Little Players

While the United States and the Soviet Union prepared for their race to Mars, other didn’t stay idle. Their populations were inspired by the discovery of something artificial on Mars as well, they too felt that space was calling out for them.

One of those players was Europe. With the failure of the ‘Europa’ Project the European Space Research Organisation and the European Launcher Development Organization were already slated to be combined into a single organisation, the ESA. Great Britain had thought about making use of US launch vehicles instead of taking part in ESA, but the cancellation of the Space Shuttle, followed by the Oil Crisis made them reconsider.

Europe saw themselves being abandoned by the United States and flocked closer together, getting into space was one of their methods to create more unity, a common goal would work just as well as a common enemy.

ESA was formed in 1974 and its short term goals were clear: To develop the means of sending astronauts into space.

The ELDO had developed the Europa rocket, but every rocket attempting to move a satellite into space had failed. But the first stage, the well developed British Blue Streak had successfully launched every time. As Great Britain had thought about leaving the European space programs, the Europa development had been canceled in 1971.

Now the British were back, and with them the Blue Streak became an option again. The Ariane project, a replacement for the Europa had been in its development phase, but without a final design, and ESA decided that it would be more prudent to make use of the already tested and reliable Blue Streak, which had been the first stage of the Europa.

ESA also examined the Soviet and American space programs. The Soviets were making heavy use of rockets that relied on one center core with boosters and the Americans were going to develop a launch vehicle that used several nearly identical core stages.

Finding new inspiration, the engineers at ESA drew up a study for an entire launcher family, developed on the base of the Blue Streak. One option would be a new two-staged family, instead of the previous three-staged Europa. The second stage was either to be hypergolic or liquid oxygen and hydrogen, meaning the use of liquid hydrogen and oxygen in a high energy stage. Two to four Blue Streaks could be used as additional boosters to increase the payload.

Another possibility of the study was the development of an entirely new stage based on the Blue Streak, supported by the existing Blue Streak as boosters. Additionally the use of the central stage of the new rocket could be used as a booster as well.

By the end of 1975 ESA finalized the design, but was determined not to make the same errors as the ELDO before. The Ariane Project and the Ariane Parallel Core Family were placed under a central project management and de Havilland and Hawker Siddeley were asked to develop a new version of the Blue Streak with three engines and larger tanks.

Named Phoenix, the stage was projected in two versions that shared the same construction and development cycle. The Phoenix Core was the first stage, the Ariane core stage, being the Phoenix Booster, was to be used in two variants of the Ariane.

The second stage of the Ariane was to be build by Aerospatiale and received the name Demain, the french word for ‘tomorrow’. The Demain was powered by five high energy engines originally built for the German Astris, the third stage of the Europa.

The projected range of the Ariane Parallel Core family was from 5 tonnes up to 12 tonnes into low earth orbit or up to 4.5 tonnes into a geostationary transfer orbit.

The Ariane Parallel Core was finished in what could be called record time, but it did suffer for it. The first four launches in late 1978 and early 1979 failed, but better telemetry allowed ESA to detect the problems with the launcher and correct them. By late 1981 the Ariane 10, 12 and 14 had launched twenty times, delivering a multitude of commercial and national payloads into orbit, without a single complete failure.

The companion project of the Ariane was the Taurus Project, aimed to develop a 5.5 tonne 3 man orbital spacecraft. The main contenders for the project were de Havilland, Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm, Dornier and Dassault. Dassault and MBB had presented quite similar proposals for a capsule looking very similar to the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and began to collaborate in early 1976. The success of the cooperation between those two became clear pretty soon, as it was their proposal that succeeded in getting the contract to build a Taurus Spacecraft.

The first prototypes and boilerplates of the reentry capsule were put through various tests using the Blue Streak, including a number of suborbital tests, and a single orbital reentry test in 1979. The first complete prototype, only lacking astronauts, launched mid 1980 on top of an Ariane 100.

After concluding all tests during the next ten days, Taurus Test 1 returned to Earth watering a hundred kilometer north of Bora Bora.

The first manned flight of the Taurus capsule was Taurus 1, launching on April 6, 1981, with Jean-Loup Chrétien, Ulf Merbold and Daniel Cramer. The first manned flight of an European spacecraft was a series of firsts for ESA. The first three men in space and the first EVA, done by Ulf Merbold, were the most notable. Dennis Cramer was also the first to talk about the crew as Europeans, rather than using their nationalities.

