Люинский2012 year marks the 45th anniversary of the the world’s first automatic dockingof Soyuz space vehicles.

The living legend, the active participant in this event - V.E.Lyubinsky recalls this event in your life.

Oleg Nikolayevich Volkov, Deputy Manager of the Great Start Project, conducts the interview.

V.: Today the guest of Internet portal “Korolyov’s Planet” is the principal researcher of Rocket-Space Corporation Energia, Doctor of Sciences, Professor of MGTU after Bauman, member of the Academy of Cosmonautics after K.E. Tsiolkovsky Valery Yevgenievich Lyubinsky.

Good afternoon, Valeriy Yevgenievich!

L.: Good afternoon!

V.: Topic of our today’s interview is 45 years since automatic docking of Soyuz space vehicles. That docking was the world’s first automatic docking. You were one of the active participants in this event. Tell me, please, about the causes, reasons, background of the idea of docking space vehicles.

L.: During the first decade following the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, cosmonautics had developed, I would say, at unprecedented rates. Our leaders, theoreticians of that process, I mean S.P. Korolyov in the capacity of General Designer of OKB-1; M.K. Tikhonravov as the Head of Department in charge of spacecraft design; K.P. Feoktistov as the Head of Subdepartment within the above Department engaged in manned space vehicles design, had a clear idea of that development prospects. The prospects were outlined, approximately, in the same manner as it had further occurred and as it are now planned in long-term programs in various countries, including the programs in our country. First of all, it is development of circumterrestrical space using manned space vehicles and orbital stations, then-flights to the Moon and on the Moon; interplanetary journeys, primarily to Mars, with expedition to Mars; building thereafter permanent bases both on the Moon and on Mars. Everybody was quite clear that these projects could not be implemented in reality without rendezvous and assembly in orbit.

V.: And why?

L.: Because those spacecraft or complexes were characterized by considerable mass. At the time, we conducted preliminary design, or rather, study of the background of all those advanced space objects, spacecraft and complexes resulting in preliminary designs. Some of them had such a large mass that a very big launch vehicle was needed. We designed, developed rocket N-1 weighing more than 100 tons with a payload to be injected into near-earth orbit. But all the same, interplanetary spacecraft required assembly which was to weigh about 500 tons; its large parts had to be assembled which only rocket of that class could deliver into orbit.

Our next projects were based upon launch vehicle “the seven” (R-7). I mean the projects of building orbital stations and flights to the Moon and circling of the Moon. For Lunar landing it was definitely necessary to have a large rocket of N-1 type or US heavy launch vehicle Saturn-5. But top priority task was to perform manned circling of the Moon and we were working on the project of rocket-space complex to be assembled in orbit using standard rocket blocks of about 7 tons by mass to be placed into orbit by our R-7 and Soyuz space vehicle. After the Vostok space vehicle, the Soyuz vehicle was initially designed as multipurpose and multifunctional space vehicle capable of operating both in orbit and perform flights to the Moon, circling of the Moon. Of course, Soyuz space vehicle was not suitable to perform Moon landing.

V.: Valeriy Yevgenievich, what team and head of the team were directly put in charge to develop the docking process?

L.: It was already at an early stage, before the first man’s flight into space that OKB-1 started activities on studying the problems of in-orbit rendezvous and assembly. In department led by M.K. Tikhonravov, in subdepartment led by K.P. Feoktistov a group of specialists was assigned to study theses issues and look tentatively into assembly of different spacecraft.

It was the team headed by K.S. Shustin. There were the leading specialists on this subject within that group. At the time they were young; all we graduated from the institutes not long ago and had been with the enterprise during 1, 2, 3 years. K.S. Shustin was older than us, he had already worked for 5 years and was an experienced designer. Apart from K.S. Shustin, I should call B.I. Stolpovsky who investigated different techniques of space vehicles rendezvous; L.A. Gorshkov who was occupied with berthing problems. I took up the issues of docking, assembly. This group was the first to do such research.

We selected the most promising alternatives to solve this problem. We saw later deployment, expansion of these activities. The complex (“division” nowadays) began to study rendezvous issues. At the time, the complex was headed by B.V. Raushenbakh and V.P. Legostaev was put in charge of these activities. Who else can be called? I would call B.G. Nevzorov and a number of other fellow-workers. I would ask some of my fellow-workers whom I did not mention not to get offended, because I failed to mention them for the reason of shortage of time rather than because I did not remember, forgot or consider them not very worthy of being mentioned. So, works were in progress on rendezvous; rendezvous diagrams were studied and, finally, the method of parallel guidance was chosen. In addition, I have to mention, of course, I.P. Shmyglevsky from that group, the theoretician, who developed the procedure to conduct that process of parallel guidance and rendezvous, which could be actually performed using the equipment available at that time.

