Chelomei's LK spacecraft




Building early Soyuz

In the second half of 1965, after several years on a drawing board, the USSR’s new-generation manned spacecraft started appearing in metal.


The work on early Soyuz descent modules at Assembly Hall No. 44 of the Experimental Machine-building Plant, ZEM, in Podlipki (now Korolev).

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The final assembly of the Soyuz was centered at Hall 44, led by G.M. Markov, at the Experimental Machine-building Plant, ZEM, in Podlipki, which traditionally served as the manufacturing base for the adjacent OKB-1 design bureau.

As usual, the production had to be organized under huge pressure produced by the race to the Moon. During this period, Deputy Minister of General Machine Building Viktor Litvinov, who oversaw the rocket industry, conducted conferences with the plant management at the end of each work day, where he was also signing bonuses to workers for the acceleration of the work. Even before the Soyuz could begin flying, Litvinov insisted on building the new spacecraft using mass production methods, which he had pioneered within the Soviet aviation industry. (52)

In May 1966, Mishin drafted the following schedule for the final integrated testing of the the first four Soyuz spacecraft at TsKBEM's Checkout and Test Station, KIS:

  • Vehicle No. 1 (unmanned): from May 5 to June 15;
  • Vehicle No. 2 (unmanned): from May 20 to June 30;
  • Vehicle No. 3 (manned): from June 30 to August 15;
  • Vehicle No. 4 (manned): from July 20 to August 25. (774)

The final testing of the first fully assembled flight-worthy Soyuz spacecraft began at TsKBEM's on May 12, 1966. Plagued by 2,123 technical problems, the testing dragged for 2,240 work hours until August 30, instead of the planned 40 days. More time was required to complete tune-up tests and pack the partially assembled vehicles for the trip to a launch site in Tyuratam. Around 45 percent of the problems required 897 changes in documentation and around 20 percent were related to ground equipment. However around 35 percent of the discovered problems needed actual changes in hardware. Around 600 work hours was required to fix problems and defects. A total of 25 cable adapters had to be manufactured to connect systems which turned out to be incompatible during the final integration.

Even after all the checks in Podlipki had been formally completed, the first spacecraft was still accompanied by a list of around a dozen open issues, which were left to be sorted out at the launch site. (466)

At the meeting of Chief Designers Council on August 31, Chertok said that a number of systems were out of warranty and had to be re-certified. At the same event, launch site officials reported that their testing equipment was in final stages of assembly and they agreed to welcome the first ships in Tyuratam.

Mikhail Ryazansky reported that final tests of the radio-control system had been completed, with the exception of high-level vibration tests. Armen Mnatskanyan said that the Igla rendezvous system was certified to operate for up to 100 hours and could remain in full readiness on the launch pad for 25 hours.

Most other officials promised to catch up with their respective responsibilities by the time the first ships arrived at the launch site. A few officials expressed concerns that the overall reliability would suffer after all the shortcuts. (774)

In the end, the Chief Designer Council cleared the first two ships for shipment to Tyuratam and the third spacecraft was then expected to enter the KIS checkout facility for integrated testing on September 15, 1966.

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The article and illustration by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 5, 2019

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: November 27, 2016

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Early Soyuz in production at Hall 44 of TsKBEM's Experimental Machine-building Plant, ZEM, in Podlipki. Anatoly Zak's archive


The Descent Module, SA, of the Soyuz spacecraft under assembly. Anatoly Zak's archive