One of the less realized firsts was that Chrétien wore a MGA, short for Mechanischer Gegendruckanzug, or Mechanical Counterpressure Suit. With no less than five different layers, the suit was simple and primitive, but weighed less than the conventional space suits of the other two ESA astronauts and allowed Chrétien much better movement.

After five days Taurus 1 watered near Tahiti, where they were picked up by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal of the British Royal Navy.

The following manned Taurus missions tested all systems of the capsule, showing that it was indeed a capable design. Taurus 4 rendezvoused with a target vehicle, and used the remaining propellant to change orbits.

Taurus 5 was the first European mission that rendezvoused with Space Operation Center Hephaestus and moved up to five hundred meters to the station. A docking was impossible as the Taurus lacked a compatible docking adaptor. The following Taurus 6 and 7 launched within a day of each other and performed a docking maneuver with each other, where the crews exchanged they capsules and returned to Earth.

While the Taurus Project was successful up to this point, Taurus 8 experienced a failure in the descent module, preventing the parachutes from opening. Taurus 8 impacted into the Pacific ocean the capsule, killing the crew, among them Ulf Merbold. The Taurus only flew again in 1986, after the parachute system had been completely reworked to prevent another failure.

After Taurus 1, ESA decided that a space station would be needed to make their manned space program viable in the long term, with less expense than NASA and the Soviets and to a degree realize Europe’s ambition to show the United States that they hadn’t forgotten their partial abandonment in the 1970s.

Other than the stations of the Soviets and NASA, ESA was limited in payload capacity to lift a station into orbit. While the Ariane II was under development, it would not see its maiden flight until the early to mid 1990s. Yet ESA felt the need to realize a space station as soon as possible.

Dassault and MBB were approached, as they had built the Taurus, and had the experiences needed for constructing a space station. Based on the orbital module of the Taurus, Dassault developed a larger pressurized station module, while MBB was responsible for the power and control systems.

Named Columbus, the new space station was designed with a 50 cubic meter habitat with two docking ports front and aft. Four enlarged Taurus solar panels powered the station, while the control and propulsion systems were integrated into the station. It was deliberately designed to be extendable, as the weight was constrained to less than twelve tonnes.

The first module of Columbus was launched on May 5, 1986, on an Ariane 24, followed by Taurus 9 on May 9. Taurus 9 docked with Columbus on May 11 and was activated and tested.

On the other side of the globe, China was a bit further than Europe, but their space program was mainly forward by political megalomania and national pride. Where the Europeans planned everything as best as they could before launching, the Peoples Republic of China was willing to sacrifice its people for these ambitions.

Project 714 had begun during 1966, as Mao Zedong didn’t like that outer space was shared only by the US and the USSR. Space shouldn’t be for those revisionist traitors and definitely not for capitalists. Shortly afterwards the Cultural Revolution began and several of the leading scientists of the program were denounced, bringing the project to a near standstill until 1969.

As details from the stunning Martian discoveries reached China, they too were among the many nations that tried to get an answer. And they got a reply, an albeit incomprehensible one, just like everyone else.

While China already was undergoing its planned Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s vision was instantly broadened by the new possibilities that emerged from space. It was China’s destiny, according to Mao, to bring the revolution to the universe. To do so, he started a campaign called “The Great Leap Upwards”.

Closely resembling the American Gemini capsule, the Chinese Shuguang capsule was first launched on top of a modified Long March CZ-2 on March 17, 1975, carrying the taikonauts Lu Xiangxiao and Wang Zhiyue. With Shuguang 1, China was the third nation to independently develop a technology to launch humans into space and return them safely.

The following three missions from April 1975 to September 1976 were not as successful. Shuguang 2 exploded on the launchpad, with the two taikonauts just barely escaping with their ejection seats, experiencing massive burns on 90 percent of their bodies. Shuguang 3 experienced a micrometeorite puncture and the two pilots died of hypoxia, while the polits of Shuguang 4 burned up during reentry as the reaction control system of the capsule failed and sent it hurtling into the atmosphere in the wrong position.

The final problems of the capsule were solved by 1976 and the flights of Shuguang 5 through 9 went along without a problem.

Mao Zedong passed away in 1976 and with his death China once again had a short time of political problems. Then Hua Guofeng assumed power, he consolidated the work done by military and scientific groups for the Chinese space program into a single agency, the China National Space Administration.