Equipment for measuring relative motion parameters, by means of which the system was to perform the maneuvers causing space vehicles to approach for rendezvous, was initially developed by a Stalingrad company, they started activities, then Moscow Institute NIITP (Research Institute of Precise Instrument Engineering) headed by Natsikonyan was charged to do it. Natsikonyan led a very bright team of specialists which had developed that equipment. It was manufactured, operated and made part of the system manufactured at our enterprise.

First sketches of docking units were thought of in the group headed by K.S. Shustin. These were the first versions of docking systems operating on the probe-cone principle. Later development work was performed in the third department, the department engaged in launch vehicle development where a well-known tests-engineer worked who had developed a docking unit which was to be of a very high quality. After we had worked out Moon flight project by means of the complex made up of standard rocket blocks and having about 7 tons by mass, the third department proposed another version, the version with rocket block to be loaded with propellant in artificial Earth satellite orbit using several tankers-fuelers. Those were the vehicles which were to deliver oxygen and fuel to this block in orbit, dock to it and transfer fuel to its tanks. That unit developed in the third department, the docking system, combined the functions of both docking, mating of two vehicles – the rocket block to be loaded and the tanket-fueler with a fuel transfer device.

Later on, when Soyuz space vehicles started flying, the Soyuz was designed from the outset as the vehicle capable of approaching and docking to other space vehicles, Soyuz space vehicles, further – to the orbital station, rocket complex to be assembled in orbit. For the first tests in space, rendezvous and docking testing (that was to be the world’s first automatic rendezvous and docking system) the docking unit was developed under the supervision of L.B. Velnistky. L.B. Velnitsky was a talented engineer, designer. Then V.S. Syromiatnikov was put in charge of the development activities. Under his direction were Y.G. Bobruvich, the designer of the unit (docking – Ed.), and V.N. Zhivoglotov, the developer of automatic equipment which was monitoring operation of this docking assembly during vehicles mating. Now V.N. Pavlov manages these activities.

Initially, these docking systems did not foresee internal transfer from one space vehicle to the other one, only external connections. In 1969 A.S. Yeliseev and Y.V. Khrunov were the first to perform the vehicle-to-vehicle transfer. They moved in the following way: they got out from one space vehicle into open space, transferred to the other space vehicle through hatches, airlocks. At a later time, when we started to design Salyut orbital station and get it ready for flight, the team led by V.S. Syromiatinkov had developed the docking assembly for Soyuz vehicles, that station, which had internal transfer, docking tunnel, pressurized mating of two vehicles. Those docking systems were steadily improved. Up to then, the main concept had long been the probe-cone one, then androgynous, multipurpose assembly appeared which made it possible for any two space vehicles to mate. It was the Soyuz-Apollo Project that first tested the androgynous assembly. That was how the docking took place using that assembly. Later on, the assembly like that was installed on the Mir station.

V.: Valeriy Yevgenievich, the question is like that: Were You following similar docking developments in the United States at the time?

L.: Yes, we did and sought to be the first in this field, but the first docking, not an automatic one, had been on the Gemini vehicles up to that time. But cosmonautics cannot advance further without an automatic docking. Now we know that our huge Mir station weighing a good 135 tons, made up of 6 modules was assembled in an automatic mode, with an automatic rendezvous, automatic actuation of the assemblies. All this bulky and cumbersome thing was assembled by these docking units, docking assemblies having physical envelope of 1 m, which proved to be very strong, sustained all the loads experienced by the station throughout its all flight phases, including docking of the Shuttle Orbiter to it. Also they proved to be leak-tight: during 15 years the assemblies preserved pressure integrity, strength, rigidity, all required qualities.

V.: The question is like that: Americans have not introduced automatic docking up to now. They still perform docking in a manual mode, now via manipulators. Why was it automatic docking that was taken as a basis? Why did not we follow the path of the US success and our choice fell upon automatic docking?

L.: The point is that we realized that it was not reasonable to create many projects relying on a manual docking, because an automatic docking made it possible to solve all the problems of building complex, sectional, assembled large structures in space without crew and all its life support being involved in assembly operations. We planned simultaneously manned docking on manned vehicles along with an automatic docking as a reserve operation. They duplicated each other. In case of an automatic docking failure, crew could bring together and dock space vehicle to the station or other space vehicle. So, these two methods back up each other.

V.: That is to say, now an automatic docking seems to be the routine process, while 45 years ago, it was really a unique event. What difficulties You had to over come and what discoveries You had to make to implement the docking?

L.: Rendezvous in space by itself seemed to be at first a fantastic idea, because just imagine: space vehicle-target is travelling at a great speed towards equipment-target which it is to approach, space vehicle should to come up to it as close as possible, “hit a fly in the eye” (as the phrase is) and it is quite a problem. It took a long time to solve this problem. A lot of skilled people had to do it. That was the first difficulty.

