A 3D model of the Soviet N1 Rocket, which was intended to enable crewed travel to the Moon and beyond, Soviet counterpart to the United States’ mighty Saturn V, which was used by NASA between 1967 and 1973 during lunar landings.

The 3D model below prepared by was made for a French documentary about the N1 rocket which will be available on Youtube in a few months, probably in the Summer of 2020.

3D model of the Soviet N1 Rocket by Alan Baker
3D model of the Soviet N1 Rocket by Alan Baker

The French team is preparing a documentary about the N1 rocket. There’s an information page about the crowdfunded project (in French).

Documentary about the giant N-1 rocket

The aim of this project is to finance an original documentary, both historical and technical, on the Soviet N-1 rocket, this giant rocket over 100 meters (328 feet) high, which was designed in the 1960s as part of the Soviet lunar program. which aimed to send a human to the Moon. This documentary will then be available to everyone, free of charge, on YouTube in the summer of 2020. I, therefore, suggest that you become a patron of this ambitious project and take advantage of this crowdfunding campaign to obtain exclusive rewards.

The creator of the video, “Techniques Spatiales” says:

Information sources are difficult to access and often written in Russian, which means that there are few documentaries on the subject and that they are very similar. I just want to do things differently. First of all, I would like to use archival images to illustrate this pharaonic space program. Some of these images are available on Youtube as a porridge of pixels, but the reels at the source of these images are in Russia and we will have to digitize them, which is very expensive (around €27 per second). These quality archive images will make it possible to relive this space program in a new way.

Based on technical documents on the different elements of the launcher, I will try to offer a documentary that will present in detail the different aspects of the functioning of the launcher, its engines, its design, its launching set, and its assembly. Many sources will be used for this documentary, mainly testimonies of the people involved in this program but also technical documents that may have survived the destruction until today.

Several professionals are in charge of 3D modeling of the rocket, its firing range, its transporter, its engines, etc. Thanks to this, a 3D animation team will generate new explanatory sequences and complete what will not be available in video archive format.

Documentary on the N-1 rocket

Soviet N1 Rocket

N1 rocket (from Raketa-nositel, lit. “Rocket-carrier”), or Н1 (from Ракета-носитель) in Russian, was a super heavy-lift launch vehicle intended to deliver payloads beyond low Earth orbit and enable crewed travel to the Moon and beyond. At 105.3 meters (345 feet), It was the second-tallest rocket ever launched to date, after United States’ Saturn V.

The N1-L3 version was designed to compete with the United States Apollo program to land a person on the Moon. But its development started in 1965, 4 years later than the mighty Saturn V, and the project was underfunded and rushed. What’s more, the death of its chief designer Sergei Korolev in 1966 badly derailed the project.

Sergei Korolev (12 January 1907 / OS 30 December 1906 – 14 January 1966) was the top Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer during the so-called Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. He is often compared to Wernher von Braun, his U.S. counterpart, as the leading architect of the Space Race.

Korolev’s successor, Nikolai Kuznetsov, had limited experience in rocket design. Many design mistakes have been made, like using 30 NK-15 engines to achieve the required amount of thrust and hoping to all work harmoniously without a flaw with the 1960s technology.

N1 rocket
Two of the gigantic five-stage N1 rockets are shown on their launch pads. The N1 was the Soviet counterpart of NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket in size and thrust. Both rockets in this photo were destroyed in explosions during or after attempted launches. Photo: NASA

As a result, each of the four attempts to launch an N1 rocket failed, with the second attempt resulting in the vehicle crashing back onto its launch pad shortly after liftoff and causing one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions in history. The N1 program was suspended in 1974 and officially canceled in 1976. All details of the Soviet crewed lunar programs were kept secret until the Soviet Union was nearing collapse in 1989.

Why the Soviet Union could not put a human on the moon?

The video published by the Curious Droid below explains why Russa couldn’t put a human on the moon, while the U.S. successfully landed on the moon many times.

Why Russia Did Not Put a Human on the Moon – The Secret Soviet Moon Rocket (N1 Rocket)

Although the USA won the race to the moon, if you’d been a betting person from the mid-1950s to 1960s, the chances are that you would have thought the Soviet Union had a very good chance of getting there first.

So why didn’t Russia put a human on the moon?

At the time the Soviets were leading the space race, they had already started with the launch of Sputnik 1, then launched several probes to the moon, including one in 1959 that orbited and took photos of the far side. By 1961 they were the first to put a human into space.

So when Kennedy made his now-famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech in 1962 to rally public support, Khrushchev’s response was silence, neither confirming nor denying that they had a plan for a crewed moon mission.

But at the time Khrushchev wasn’t really interested in competing with the US over the moon, he was more interested in ICBMs, the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles for the strategic rocket forces.

But there were others that had harbored plans for a crewed mission for a long time, these included the man whose name was a state secret and the most powerful man outside the Kremlin when it came to space.

He was Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, outside the inner circle of the top space scientists he was known only as the “Chief Designer” or by his first 2 initials SP because the Soviet leadership feared that the Western powers would send agents to assassinate him.

N1 Rocket Comparison with Saturn V

Saturn-V vs N1 rockets Size Comparison
A comparison of the U.S. Saturn V rocket (left) with the Soviet N1 rocket (N1/L3). Note: human at the bottom illustrates the scale. By Ebs08 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

At 105 meters (344 ft), the N1-L3 was slightly shorter than the American Apollo-Saturn V (111 meters, 363 ft). The N-1 had a smaller overall diameter but a greater maximum diameter (17 m/56 ft vs. 10 m/33 ft). The N1 rocket produced more thrust in each of its first three stages than the corresponding stages of the Saturn V. The N1-L3 produced more total impulse in its first four stages than the Saturn V did in its three (see table below).

The N1 rocket was intended to place the approximately 95 tonnes (209,000 lb) L3 payload into low Earth orbit (the Low Earth Orbit or LEO is an Earth-centered orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km/1,200 mi or less), with the fourth stage included in the L3 complex was intended to place 23.5 tonnes (52,000 lb) into translunar orbit.

In comparison, the Saturn V placed the roughly 45 tonnes (100,000 lb) Apollo spacecraft plus about 74.4 tonnes (164,100 lb) of fuel remaining in the S-IVB third stage for translunar injection into a similar Earth parking orbit.

The N1 rocket used kerosene-based rocket fuel in all three of its main stages, while the Saturn V used liquid hydrogen to fuel its second and third stages, which yielded an overall performance advantage due to the higher specific impulse.

The N1-L3 would have been able to convert only 9.3% of its three-stage total impulse into Earth orbit payload momentum (compared to 12.14% for the Saturn V), and only 3.1% of its four-stage total impulse into translunar payload momentum, compared to 6.2% for the Saturn V.

Unlike the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 in Florida, the N1’s Baikonur launch complex could not be reached by heavy barge. To allow transport by rail, all of the stages had to be shipped in pieces and assembled at the launch site. This led to difficulties in testing that contributed to the N1 rocket’s lack of success.

The Saturn V also never lost a payload in two development and eleven operational launches, while four N1 rocket development launch attempts all resulted in catastrophic failure, with two payload losses.


M. Özgür Nevres

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.