"The Black Russians 
and the Black Horses"
Chapter Two
Light Space Plane - LKS
Russia's Answer to Star Wars
Firing a powerful laser, the LKS mini-Shuttle "zaps" a nuclear warhead in this interpretive animation, as it was envisioned in the 1980s by Vladimir Chelomei. Click to play: QuickTime / 8 seconds / 320 x 240 pixels / 3.2 MB Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

This material on this page is provide courtesy of Anatoly Zak and reprinted by permission via Jack Arneson, Pegasus militart research. All copyrights belong to:
Anatoly Zak of Russian Space Web

At the end of the 1980s, the Russian press revealed that a leading Soviet space designer, Vladimir Chelomei, had worked on a mini-Shuttle, which could be an economical alternative to the heavy US Space Shuttle and Russia's own Buran. However later publications hinted that Chelomei saw his reusable orbiter as the Soviet response to Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" program. Chelomei's mini-Shuttle, apparently, would be capable of carrying laser weapons and shooting down American ballistic missiles.

LKS tech specs:

Launch mass:  20 tons (209)- 25 tons
Landing mass: 17.8 tons
Payload to low-Earth orbit: 5 tons
In-orbit propellant cache: 2 tons
Payload bay volume: 30 cubic meters
Crew: 2 (209) 3 people (210)
Flight duration: Manned: 10 days; Unmanned: 1 year
Touchdown speed: 300 km/h
Launch vehicle: Proton
Credit: NPO Mash
Chelomei's reusable orbiter was designed as a part of UR-500LKS complex, which also included the Proton-derived launcher. Note folding wings on this version of the LKS. 
Artist rendering of the LKS spacecraft in orbit. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak

After his initial unsuccessful attempts to develop a reusable vehicle in the early 1960s, Chelomei returned to the concept of a winged orbiter at the beginning of the 1970s. Around 1975, Chelomei proposed a "smaller and cheaper" Soviet response to the US Space Shuttle.

Technical description

As in his previous forays into the field, Chelomei was not satisfied with the traditional launch system for a reusable orbiter. This time, in cooperation with the Institute of Mechanics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Chelomei's TsKBM design bureau studied a space plane capable of collecting and liquefying oxygen in the upper atmosphere.

Various concepts of a booster stage, including exotic water-gliding carriers, rocket-powered sleds, detachable wheels and carrier aircraft with rotatable and variable geometry wings were considered for the LKS project. Folding wings were also studied for the orbital stage.

Final configuration

After extensive evaluation of various configurations of the LKS, Chelomei settled for a 20-ton Light Space Plane, or LKS, launched by the Proton booster. The spacecraft could deliver into orbit a crew of two, four tons of payload and two tons of propellant. Resembling a scaled-down version of the US orbiter, the LKS would be capable of atmospheric maneuvering during the reentry at altitudes between 50 and 15 kilometers and would touchdown on a regular runway with a speed of around 300 kilometers per hour.

Like the US Shuttle, the LKS would use small liquid-propellant thrusters for attitude control beyond the atmosphere. During the atmospheric phase of the flight, two-section elevons on the wings and a tail rudder would be used for flight control. The tail rudder would deploy by splitting into two sections on both sides of the tail, serving as a balance during the initial phase of the atmospheric reentry and as a speed brake during the touchdown.

Unlike the US Shuttle, the LKS featured a ski-like device rather than wheels on its rear undercarriage. The front undercarriage sported a regular steerable wheel. Another major difference from its American counterpart was the thermal protection system. To avoid the use of fragile and labor-intensive tiles, developers hoped to use a continuous protective layer borrowed from the reentry vehicle of the TKS spacecraft. It would still allow as many as 100 missions.

Finally, the LKS was designed to fly with or without a crew. During manned missions, emergency escape scenarios were available for the crew at every stage of the flight.

The LKS project would borrow heavily from hardware and experience accumulated in the course of the Almaz space station program.

Chelomei argued that despite its small size, the LKS could achieve most tasks proposed for the US Space Shuttle, including the delivery and retrieval of satellites, or the resupply and servicing of space stations.

Credit: NPO Mash
One of early incarnations of the LKS orbiter. 


Within OKB-52, B. N. Natarov was appointed as head of the group responsible for the LKS project. A. P. Kirpil was the leading engineer in the project. Herbert Efremov, Deputy Designer General, oversaw the development effort on the project.

OKB-52 estimated that it could complete the development of the LKS system within a four-year period.

However, ultimately, the Soviet government chose to emulate the size and capabilities of the US Space Shuttle. NPO Energia led by Valentin Glushko was chosen as the prime-developer of the reusable space system, MKS, later known as Energia-Buran. All materials on the LKS spacecraft were ordered transferred to NPO Molniya, the developer of the glider for the Buran orbiter. (209)

Yet, Chelomei, refused to give up, continuing the project without formal authorization. By 1980, TsKBM had already generated 25 volumes of technical proposals on the design of the LKS and 15 volumes of technical proposals on the deployment of the LKS fleet. OKB-52 also built a full-scale mockup of the vehicle.

Credit: NPO Mash
A full-scale prototype of the Light Space Plane or LKS 001 developed at Vladimir Chelomei's design bureau in the 1970s. 
Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak
Artist rendering of the LKS orbiter approaching runway in Baikonur Cosmodrome during landing. 

Star Wars candidate

After years of low-profile studies, Chelomei apparently saw a chance for his LKS project in 1983. As often in the course of the Cold War, the Americans provided an opportunity for the Soviet designers to pitch new projects to their bosses in the Kremlin. On March 23, 1983, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI, program, commonly known as Star Wars. This large-scale undertaking envisioned a multi-layered defense network of ground-, sea- air- and space-based battle stations, which would be capable of destroying each and every Soviet missile heading toward the American continent in a hypothetical nuclear war.

At least initially, Reagan's Star Wars speech triggered alarms in Moscow. According to former Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Grinevskiy, on March 24, 1983, or within 24 hours after Reagan's speech, the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov discussed the implications of the SDI with his top advisors. (211)

In this kind of atmosphere, Chelomei pitched the LKS project to the Defense Minister and the head of the General Machine Building, MOM, a government body overseeing the space industry. Post-Soviet sources hinted that Chelomei was "selling" the LKS in the role of an antimissile cruiser, carrying laser weapons and capable of intercepting American ICBMs in flight. (210) It is less clear whether Chelomei intended to assemble laser battle stations in orbit with the help of the LKS, or if, (more likely), he actually hoped to use the LKS as platforms firing lasers.

What is known is that Chelomei assigned Department 34 at TsKBM to develop a technological schedule for production and launch of 90 LKS-Proton systems per year! Such plans were drawn and were approved by N. M. Korneev, then First Deputy Chief of GSKB Spetsmash -- the major development center responsible for the Soviet launch complexes -- and Yu. F. Volodin, the department chief at Spetsmash, responsible for the Proton launch complex. (From 1978, total four launch pads for the Proton rocket were available at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.)

Shabanov commission

In September 1983, the Soviet government set up a special State Commission, consisting of several working groups, to review and critique the UR-500-LKS project. Deputy Defense Minister V. M. Shabanov led the commission, which also included President of the Academy of Sciences A. P. Aleksandrov, E. A. Fedoseev, Deputy Minister of Electronics Industry, Designer General of Anti-Aircraft Systems Grigory V. Kisunko and a representative of MOM, B. V. Balmont.

At the first meeting of the commission, Chelomei brought four of his associates from TsKBM: Herbert Efremov, A. V. Tumanov, I. S. Epifanovskiy and G. I. Dmitriev. However, in the typical secrecy paranoia of the Soviet period, Shabanov personally screened those arriving at the meeting. When he noticed several unfamiliar faces, Shabanov sternly asked Chelomei about the affiliation of the people. Chelomei assured Shabanov of the reliability of his subordinates, however never again risked inviting them to the commission meetings.

Herbert Efremov, Chelomei's deputy at TsKBM, defended "technical proposals" before Shabanov commission. Although most working groups of the commission gave positive review to the design of the LKS itself, Chelomei's hopes of using lasers to shoot down missiles were apparently met with widespread skepticism. Ultimately, Kisunko and, later Shabanov, concluded that the project was impractical for the purposes of missile defense. (210)

The Shabanov commission buried the LKS project and, apparently, Chelomei was formally reprimanded for unauthorized work. (49) The LKS turned out to be the last ambitious undertaking in the field of space flight for Chelomei. With his death in 1984, the issue of the Soviet response to the "Star Wars" was left to the next generation of designers to resolve...

Related Links:
"Soviet research into ground and space based laser weapons systems began in the 1960s. The Soviets actually built several ground based lasers in the 1980s which reportedly could destroy or interfere with satellites and aircraft. The space based laser system envisioned in this 1987 work was designed to destroy or incapacitate satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but was never built."

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

Vladimir Nikolayevich Chelomei
Влади́мир Никола́евич Челоме́й
(June 30, 1914—December 8, 1984)
Soviet mechanics scientist and rocket engineer Vladimir Chelomei - Source: Wikipedia
Beyond Buran


Although Buran was the focus of attention between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s, in the background the Russians continued working on other spaceplane concepts to either complement Buran or succeed it in the future. Many of these efforts concentrated on smaller spaceplanes that were considered to be more efficient for space station support. At the same time, looking further into the future, considerable research has been done into single-stage-to-orbit spaceplanes that may one day significantly reduce the cost of Earth-to-orbit transportation. 

SOURCE: Springer Link

Preview page from Springerlink
Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov
Сергей Павлович Королёв Sergej Pavlovič Korolëv
January 12, 1907 – January 14, 1966)
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907-1966)

Sergei P. Korolev (1906-1966) was trained in aeronautical engineering at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute and, after receiving a secondary education, co-founded the Moscow rocketry organization GIRD (Gruppa Isutcheniya Reaktivnovo Dvisheniya, Group for Investigation of Reactive Motion). Like the VfR (Verein fuer Raumschiiffahrt, Society for Spaceship Travel) in Germany, and Robert H. Goddard in the United States, the Russian organizations were by the early 1930s testing liquid-fueled rockets of increasing size. In Russia, GIRD lasted only two years before the military, seeing the potential of rockets, replaced it with the RNII (Reaction Propulsion Scientific Research Institute). RNII developed a series of rocket-propelled missiles and gliders during the 1930s, culminating in Korolev's RP-318, Russia's first rocket propelled aircraft.

Before the aircraft could make a rocket propelled flight, however, Korolev and other aerospace engineers were thrown into the Soviet prison system in 1937-1938 during the peak of Stalin's purges. Korolev at first spent months in transit on the Transsiberian railway and on a prison vessel at Magadan. This was followed by a year in the Kolyma gold mines, the most dreaded part of the Gulag. Stalin soon recognized the importance of aeronautical engineers in preparing for the impending war with Hitler, however, and retrieved from incarceration Korolev and other technical personnel that could help the Red Army by developing new weapons. A system of sharashkas (prison design bureaus) was set up to exploit the jailed talent. Korolev was saved by the intervention of senior aircraft designer Sergei Tupolev, himself a prisoner, who requested his services in the TsKB-39 sharashka.

Following the war, Korolev was released from prison and appointed Chief Constructor for development of a long-range ballistic missile. By 1 April 1953, as Korolev was preparing for the first launch of the R-11 rocket, he received approval from the Council of Ministers for development of the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the R-7. To concentrate on development of the R-7, Korolev¹s other projects were spun off to a new design bureau in Dnepropetrovsk headed by Korolev's assistant, Mikhail Kuzmich Yangel. This was the first of several design bureaus, some later competing with Korolev¹s, that would spinoff once Korolev had perfected a new technology. It was Korolev¹s R-7 ICBM that launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957. This launch served to galvanize American concern about the capability of the Soviet Union to attack the United States with nuclear weapons using ballistic missiles.

During the early 1960s, Korolev campaigned to send a Soviet cosmonaut to the Moon. Following the initial reconnaissance of the Moon by Lunas 1, 2, and 3, Korolev established three largely independent efforts aimed at achieving a Soviet lunar landing before the Americans. The first objective, met by Vostok and Voskhod, was to prove that human space flight was possible. The second objective was to develop lunar vehicles which would soft-land on the Moon's surface to insure that a cosmonaut would not sink into the dust accumulated by four billion years of meteorite impacts. The third objective, and the most difficult to achieve, was to develop a huge booster to send cosmonauts to the Moon.

His design bureau began work on the N-1 launch vehicle, a counterpart to the American Saturn V, beginning in 1962. This rocket was to be capable of launching a maximum of 110,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. Although the project continued until 1971 before cancellation, the N-1 never made a successful flight. On 14 January 1966 Sergei P. Korolev died from a botched hemorrhoid operation. See "Sergei P. Korolev," biographical file, NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

SOURCE: Sputnik Biographies--Sergei P. Korolev (1906-1966) - NASA

" . . . He who Controls Space may well control the future of Mankind. We have a chance, through High Frontier, using existing technology to develop a space program that is absolutely necessary to our survival and that will give us a chance to move past the Russians to assure our own nation and freedom a future on this planet" - Newt Gingrich

"High Frontier" by General Daniel O.Graham (1983)

So according to Newt Gingrich... in 1983 the Russians were ahead of us in the High Frontier (Space)

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