Seeing the massive advances of the Soviets and the United States, Guofeng pushed the CNSA to have a manned space station by 1985 and send a man to the moon by 1990.

This made a new space capsule a priority, as well as a number of additional test flights. Much like Gemini more than a decade prior, Shuguang 10 through 14 were used to rendezvous and finally dock with each other and with specially built target satellites to gain more knowledge.

The new Shenlong capsule was a larger variant of the Shuguang capsule, able to hold four taikonauts and with a docking adaptor on the side, it resembled the Big Gemini project of the US Air Force to a degree that suggested espionage.

Parallel to the Shenlong, the Tiangong space station was under development. Massing eight tons, the station had to be launched on a modified version of the Long March 2C, with strap on boosters, the Long March 2D.

Tiangong 1 launched on December 22, 1982, and went through a number of unmanned tests, followed by Shenlong 1 on January 2, 1983. Again, the first three launches of a chinese space capsule were a string of failures. Shenlong 1 successfully visited Tiangong 1, but burned up on reentry due to a problem with the heat shield. Shenlong 2 experienced a failure in the second stage of the Long March 2C used as launch vehicle, and Shenlong 3 had a faulty pressure vessel and the crew suffocated during ascent.

The next missions of the Shenlong were successful and by 1985 the CNSA even launched a second Tiangong space station, which was expanded by an additional module and visited by the Shenlong every six month by late 1988.

Eyes were set out to the Moon, but the deadline set by Guofeng could not be kept by the CNSA. Only a cislunar mission had been possible and Shenlong 12 made a lunar flyby.

During the 1970s Brazil was in a state of reformation as General Ernesto Geisel slowly began to transform the nation from a military dictatorship into a democracy. But with the geopolitical climate during and following the Oil Crisis, Brazil had been forced to make concessions to its foreign policy. With the United States isolating itself, Brazil found itself moving closer towards Europe, Latin America and Japan for political and economic gains.

The closer ties with Europe allowed Brazil to work together with Germany to acquire a number of nuclear reactors to satisfy the need for more energy for the population and the growing industry. As German companies built the nuclear power plants and got a very good iron ore deal in return, the German economists were very interested in seeing the project go through.

Geisel also recognized that space was going to be the future. It was not only the discovery on Mars, but also the future demand for communication satellites. With a space program, Brazil could generate new jobs in not only the classic industrial areas, but also in the high tech industry, which in turn needed well trained personnel.

In 1976 Geisel ordered to create the Agência Espacial Brasileira, a civilian space agency, with the main goal to create a viable and substainable space industry and make use of an equatorial launch center, that had to be constructed.

While there had been attempts to build a launch vehicle, and the military had developed a number of probing rockets, the AEB sole purpose was to develop a viable launch vehicle as soon as possible, before other nations could grab a share of the future economy away from Brazil.

As it had happened in 1975 with nuclear power, Germany provided help, even though Germany neither officially provided it, nor had intended to.

In 1977 the German company OTRAG, founded by aerospace engineer Lutz Kayser along with Werner von Braun and Kurt Debus as advisors, had tried to begin with a test program for the rocket system created by Kayser in Zaire. However the government of Zaire was more interested in the potential military application of OTRAGs Common Rocket Propulsion Unit and had confiscated all equipment of OTRAG.

Faced with this terrible setback, Kayser was in desperate need of financial aid after a number of investors left OTRAG and the company slid into a severe financial crisis. The Brazilian government saw an opportunity and ordered AEB to step in at Kayser’s time of need, buying nearly 75 percent of the stock options of the company.

Kayser knew that Brazil had not acted out of the goodness of their hearts, but he was more than willing to continue his work for the AEB if it meant that he was able to construct a working rocket, based on his parallel clustered design.

Kayser found a good environment for his work. The factory workers were trained well enough and he had access to native aerospace engineers who wanted to work with the Germans.

Between 1978 and 1981 OTRAG launched as many as one hundred CRPUs as sounding rockets to test the modules, followed by the first staging test in 1982. While the staging test of the rocket failed, it was possible to get enough data back to find and remove the error in the construction. The second staging test was successful and launched a 500 kg test payload into a height of 1000 kilometers.

