R series of Russian missiles



The R series was an early family of ballistic missiles developed in the post-war Soviet Union and based initially on German expertise and experience with the V-2. From some of these missiles evolved launch vehicles that made Russia a space superpower and are still in use today. The 'R' stands for 'rocket,' which translates from the Russian 'P' for 'paketa.' Other designations have been given to these vehicles in the West.



A Soviet copy of the V-2. It was built at Sergei Korolev's research institute in Podlipki to German design specifications modified only slightly by Korolev's group and powered by a V-2-based engine designed by Valentin Glushko. Following 30 test flights from Kaputsin Yar in 1948-49, the missile was put into military service in November 1950. Although the R-1 was perfected to serve as a mobile weapon, during the flight tests scientists from the Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences were able to loft instruments high into the atmosphere for pure research. A series of so-called geophysical rockets, the R-1A, was also derived from the R-1. The first in this series tested separable warheads that would be used on future missiles, including the R-2. But the last two of six R-1A launches were vertical scientific flights to sample the upper atmosphere using recoverable containers placed on the rocket's tail. As the R-1A reached its peak altitude of about 100 kilometers, its engine was shut down and the containers jettisoned to land by parachute. Later variants of the R-1 were used to study cosmic rays, high-altitude winds, and other upper-atmosphere phenomena, and to fly recoverable biological payloads.



An enlarged version of the R-1 capable of doubling the R-1's range and carrying a warhead which dispersed a radioactive liquid at altitude and resulted in a deadly rain over a wide area around the impact point. The ethanol used in the V-2 and R-1 was replaced by methanol in the R-2 to circumvent the problem of the launch troops drinking the rocket fuel! Several variants were developed, including the R-2A which was used to extend the scientific work of the R-1 to a height of 200 kilometers. Some equipment tested on the R-2A also found its way onto canine flights of Sputnik and Vostok. The first production rocket was rolled out in June 1953. In December 1957, an agreement was signed to license production of the R-2 to China. From this China acquired the technological base for its future rocket programs.



A long-range missile, authorized in 1947 at the same time as the R-1 and R-2 but far more ambitious in scope. The R-3 would have been able to deliver a three-ton atomic bomb to any point in Europe from Soviet territory – a range of 3,000 kilometers. Although it never left the drawing-board, the R-3 had a lasting effect on Soviet rocketry. It challenged Russian designers with a new level of technical complexity and paved the way for a huge growth of the Soviet rocket industry, which was soon in full swing developing the R-7. The role of the R-3, as an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), was taken over by the R-5 and R-11. However, it was not until 1962, with the R-14, that the Soviet Union would put a 3000-kilometer-range IRBM into service.



The world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), known in the West as the SS-6 or Sapwood. The R-7, designed by Korolev, formed the basis of a large family of space launch vehicles which includes the Sputnik, Vostok, Molniya, and Soyuz – the most used and reliable rockets in spaceflight history.


R-12 and R-14

IRBMs designed by Mikhail Yangel from which evolved the Cosmos family of space launch vehicles. The R-12 and R-14 were known to NATO as the SS-4 Sandal and Skean, respectively. In October 1962 R-12's figured in the world's most dangerous nuclear standoff, following Khrushchev's decision to place them on Cuba. The Soviets backed down in the face of an American naval blockade of the island.



An ICBM with a range of 12,000 kilometers, designed by Yangel, which tilted the strategic balance in the 1960s and became known in the West as the SS-9 Scarp, or 'city buster.' It also formed the basis for the Tsyklon family of space launch vehicles.