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R-1 rocket

The R-1 was the Soviet copy of the German A-4 missile. The R-1 was developed by OKB-1 led by Sergei Korolev and test-launched for the first time in 1948 in Kapustin Yar.

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The development of the rocket was conducted in parallel with the design work conducted by the group of German scientists interned by the Soviets and settled at the Gorodomlya Island in the Seliger Lake. Led by Helmut Gröttrup and designated as Branch 1 of OKB-1, Germans proposed an alternative design to R-1 with thin-wall tanks and generally higher characteristics than R-1. The proposal, however, was rejected due primarily to political reasons and lobbying from Sergei Korolev.

Known specifications of the R-1 rocket:

Number of stages
Length of the vehicle

14.6 meters

1.65 meters
Weight (fueled)
13.4 tons
Oxidizer Liquid Oxygen
First launch 1948 Sept. 15 (17)
Launch sites Kapustin Yar

Flight range:

270 kilometers
Warhead weight:
1,000 kilograms


German ballistic rocket A-4 acquired by the Russians at the end of the Second World War became a "blueprint" in development of the first Soviet large liquid-fueled missile.

Around 1947, a group led by Sergei Korolev completed a set of specifications on a A-4-based Object 8-A-11, which later became known from official Soviet history as Rocket 1 (R-1 or in Russian P-1). Mostly repeating overall German design of the A-4 and fueled by the same propellants -- alcohol and liquid oxygen -- the vehicle featured relatively minor modifications. The importance, however, was in the fact that, the rocket was supposed to be made of locally produced materials and components. Even though most of the alloys used in the design were developed by Germans, it was up to the Soviets to recreate the production process in the country.

The flight control system was one of the primary stumbling blocks. To make multilateral cooperation between main participating organizations more effective, Korolev came forward with an idea of the Council of Chief Designers. Glushko, Pilugin, Barmin, Ryazanskiy and Kuznetsov became the first members of yet informal body headed by Korolev.


The R-1, which was produced in Podlipki, had a range of 270 km and the total weight of 13.4 ton, including a 1.1 ton inseparable warhead. (4) The empty weight of the rocket would be 4,015 kg, while the load of oxidizer accounted for 5,160 kg and that of fuel for 4,085 kg. The R-1 was 14.275 meters tall and 1.65 meters in caliber, its fins had a span of 3.56 meters. The rocket was powered by the RD-100 engine manufactured by Glushko's SKB, based on the A-4 propulsion unit. The RD-100 had a surface thrust of 267 kH and run for 65 seconds during the ascent. (2)

At least some Germans involved in the program were present in Kapustin Yar for R-1 trials. (3) On September 15 or 17, 1948, the first R-1 blasted off from Kapustin Yar. A control system failure caused a 50-degree deviation from the intended azimuth of launch. (5) Neverthless, the rocket almost reached its calculated range. The second launch was also a failure. The success was achieved on October 10, 1948 in the third shot. Rocket hit the target area 288 km east of the range. (6) (A number of Russian sources then listed October 10, as the date of the first R-1 launch.)

Of total 12 R-1 delivered to Kapustin Yar in the fall of 1948, nine were launched and seven hit their targets.(7)




R-1's deriviatives

Although R-1 missile was perfected to serve purely as a mobile weapon; during these trials, scientists from FIAN (Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences USSR) had a chance to lift physical instruments up to 76 kilometers above the Earth surface. Moreover, a series of the so-called "geophysical" rockets was derived from the R-1 design. Techniques of the warhead separation were to be tested in the first geophysical version of the rocket known as R-1A (some Soviet sources called it V-1A). The rocket was intended for "vertical" flight trajectory with the apogee of about 100 km rather then for a long range path flown by R-1.

For R-1A's first launch on April 21, 1949, (8) two recoverable containers were placed externally on the tail section of the rocket. They were designed to obtain sterile air samples away from the region contaminated by the rocket's exhaust. As the R-1A had reached its highest point about 100 km above the Earth surface, its engine was shot down after running for 65 seconds and the containers were jettisoned and landed under parachutes about 20 km from the launch pad.

The R-1A was also equipped with a separable warhead, apparently, with no system for soft landing. Addition of the containers and warhead separation system raised launch mass of the R-1A to 13,910 kilograms and reduced the payload to 800 kilograms. The rocket was also a bit taller than its original -- 14,960 millimeters. The total of six R-1A rockets was launched.


Page author: Anatoly Zak

Last update: May 18, 2016

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The R-1 rocket during pre-launch processing in Kapustin Yar.

The R-1 rocket ready for launch.

Launch of the R-1 rocket.


A launch of a "geophysical" version of the R-1 rocket.

A scale model of the R-1 missile. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


Dissected view of the aft compartment of the R-1 missile. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak

The RD-100 engine, which powered the R-1 missile. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A retrievable container of the R-1D research rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak