Maxim V. Tarasenko


The paper tracks basic evolution of the Soviet rocket and space industry after the 1946 and analyzes "genealogical trees" of the original enterprises (NII-88, NII-885, OKB-456, etc.) to reveal typical features of this evolution.



2 Introduction

Most of available reports and publications about histories of particular projects, institutions or personalities of the ex-Soviet space program tend to emphasize a role of respective institution or personality in the overall program. This is explainable in a situation, when the basis of original documentation, available to researchers, remains extremely narrow and personal memoirs remain the predominant source of information.

This paper represents an attempt to survey an overall evolution of the Soviet rocket and space industry (what demands combining and cross-checking of fragments, available from a variety of individual sources). It is focused at company/Chief Designer level and is to be accompanied by another report, focused on higher levels.

The paper tracks basic evolution of the Soviet rocket and space industry after the 1946, when an original set of institutions was established. The framework of the report does not allow to pretend for a comprehensive description of the full genealogy of the Soviet space industry. However, analysis of "genealogical trees" of the original enterprises allows to reveal typical features of development of rocket and space industry in the Soviet Union.

2 Formation of the Soviet rocket industry

As a background remark, it is worth reminding some principal features of the Soviet society, which substantially influenced development of the Soviet rocket and space industry from its very beginning.

The Soviet Union was a strictly hierarchical society with a single pyramid of power controlling all aspects of its life. Despite presence of formal bodies, representing different branches of power (the government - Council of Minister, the parliament - Supreme Soviet, the legal branch with Supreme Court at the top), the ultimate control was executed from just one place - Politburo (or Presidium) of the Central Committee of CPSU. All industrial and scientific enterprises belonged to the state, which could reallocate resources and manpower in any way, which top Communist Party authorities would direct.

Remembering that, it is not so surprising, that unlike the United States, France, Britain, a birthday of the rocket industry of the Soviet Union is known precisely. It was on 13 May 1946, when Joseph Stalin signed a Decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR #1017-419ss "Issues of jet armament".

That Decree formulated the first program for development of missile technology in the USSR and allocated responsibilities for segments of that program among the Ministries. In accordance with that Decree a number of industrial enterprises were established or re-organized within few months, thus forming an original set-up of the Soviet rocket industry:

  • Science and Research Institute #88 (NII-88) was established at the Ministry of Armaments (MV) to become the principal developer of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles;
  • NII-885 was established at the Ministry of Electric Industry (later - Ministry of Industry of Communications Means);
  • Special Design Bureau at Kompressor Plant (of the Ministry of Machine-building and Instrument Engineering), which since 1941 developed unguided solid-propellant missiles launchers, was reorganized to the State Union Design Bureau on Special Machine-building (GSKB spetsmash) and was set responsible for launch complexes, fueling and ground support equipment;
  • the Ministry of Aviation industries, set responsible for liquid rocket engines and aerodynamic testing (as well as for winged missiles) already possessed earlier established OKB-456 on liquid rocket engines and NII-1, former RNII, which was transferred from People's Commissariat of Ordnance in 1944;
  • NII-10 of the Ministry of Ship-building Industry (MSP) was additionally tasked to develop gyroscopes for missiles.

Another special feature of early history of the Soviet rocket industry is that responsibility for development of liquid-fueled missiles was given the Ministry of Armaments, i.e. to artillery industry, rather than to the aviation industry.

The reason was two-fold. First, leaders of the aviation industry did not desire an extra job - and extra risk of punishment for a quite possible failure. (The aviation industry already got tasks to develop jet aviation and cruise missiles, so ballistic missiles appeared much less relevant and more risky addition to the task list). On the other hand, the principal force, interested in LRBMs, was a command of so called Guard Mortar Units - special artillery units, armed with unguided missiles (known as "katyushas"), which were widely deployed in the Soviet Army during the WWII. Hence, it proves logical, that the Ministry of Armaments, which was responsible for production of artillery pieces, accepted the LRBM challenge after the Ministry of Aviation Industry rejected it.

However, because of this peculiarity rocket and aviation industries in the Soviet Union began developing separately. The influence of that remains obvious even 50 years after: because of the original separation there is essentially no truly aerospace industry in the former Soviet Union. With very few exceptions, all industrial companies are either in missiles and space or in aviation business.

2 Further evolution (expansion)

As the missile program advanced, the industry began to expand. In a market economy such an expansion would go by virtue of a Government placing more orders for missiles and thus stimulating industry contractors to develop their capabilities or to switch them from aircraft to missiles. In the administrative system of the Soviet Union that was done in other ways.

In some cases, a "plain" expansion occurred, when new facilities were constructed for newly emerging or expanding programs. That was the case, for example, with missile and space factories, constructed in late 50s near Krasnoyarsk and now known as Krasmash and NPO of Applied Mechanics. This approach, however, was an exception rather than a rule.

More commonly, as some program demonstrated promising capabilities, officials, responsible for it, managed to pursuade higher authorities to strap additional facilities to the program. To deduce typical modes of that "Soviet-type expansion" let us consider further evolution of the principal original rocket companies.