The second difficulty to be overcome was the process of docking and capture when it was necessary to berth space vehicle, the target, extremely precisely at the rate that ruled out the possibility of any structural breakup, and mate it; extinguish energy of that relative motion during rendezvous. In so doing, mating implied mechanical linkage, electrical and hydraulic connection. In particular, now buses for digital information exchange are available on Progress vehicles which were tanker vehicles for the Salyut, Mir stations and are currently used for our Russian Segment on the ISS, fuel transfer equipment. These were complicated technical problems which had to be solved. Docking unit is rather precise sophisticated mechanism which needs to operate, the mechanical system which is required to operate under vacuum.

V.: Valeriy Yevgenievich, suppose that the docking took place for the first time and it went well. Tell me, please, was it possible to fulfill all the tasks during the first docking or did you have to postpone any tasks for subsequent dockings?

L.: Yes, of course, the docking process continued to improve, as well as the rendezvous technique itself. Earlier, it was the technique of parallel rendezvous when two vehicles, finally, had to be guided towards each other; the vehicle had to turn by its port to the docking unit.

That was the way of doing things when Soyuz vehicles were docking, when there were dockings with the Salyut station; later, when huge stations became available which could not be turned towards approaching space vehicle, spacecraft for subsequent docking; it was inexpedient due to a large consumption of fuel for orientation. Further, other system of relative motion parameters measurement came into being, was developed which used to be called “Igla”; Kurs system was developed which measured a greater number of parameters, not only range and radial velocity of rendezvous, but also angles; allowed to determine space vehicle position relative to the station. Computer was added to that system which made it possible to ensure a more efficient technique of rendezvous. Free trajectories method become preferable rather than parallel guidance method. Approaching space vehicle became capable of flying around the station after its being placed at a safe point during distant closure relative to the station: it was, approximately, at a distance of half a kilometer. Space vehicle could fly around the station while approaching it; reach line of the station docking assembly part and conduct subsequently soft smooth berthing. So, the rendezvous methods were developing; docking units, docking assemblies have already reached a sufficiently high level of development and keep improving.

V.: Valeriy Yevgenievich, if we look at this event from a historical point of view, what was an automatic docking impact on the development of space programs in the Soviet Union, Russia ?

L.: If we had not developed docking, we would not have performed flights, there would not have been big stations, Salyut station, Mir station, Russian Segment of the ISS station (International Space Station). Without rendezvous and docking technology available, it would not be possible to create all this and move further. We know that further advanced program envisages both Moon development and expeditions to Mars and building large facilities in space. Nothing could be created without docking.

V.: You mean, the first manned flights performed by separate space vehicles, the first automatic docking made it possible to build whole orbital complexes which could operate not only for a short period of space vehicle staying in space, but throughout years, decades. We hope that in the near future service life of orbital complexes will be evaluated by dozens of years. Valeriy Yevgenievich, I would like to ask You about the next step towards changing Progress vehicles docking techniques taken not so long ago, just earlier this year. Previously, Progress vehicles performed dockings following a two-day configuration, now they use a 4-orbit, 5-orbit configuration. What was done to achieve such a success? It was Rocket-Space Corporation that shifted to the docking following the shortened, accelerated configuration. Why did the company do this?

L.: Well, it was not for the sake of Progress space vehicles. Basically, these unmanned space vehicles can be docked within a day, within two weeks, as is the case with large units-modules heading towards the station. Manned vehicles more benefited by it, because time required for orbital insertion till their docking to the station was reduced. The point is that manned space vehicle has a limited resource for an autonomous flight, most of which is spent on assembly for about five days and it would be better if part of this resource (oxygen, water, etc.) was left for a flight phase following undocking of the space vehicle with the station so that in case of any problems arising during descent enough time is available to find the way out.

V.: Did you previously use docking in the first flight day?

L.: Yes, we did. During the first flights docking with the Salyut station followed a 1-day configuration, then it was extended to 2 days, because it was more reliable. There was less haste, more time to understand how space vehicle, its systems operate; perform maneuvers at a slower rate.

V.: This is another docking alternative, i.e. it makes managers more flexible in taking their decisions, does not it?

L.: Of course, if we shift to a one-day rendezvous, get back again to that rendezvous, even to a few orbits, it will always be possible to extend this process by a day, two days in case of arising any problems, difficulties, if anything goes wrong.

V.: I see. Valeriy Yevgenievich, thank You very much for the interview, for your story about how it was happening rather long ago, 45 years ago. We wish You creative successes, further efficient work at the Rocket-Space Corporation. It would be wonderful if the students You are teaching at MGTU after Bauman came to work at Rocket-Space Corporation Energia, continued the activities You had started with your associates, thanks a lot.

L.: You are welcome.

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