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The author would like to thank space historian Junior Miranda for identifying photos of Kosmos-47 landing, which were attributed to Gagarin's Vostok for decades.
Kosmos-47: The Final test of Voskhod
The first important milestone validating the three-seat Voskhod for flight was achieved on July 9, 1964, with the landing of the unmanned Kosmos-34 satellite. Behind the generic Kosmos name was hiding a Zenit-4 spy satellite, which incorporated the new rocket-powered landing system developed for Voskhod. However during the touchdown, the unmanned capsule had rolled for around 300 meters along the 30-degree slope in the midst of Ural mountains before its "landing" rockets finally fired. Terrified engineers were now thinking whether it would be a good idea to equip the crew with motorcycle helmets! Still, on August 14, after a series of nine ground tests, three of which reduced the touchdown speed to 7.5 meters per second and six to 1.5 meters per second, Korolev declared "lessons learned," clearing the system for three final tests. (231).
Previous page: Crew of Voskhod spacecraft
Above: pre-launch processing of the Voskhod spacecraft. Credit: RKK Energia
On August 21, 1964, a critical review of preparations for the Voskhod mission took place at the Military Industrial Commission, VPK. Korolev reported that despite enormous volume of work, the project had been proceeding on schedule and, in addition to a three-man launch, plans had been made for another mission aimed to beat Americans with the world's first spacewalk! The meeting approved an unmanned test launch of the Voskhod spacecraft designated 3KV No. 2, by September 5, 1964, followed by a manned mission between September 15 and September 20. Three days later (on August 24), Korolev approved the flight program for the Voskhod mission. (84)
However, the latest schedule quickly ended up under pressure due to delay with the delivery of the first 11A57 rocket, which had to be qualified for the mission. (231) Besides, the unmanned flight of Voskhod was to be preceded by a drop test of the ship's descent module, apparently planned on the insistence of the Air Force and despite objections from Korolev, who saw them as a hassle and a waste of time. The drop test capsule was apparently fashioned from the descent module of the Vostok-2 spacecraft.
Drops were conducted from the Antonov-12 transport plane climbing to an altitude of 10 kilometers near Feodosiya in Crimea. (18) On August 29, when technicians were loading a test capsule into the aircraft, the ship's parachute hatch suddenly burst open. (231) To make matters much worse, on September 6 or September 7, a descent module of the Voskhod spacecraft crashed during a drop test. As it turned out, only some of pyrotechnic bolts on the parachute hatch had fired during the test. The newly designed soft-landing rockets never had a chance to demonstrate their performance. (18) Senior space officials learned this news while attending a launch of another Zenit-4 reconnaissance satellite in Tyuratam. Next day, its rocket refused to lift off, apparently due to the core stage failure. A similar vehicle had to launch Voskhod. (466)
After a review of compounding problems on September 9, the State Commission set up a new schedule:
On September 13, the Zenit-4 successfully reached orbit and was announced as Kosmos-45. Five days later, the State Commission cleared the unmanned Vostok for flight, skipping additional ground tests. (231)
On Sept. 24, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited Tyuratam (as it turned out, for the last time in his reign) and among other things saw the Voskhod spacecraft. Aleksei Leonov even demonstrated the Soviet leader a future spacewalk. Korolev returned to Moscow on September 27 to visit his wife in a hospital and after dropping by her on the morning of September 28 went straight to the airport to fly to Tyuratam again. Next day, a Tral telemetry system failed on the rocket assigned to launch the unmanned Voskhod. The launch had to be postponed for five days, but freed time for the aircraft drop test in Crimea. (231) This time everything went as planned, clearing the Voskhod for an unmanned orbital mission. (18)
On October 4, seven cosmonauts who were training for the Voskhod mission also arrived to Tyuratam to watch the unmanned test launch of the Voskhod spacecraft. On the same day, the launch vehicle with the spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 1.
The full dress-rehearsal of the Voskhod mission started with a launch on Oct. 6, 1964, at 10:00 Moscow Decree Time, as Korolev and Voskhod cosmonauts watched. The flight plan originally called for carrying animals onboard, but, the idea was eventually limited by ground experiments. (84) Instead, the unmanned Voskhod launched just life-size dummies.
The launch vehicle successfully placed the spacecraft into a 177 by 413-kilometer orbit with an inclination of 64.77 degrees toward the Equator. (2) After reaching the orbit, the spacecraft was publicly announced as Kosmos-47, obviously, without any clues about its significance for the manned space program.
After a one-day, 17-orbit flight, Kosmos-47 landed on October 7, 1964, near the town of Kustanai in Kazakhstan. After the touchdown, the reentry capsule was dragged as far as 160 meters by the wind reaching 17 meters per second. However, on manned vehicle, the pilot had a mechanism to release the parachute after touchdown. (231) The road to Voskhod was now open.
Next chapter: Voskhod mission
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: March 25, 2021
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Service module of the Voskhod spacecraft.
A pre-launch assembly of Voskhod spacecraft.
Kosmos-47 after landing.