NII-88, established as a lead organization on development of ballistic missile technology, very soon grew too big to hold all the program inside. Its first formal "off-springs", however, appeared yet at the very beginning. In 1946 Branch #1 was established at Gorodomlya Island, where German scientists were located until their repatriation in 1950-53[]. The facility at Ostashkov (apparently associated with former NII-88 Branch #1) in 1958 became an independent enterprise, now known as Zvezda. In 1947 construction was ordered of the Branch #2, a test base for rocket engines near Zagorsk. It was constructed in 1948 and later became an independent NII-229, now known as NII of Chemical Machine-building (NII Khimmash).

In 1956 Experimental Design Bureaus #1 (on LRBM) and #2 (on liquid rocket engines), which existed within NII-88 for a long time, were separated to become independent entities: OKB-1 and OKB-2, headed by Chief Designers Sergey P. Korolyov and Alexey M. Isayev, respectively.

The rest of NII-88 continued to evolve in the same way, spawning new enterprises:

  • NII of Measuring Technology (NIIIT) in 1966;
  • Agat Organization in 1973 and
  • NII of Material Studies (NIIMV), now Kompozit NPO, in 1975.

Thus, in 30 years the original NII-88, now known as the Central Science and Research Institute of Machine-building (TsNIImash), gave birth to 7 independent organization, which together formed the so called "Podlipki bush" of space companies.

The mainstream of NII-88 development appears quite simple and straightforward. It fits the concept of straight development of a growing enterprise with separation of divisions as they become too big to manage.

This simple mode was, however, facilitated by the circumstance, that main production-related fragments (and associated big-ticket programs) left NII-88 with OKB-1 and OKB-2 in 1956.

A further evolution of OKB-1, represented in Figure 1b, displays much more complicated behavior.

A wide-spread belief about Korolyov extensively spawning branches of his OKB and generously giving out to them portions of his own all-covering agenda, proves to be just one part of the story.

Along with that mode of expansion not a lesser role was played by a mode, which could be referred to as "seeding". That means loading of already available enterprises with a work on a Lead Developer (here - Korolyov's) projects. In this mode a newly engaged enterprise remained formally independent, but in fact the Lead Developer did obtain some influence on a new co-developer or manufacturer (and thus increased its own "weight", though to less extent than in the case of full-scale acquisition of that company).

In the history of Soviet rocket industry "seeding" was first demonstrated long before separation of OKB-1 from NII-88.

As early as in 1947 Plants #66 and 385, in Urals were assigned for a serial production of missiles and in December of 1947 the Serial Design Bureau #385 (SKB-385) was established to supervise that. Sometime between 1950 and 1955 SKB-385 was promoted to a "Leading" bureau, i.e. was allowed to develop its own projects. It was not until 1955, when SKB-385 was "loaded" with serial production of the R-11 missiles, developed at OKB-1 of NII-88, and Viktor Makeyev, the Lead Designer of R-11, was appointed as a Chief Designer of SKB-385. Thus, in terms of organizational genealogy the former SKB-385 (now known as "Makeyev KB" State Rocket Center), is not a direct descendant of Korolyov's OKB-1, but rather an "adopted child".

Similarly, the Plant #186 in Dniepropetrovsk, which existed from 1944, was loaded with a serial production of OKB-1's missiles in 1951. The adjacent SKB-586 is, however, rarely listed among "Korolyov's descendants" - apparently because a competing "school" was established there with appointment of Mikhail K. Yangel as a Chief Designer in 1954.

After 1956 major milestones in OKB-1 expansion were:

  • loading of the former State Aviation Plant #1 with a serial production of the R-7 ICBMs, beginning in 1957. To supervise the production at the Plant, the Serial Design Department #25 was organized. In 1960 this Department became OKB-1 Branch #3 and eventually, in 1974 - the Central Specialized Design Bureau (TsSKB);
  • In 1959 the OKB-1 Branch #2 was established at the newly constructed Plant #1001 (now Krasnoyarsk Machine-building Plant, or Krasmash). It was originally intended to supervise serial production of the R-9 ICBMs. However, as early as in 1960 its principal original business changed to the R-14 LRBM, developed by Yangel, and in 1961 Branch #2 was transformed into an independent OKB-10 [].
  • The same 1959 OKB-1 acquired an adjacent artillery Design Bureau, headed by Grabin. It was switched to development of new, solid-propellant LRBMs and then ICBMs. However, very soon after death of Korolyov the solid-propellant thematics was given away by his successor Vasiliy P. Mishin to NII-1 of the Ministry of Defense Industry.
  • In 1974 Mishin, accused of the failure of the Moon program, was removed from the post of Chief Designer of the Bureau, which under him changed the name from OKB-1 to the Central Design Bureau of Experimental Machine-building (TsKBEM). Viktor P. Glushko, the Chief Designer of OKB-456, was appointed instead. However, since Glushko would not leave his own Bureau, the new company was formed: Energia NPO, including both TsKBEM and OKB-456. The agglomerate existed until Glushko's death in 1989 and then split into original parts, which got names Energia NPO and Energomash NPO respectively.

