Korolyev, Sergei Pavlovich
Sergi Pavlovich Korolev (Серге́й Па́влович Королёв) was born on December 30, 1906 to parents that were married by contract, and little chance of remaining together. Korolev’s birthplace was Zhitomit, a small city in the Ukraine near Kiev. Young Korolev witnessed the same events as other Russians during WW-I, and the violent revolutionary and the civil wars.
The endless strife during his childhood and the departure of his father when he was three were instrumental in molding his independent character. Unfortunately, his mother was even more independent and left to attend school in Kiev and was with him only during the weekends. Raised by his grandparents, his curiosity was roused by everything around him. Young Korolev became enthralled when a renowned pilot and his biplane put on a show for the village.
At the age of six, Korolev's new stepfather, Grigory Balanin, provided the much-needed parental nurturing, as well as an inspiration for his future education Grigory's influence generated even greater interest in physical science and engineering, although he also pursued both eclectic and classical works.
The Balanin family moved to Odessa in the early 1920s when Korolev was a young teenager. Because of the rapidly changing educational structure in the new Soviet Union, Korolev entered a nearby vocational school to complete his preliminary education He was skilled at woodworking, but took greater interest in lectures from a number of prominent mathematicians and physicists. The unusually scholarly vocational school offered him studies far more enriching than the gymnasium he attended earlier.
A seaplane detachment in the port of Odessa became his extracurricular focus and his first opportunity to fly came in a biplane float plane while he was offering his time and effort in helping to repair several of the aircraft.
Sergei Korolev's designation system was very irregular and complicated (if there was a system at all). His very first glider project, designed in 1924 at aviation enthusiasts circle in Odessa inhering to ChAG (ЧАГ - Black Sea Aviation Group) when Korolev was 17 years old, was designated “K-5” for some reasons.
Later Korolev designated his new creations with “SK” index. But the numeration was still irregular. His next design was SK-5, followed by SK-3 and SK-4. SK-1, SK-2 never existed. Also Korolev often used the same index for different projects, until one of them would reach construction stage. For example, there was a lot of very different projects (some were gliders, others powered aircraft) named SK-7 and SK-8.
Later Korolev designated his new creations with “SK” index. But the numeration was still irregular. His next design was SK-5, followed by SK-3 and SK-4. SK-1, SK-2 never existed. Also Korolev often used the same index for different projects, until one of them would reach construction stage. For example, there was a lot of very different projects (some were gliders, others powered aircraft) named SK-7 and SK-8.


While in Odessa, Korolev began his engineering career in glider design. This was the same year the he met a girl who would become his future wife. However, Korolev's distractions of his passion for flight and the love of Xenia Vincentini brought pressure from his stepfather to spend more time with his formal education, which ultimately divided the two. With his new direction, Korolev became even more independent and looked to his own beliefs and maturity in establishing his goals. Strong principles derived from an allegiance with a new and growing socialist government led him to apply for admission to the Zhukovsky Academy, an institution involved with the design of military aircraft. He was rejected because he was not a military pilot, and decided to enter the Kiev Polytechnic Institute.
As a student in Kiev, Korolev redesigned and built four gliders including a trainer that were used to set a number of gliding records, although he was not chosen as a pilot. He then switched to Moscow Tech in 1925 to pursue his aviation studies. One of his professors, Andrei Tupolev, would not only inspire him in the classroom and applied laboratories, but would become an important figure in helping Korolev survive imprisonment and possible execution during the Stalin purges
Korolev began his first full-time paid position at Factory 22 Design Bureau in 1929, and was assigned a glider project. His choice was to make it capable of aerobatic flight, and with the help of his stepfather who he was then living with, succeeded in completing a unique design Korolev's SK-3 Red Star glider was not only a successful glider design, it was accepted for production and demonstration by S. V. Ilyushin, the designer of numerous Soviet military and civil aircraft.



Korolev's interest in rocket-powered flight evolved over a period of time, beginning with his early aircraft design work It is likely that rocket propulsion was simply an attractive augmentation of aircraft propulsion for him. Now with his pilots license, Korolev was drawn to the idea of rocket powered gliders by the infectious enthusiasm of Friedrikh Tsander. As a member of one of four groups designing rockets and aircraft powered by rocket engines in Tsander's Group for Studying Rocket Propulsion, Korolev began looking more closely at pure rocket design.
