers, according to other sources).Flight 3: almost a success
1957 Aug. 21, 15:25: The R-7 rocket (Number M1-9) launch from Baikonur. Flight went normally, but the warhead disintegrated at the altitude of around 10 kilometers over Kamchatka Peninsula. Despite a mishap at the end of the mission, on August 27, 1957, TASS officially announced "...the creation of a long-range multistage ballistic missile in the Soviet Union." The announcement went largely unnoticed in the West.
1957 Sept. 7, 14:39: The R-7 (Number M1-10) was launched from Baikonur. Flight went normally, but the warhead section apparently collided with the core stage during the separation and disintegrated again during the reentry.
1957 Nov. 3, 05:30:42 Moscow time: The R-7 rocket launched Sputnik-2 carrying dog Laika onboard from Baikonur. Laika died three days after the launch from overheating of her cabin. The spacecraft had no reentry system onboard.
On Dec. 22, 1957: The R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 11) arrived to Baikonur. Its first launch attempt took place on Dec. 31, 1957, but it was scrubbed.
1958 Jan. 30, 00:15: Test launch of the R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 11) with the M1-12 warhead.
1958 March 12, 22:30: The attempt to launch the R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 6), which was removed from the pad in June 1957, failed again shortly after ignition of the first stage engines. The launch was aborted safely and the rocket was shipped back to the manufacturer.
1958 March 29, 17:40: Launch of the 8K71 (No. 10) with the M1-6A warhead, which became the first to reach its impact area without disintegrating in the air. It was the first launch taking advantage of the Kvarts computer, calculating the trajectory of the flight based on radar data. (644)
1958 April 4, 18:30: Launch of the 8K71 (No. 12) with the B1-11 warhead. Slight overflight of the target with some flight control problems.
1958 April 27, 12:01: Launch of the 8A91 B1-2 launch vehicle, carrying the Object D satellite. The rocket disintegrated 96.5 seconds after the launch.
1958 May 15, 10:00:35.5: Launch of the 8A91 No. B1-1 rocket, carrying a second version of the Object D satellite. After successful orbital insertion, it was announced by the USSR as the Third Artificial Satellite, or Sputnik-3. (51)
Test launches of the R-7 ICBM and its upgraded version known as R-7A continued in Baikonur during 1958 and 1959. According to one source, the test flights during the second half of 1958 and the entire 1959 apparently carried payloads code-named Sliva (plum) and Grusha (pear).
Written by Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 15, 2013
All rights reserved
A scale model apparently depicting an early version of the R-7 missile, possibly designated R-6 -- a missing link in the Soviet rocket genealogy. A one-chamber engines shown on the model, probably represent RD-105/106 designs (below). According to Russian sources, this version of the rocket would have a liftoff mass of 170 tons and have five (or four) individual launch platforms for each booster stage. (527) Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak
The RD-105 engine originally intended for the R-7 rocket. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak
The original version of the R-7 ICBM rolls out to the launch pad. Note that the rocket is primarily white, despite popular Western tradition of depicting it in olive green colors. Anatoly Zak's archive
Launch of the original version of the R-7 rocket. Anatoly Zak's archive
The R-7 ballistic missile on the launch pad at Site 31 in Baikonur circa 1960.
The R-7 ballistic missile on the launch pad in Area 31 in Baikonur circa 1960. Anatoly Zak's archive
Launch of the operational version of the R-7 rocket, featuring a modified reentry vehicle (warhead). Credit: RKK Energia
Launch of the third modification of the R-7 rocket, known as R-7A, featuring smaller, lighter warhead. Credit: RKK Energia
The RD-108 engine, which powered the core (second) stage of the R-7 rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
Ground test of the RD-107 engine. Credit: GDL
A separation sequence between strap-on boosters and the core stage of the R-7 rocket. Click to enlarge. A: Severing of lower connections, as all stages are still thrusting and pivoting of strap-on boosters around upper connectors. B: Upon reaching a certain rotation angle, upper connectors disengage, releasing boosters; oxidizer pressure valves open on boosters for retro thrust. V: Boosters fall away from the core stage, which continues a powered flight. Credit: Moscow Aviation Institute