The history of OKB-1 illustrates, how expanded missile industry gradually attracted enterprises of the aviation-related facilities.

The history of Design Bureau by Chief Designer Vladimir N. Chelomey gives a remarkable example of seemingly more conventional evolution of an aviation company towards missile and space-related tasks.

First of all, it is necessary to note, that there were two Design Bureaus, headed by Chelomey.

The first was established in 1944 at Plant #51 (former Polikarpov's) with a mission to make a V-1-like cruise missile. That OKB, however, was disbanded in 1953 under a pressure of more influential competitors. Nevertheless, in 1954, a new small Special Design Group (SKG) was established to resume development of cruise missiles (with folding wing). In 1952 the SKG was promoted to This Group soon (in 1955) became full-scale Experimental Design Bureau - OKB-52 - and was given Reutov Mechanical Plant. It is there, where this company resides now under a name of NPO mashinostroyenia. In the meantime, however, it experienced a dramatic evolution, with fast soaring and subsequent fall.

In 1958-59 the OKB-52 began to expand its operations into ballistic missile and space field -- and to expand itself. In 1958 NII-642 was attached to OKB-52 as a Branch. In October 1960 OKB-23, headed by Vladimir M. Myasishchev till then, became another Branch of OKB-52. Khrunichev Plant was assigned to OKB-52 as a production facility for its ICBMs. Finally, OKB-301, formerly headed by Semyon A. Lavochkin, was also attached to OKB-52 in late 1962.

A role of personal relations is clearly observed in the history of Chelomey KB. First, the original Chelomey's OKB, based at Plant #51, was taken over upon insistence of Artem I. Mikoyan, who began a competitive project, but had a very influential partner - Sergo L. Beria, son of Minister of Security Lavrentiy P. Beria. Perhaps, having learned that lesson, Chelomey in late 50s appointed son of Nikita S. Khrushchev, Sergey, as his Deputy. Most people outside of OKB-52 believe, that that was instrumental in getting a favorable attitude of the top state management and, in particular, made it easier to acquire new Branches.

After removal of Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 Chelomey's influence diminished and all the branches were gradually taken away by competitors or separated themselves. For example, Lavochkin OKB-301 regain independence and was in 1965 loaded with interplanetary probes job, passed from OKB-1.

To complement the previous consideration, concentrated on prime contractors (or "Lead Developers", in Russian terms), let us discuss the evolution of NII-885, the institute, which was established to develop guidance systems.

NII-885 originated in 1938 with a mission to develop systems of radio control for military articles. In 1946 the Institute was assigned to the Ministry of Electric Industry and renamed (for a very short while) to NII of Special Technology.

NII-885 was based on the territory of the Plant #1 of People's Commissariat of Defense (later Ministry of Armed Forces), which used to manufacture military telephones and telegraph equipment and later became the Experimental Plant of NII-885. After 1946 the Institute quickly grew and in 1952-54 a number of “non-profile” divisions (long-range communications, computers, etc.) were shed to become independent bodies and to allow NII-885 to concentrate on development of missile guidance systems.

In 1963 the Institute, where for a long time fought directions of radio guidance (headed by Chief Designer Mikhail Ryazanskiy) and of inertial guidance (headed by lower-ranked Nikolay A. Pilyugin), separated to two parts - NII of Instrument Engineering (NIIP) and NII of Automatic Instrument Engineering (NIIAP).

In 1978 Radiopribor NPO was formed on the basis of NIIP and the Radiopribor plant. In 1992 the NPO dissolved back to the Radiopribor Plant and NII, which is now called Russian NII of Space Instrument Engineering (RNIIKP).

The last of the original companies, listed in Section 2 - GSKB Spetsmash - has an apparently straightforward history. After the Bureau, originally established in 1941 as SKB of Kompressor Plant, was re-organized in August 1946, it continues to develop launch complexes for missiles and only once changed its name to the current Design Bureau of General Machine-building (KBOM).

2 Conclusion

The study demonstrates, that the evolution of the Soviet rocket and space industry is more complicated, than usually imagined.

Several typical features could be extracted from histories of the considered companies.

  • Lead Developers of rockets and space systems demonstrate more aggressive expansion, while narrower focused institutions develop more smoothly.
  • The expansion of industrial enterprises occurred primarily in the form of administrative acquisitions or re-subordinations.
  • A typical form was a takeover of an existing company and its conversion into a Branch of an acquirer.

    Less violent mode envisioned loading of a new company with a work for a project, developed by a Lead Developer.

    In some cases (typical for Stalin epoch), appealing facilities could be taken over by an influential company, while a previous collective would be thrown away.

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    This report extensively relies on information, collected by the author in a framework of the Russian Space Industry Study, sponsored by the Space Policy Project of the Federation of American Scientists.