Korolev was also working on an autopilot for Tupolev's TB-3 heavy bomber. Growing interest in rockets led him to immerse himself in the design of rocket engines. Together, and as part of GIRD, Korolev, Tsander, and Pobedonostsev, produced a 110 lb thrust gasoline and liquid oxygen propellant engine, the OR-2.
Korolev then adapted the OR-2 to a glider he earlier designed, both with somewhat limited success. The glider never flew successfully with rocket power, and in the following year Tsander died. However, GIRD members including Korolev completed Tsander's plan for the first Russian liquid fuel rocket, with the launch of the GIRD rocket powered by the GIRD-09 engine, designed by Mikhail Tikhonravov.
Korolev became the chief engineer at the new RNII rocket design bureau in 1934 and immediately began winged rocket research. However, stability and guidance was a difficult problem for all ballistic rockets. The newly formed RNII encouraged collaboration on many projects as intended, which included Korolev's glide design powered by Glushko's ORM-65 rocket engine. In 1937 and 1938, RNII produced increasingly advanced rocket and aircraft designs made more capable by engine and guidance system breakthrough.
Following his conviction on suspicion of a lack of loyalty to the Soviet Union, Korolev would join other engineers at his last factory-prison in Karen. In 1942, an assignment that also included Glushko Turbojet and rocket propulsion aircraft design projects from this group would later be used in future rocket programs.
This period included the initial design of the ubiquitous four-chamber rocket cluster design that still flies today in a much-improved rocket. In 1944 Korolev and the entire design bureau was released from incarceration, but their records were not cleared of the charges. The two were assigned lead engineering positions at a new rocket design bureau; chief designer was Glushko and Korolev his deputy.
Korolev and several others continued to work at the Kazan site for another year. Then in 1945, he was commissioned in the Red Army as a colonel. At the close of WW-II, his assignment was to follow Glushko and Vassily Mishin to Germany and survey the captured V-2/A-4 hardware.
The teams were also instructed to interrogate any Germans involved with the project for possible use in Russia's already existing ballistic weapons projects. A restricted compound was quickly fashioned near the V-2 factory at Nordhousen to retain anything and everything in the area related to the V-2. Because the U.S. had left with the best scientists and engineers led by Wernher von Braun, the V-2 blueprints, and as many of the salvageable V-2 as they could find, the Russian team's goals were to coordinate efforts to collect hardware that could be used for reconstruction of the rockets.
British defence officials joined Russia and the U.S. in V-2 missile hardware, personnel and launch site searches in 1945. Launches of the captured V-2s were also made by the British in 1945. In spite of the efforts of the early Russian teams to convert captured V-2s for use as their own weapons, the 200 truckloads and 400 freight cars of materials collected produced only eight complete V-2s.
Preliminary efforts to reconstruct the V-2s for launch and experimentation by the Soviets were limited to the already existing facilities in Soviet controlled Germany to expedite the conversion program. Engine test facilities were organized by Glushko, guidance by Mishin, while Korolev spent time coordinating and organizing. His eternal interest in space flight rather than weaponry, in spite of being beaten and imprisoned for the same allegiance, was reported in a conversation with German engineers. Korolev queried the German engineers for some time, then began discussing launch performance improvements that could lead to orbital flight, and to lunar missions.
After the first year of the V-2 assembly project, as many as 1,000 of the German collaborators and their families were shipped by car, truck, bus and train to Russia without prior notice. Before the transfer, a rail transport car for shipping as well as testing the V-2 missiles was built under contract with a German factory, with the capability of erecting the V-2 for launch. Under the auspices of simplifying V-2 missile testing in Russia, the transport car was in essence a mobile launcher. This seemingly trivial transportation device became a standard transport technique for later Russian military and civilian launch operations and is still used today.
In 1946, a new and larger rocket/missile design bureau was created by Stalin's directive to begin work on the Soviet's newest missile program NII-88 replaced the RNII bureau located in Podlipki, near Moscow, and was staffed with a number of the RNII engineers. The German scientists and engineers that were brought form the Peenemunde and Nordhausen facilities were relocated to Podlipki. Ironically, the factory buildings used for the NII-88 facility were built by Germans in 1926.
A separate decree established the Soviet's rocket and missile development program and assigned Dimitri Ustinov as director Director of the NII-88 facility was Yuri Pobedonostsev. Glushko became design chief of OKB-456, the rocket engine plant Korolev, originally head of a separate group, was assigned chief designer of OKB-1, the long-range missile facility.
A somewhat traditional separation of responsibilities to a number of design and production facilities by the Soviets was reflected in these assignments. This made simple operations complicated and complex operations nearly impossible. However, Korolev would play a major part in making the missile and rocket programs work by his organizational skills. He had no authority over the other branches, but he did have the respect of the design chiefs, at least until his success alienated a number of the directors including Glushko.
Russia's interest in creating longer range vehicles capable of carrying heavier payloads kept some of the German engineers and technicians in Russia for as much as six years Intriguing design concepts for two-stage missiles, winged glider warheads, anti-ballistic missiles, and large engines capable of increasing the range and payload of the R-1 by a factor of 10, surfaced but were never accepted. An early design by one of the chief German engineers, Grottrup, was a dramatic improvement on the V-2 design - a model called the G-1.
During 1947 and 1948, Korolev and the NII-88 staff began the R-2 program which was similar in concept to the G-1, and doubling the range and payload of the R-1 Little more came from the German team that related to rocket design, but significant contributions related to vehicle and operations testing, instrumentation and refurbishment of the V-2 did benefit the Russian missile programs. The last of the Germans returned to their homeland in 1954.
From the R-2, the Soviet design bureaus began planning more versatile and long-range missiles which included the R-3, R-5, R-9, R-10 and R-11, with Korolev managing much of the work from the R-3 onward. During Korolev's R-9 project development in 1960, a rival's R-16 with storable propellants was being built to compete for military missile production. The first test of the R-16 on October 24, 1960 was a pad-launch disaster when the fuel and oxidizer tanks ruptured, spilling fuming nitric acid and UDMH.
One hundred and sixty five workers, technicians, and managers perished, including Marshal Mirrofan Nedelin, the head of the Soviet strategic forces who brought a chair to the launch for a close observation. Although the R-16 did have development problems, it was completed and deployed along with Korolev's R-9 in the mid-1960s.
Directives to build a long-range ballistic missile to reach the U.S. from Russia came in 1947 from Stalin directly to Korolev in a meeting in Moscow. Specific performance was not defined, just approximations for range and payload Korolev's R-3 assignment in 1948 was followed by an assignment as chief designer of a new RII-88 department, OKB-1.
Success and failures of the R-3 were not unlike the other programs, but more demanding requirements and obligations would cancel the R-3 project in 1952, although it represented the prototype that would be their first ICBM. Guidance and stability systems soon became much more accurate and reliable than the R-1 and R-2, and Glushko was improving his quad-cluster RD engines. The RD-110 was expected to produce 100 metric tons sometime in 1952.
Korolev’s R-5 missile was the first original Soviet missile design that required an increase in the level of performance, the level of complexity, and resulted in the number and magnitude of failures. Pressure to complete the R-5 and pursue Korolev's R-7 increased as Russia tested its first atomic bomb in 1952. Stalin and the Soviet military leadership demanded that the R-7 carry the nuclear warhead over the same 8,000 km distance established earlier. The 170 ton liftoff weight became 300 tons in order to accommodate the five ton nuclear warhead.
Other challenges faced Korolev during the R-2, R-3, R-5 and R-7 projects His divorce earlier from Lyalya. Near failures of the R-1 and R-2. Technical complications with combustion chamber burn instabilities in Glushko's high-thrust engines. Demanding requirements for nuclear warhead capabilities for the R-7 that compounded production and organization problems, and very low budgets for his bureau.
Stalin's death in March 1953 had little effect on the Soviet commitment to produce the world's first ICBM. Nakita Kruschev who replaced Stalin was supportive of Korolev and his missile projects. But Korolev's greatest interest was in space launch and exploration, and the development of the R-7 missile gave him the capability of launching satellites into Earth orbit, and with added booster stages, of reaching the Moon and Mars.
Korolev's proposal to launch a satellite in orbit for the International Geophysical Year in 1957/1958 was accepted by Kruschev and the Politburo in 1956 and followed up by edict. After nearly a year of testing and preparation, the first launch attempt of the R-7 was made on 15 May, 1957 but failed 50 seconds after lift-off. Three subsequent launches were similar failures, placing pressure on Korolev and OKB-1 staff to show success in the R-7 ICBM and satellite launch projects because of the high cost of the programs.
The first successful launch of the R-7 was on August 3, 1957. The second launch on September 7th which was attended by Kruschev was also a success. These trials set the stage for the launch of the first orbiting satellite, but they would have far greater significance for the U.S. military.
Korolev's R-7 became a foundation for a wide variety of space launch vehicles that included the first manned missions in the Vostok and Voshkod manned flight vehicles, and the first lunar, Mars and Venus probes. Today the R-7 variant fly as the Soyuz, Progress, and Molynia launch vehicles. 
Approval for Korolev's Sputnik launch on his R-7 was not unexpected. First, the Soviet Academy of Science specifically wanted an orbital satellite to pave the way for future research satellites, and an announcement of the intent to launch a satellite for the IGY in 1957/58 was planned for 1956. Second, Kruschev and the Politburo wanted the Sputnik satellite launch to prove Soviet technology superiority, plus it could provide a long list of propaganda pronouncements. Third, the expectation of future interplanetary exploration and manned flight required the development of this intermediate step in reaching space.
Plans for launching Sputnik in 1957 began long before the first successful flight of the R-7 Korolev had anticipated the dramatic launch of the world's first orbital satellite and the completion of the technology for a sophisticated 1,300 kg satellite capable of measuring the Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere, cosmic rays, and solar radiation. By the time of the first successful R-7 missile was launched, the required components and integration was months away form completion.
Korolev and a close ally, Mstislav Keldysh, appealed to the presidium of the Academy of Sciences to prod the other branches in their engineering and fabrication support. After a lukewarm response, Korolev himself reported to the presidium that America was on the verge of launching their own satellite and the commission quickly issued directives for completion of the project.
Korolev's intentions to launch his advanced satellite first that was known as Object D, later called Sputnik 3, required an alternative because of the delays caused by lacking support outside of OKB-1. In August 1957 it became clear that the original Sputnik slated for launch would be delayed several months. Korolev had preliminary plans for a simple Sputnik satellite (Prostreishiy Sputnik, “simple Sputnik”, contracted to PS) completed for a launch targeted for Tsiolovsky's birthday on September 17th.
After the Sputnik 1 launch and the overwhelming world-wide reaction, Korolev was asked to launch another package with even more international impact, within a month corresponding to the Russian Revolution celebration. Korolev began immediate preparations to launch an even more complex mission within a month. Already in progress were plans for a second satellite that would include a dog, and the original satellite planned for first launch, Sputnik 3.
Korolev’s next goal was to reach the Moon with the launch same R-7 vehicle used for Sputnik, and with the expertise of his and the other design bureaus. Korolev’s success came quickly with the first lunar mission launch Luna 1 just 14 months after Sputnik 1. Luna 2 was the first to impact the Moon, launched 6 months later in September 1959. Luna 3 launched just one month later was a sophisticated, guided photographic payload that was the first to send back pictures of the far side of the Moon.
Korolev’s ultimate objective was to place cosmonauts on the Moon. Manned missions to Earth orbit were followed up with hardware designs for heavy-lift boosters, and crew and cargo vehicles. With competition from other designers, and mounting pressure to beat the Americans to the Moon with a limited budget, Korolev began testing the N-1 booster and the Soyuz lunar crew vehicle, but behind the pace of NASA’s Apollo program.
Major setbacks to Korolev’s manned lunar program were driven by Gllushcko’s refusal to provide propulsion engines for the huge N-1. Korolev’s death in January 1966 from a semmingly simple intestinal surgery doomed the Soviet manned lunar program. No one else had Korolev’s skills in dealing with the enormous Soviet bureaucracy. No one else had the organization skills to bring together the technologies and designers to build the complex lunar hardware. Korolev’s competitors that included Glushko and CHelomei were designing competing projects to get cosmonauts to the Moon.
Korolev's status as Chief Designer and architect of the Soviet's space successful program was unknown outside the inner Soviet government. His death afforded him recognition as one of the great Russian leaders. Not only did he have one of the very few private homes in Moscow (private ownership of property was not allowed in the socialist state), but his prestige allowed him to be buried in the Kremlin Wall. This distinction is limited to Russia's greatest heroes and leaders.