During a second series of tests OTRAG established that the thrust advantage Kayser had assumed due to the clustering of rockets did not happen accordingly, and that the actual payload was reduced by twenty percent compared to Kayser’s original calculations.

Nevertheless the first three stage OTR rocket, with 64 CRPU modules, launched on October 13, 1984, delivering an indigenous scientific satellite into an equatorial orbit.

While Kayser was successful in developing a launch vehicle based on his concepts and OTR 1 launched after a series of equally successful tests, it did not fully succeed in advancing Kayser’s expectations. It was a cheap launch vehicle for its weight class, but if scaled up for higher payloads, it would not be cheaper than existing NASA or ESA rockets.

the first successful OTR 1 launch marked the beginning of a lucrative business of delivering satellites into geostationary orbits for Brazil. To develop manned space flight capacity was still years away and everyone was sure that it would not happen before 1990.

From the late 1960s on, Japan had worked with NASA to slowly develop their own liquid fueled launch vehicle after some relative success with solid fueled launch vehicles.

The first fruit of NASDA’s work had been the N-1 Delta rocket, which was a Delta rocket that had been designed in America and built under license in Japan. However the first four launches of the N-1 Delta between 1969 and 1972 had been complete failures.

Before eliminating the reasons for those failures could continue, the Oil Crisis hit the western and eastern world. The United States moved into a state of isolation, while the economy of Japan, largely based on heavy industry, was forced to adapt to a high-tech based industry.

For NASDA this was a huge blow for their emerging space program and the need for security from their neighbours China and the Soviet Union was a suddenly growing concern as well.

As the collaboration between NASDA and NASA became less and less, NASDA was forced to leave their original plan of using American know-how to slowly develop their own launch vehicles and in the meantime use American launchers for their satellites. FOR NASDA it looked like they could not depend on the American launchers anymore and so they used the existing technology of the N-1 Delta to design their own rocket engines and launchers.

Mars, even as a distant possible goal for Japan, was uninteresting compared to the challenges of designing their own native launcher.

The errors that had caused the fiasco of the first four N-1 Delta launchers were discovered and removed, allowing the rocket to be used to launch the first larger Japanese satellites.

Meanwhile NASDA worked with Mitsubishi to design their own rocket, the N-2. Using the already known Delta Thor ELT version and Castor 2 boosters, used on the N-1 Delta, the N-2 was the first rocket to use natively designed upper stages.

The second stage, named L-2, used a natively designed LE-4 engine with Nitric acid and UDMH as fuel, while an optional third stage used a M-3A solid rocket engine.

The first N-2 was flown on February 5, 1977, carrying a boilerplate test weight to prevent the loss of a valuable satellite. The launch was successful, but the second launch with a boilerplate on April 17 failed as the second stage detonated mid-flight.

The loss of the second N-2 would not be the last and the launch history of the N-2 from 1977 to 1981 had a forty percent chance of failure.

But NASDA was already working on a replacement, a new, better rocket, the N-3. This time the entire rocket was natively build. A kerolox first stage with two LE-5 engines, four M-22 solid rocket boosters and an improved version of the L-2 stage used on the N-2, named L-3, and powered by an LE-4B.

The N-3 had a much better launch history compared to the N-2 and only three out of thirty launches between 1981 and 1986 were failures.

As Japan slowly worked their way to larger and better rockets, Mars reappeared and in an ambitious project the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science began to work on a Mars probe, slated for launch in 1988.

To the third major Asian power India was developing their own carrier rockets. In the years prior, India had grown into a nuclear power with its own nuclear weapons and a growing nuclear industry. A Third Indo-Pakistani war, over what was later called Bangladesh, had also been won recently. However the space program was largely used by Indira Gandhi to distract the population as best as possible during the ‘Indian Emergency’.

During this time, the Indian Space Research Organization quickly grew to be the fifth largest government space agency, pulling up to NASA, ESA, the Soviets and the Chinese until 1977. While Indira Gandhi lost the next elections, the following governments did see their chance for India’s climb to become an important and powerful nation and the hope to pass China.

As money poured into the ISRO, they developed their first rockets. However, they were lacking experience with liquid fueled rockets and had to make do with solid rockets. The first two Indian rockets, the four staged Satellite Launch Vehicle and the five staged Extended Satellite Launch Vehicle, were less than satisfactory and the satellites they actually manage to launch, had less weight than a grown human.

The launches of the SLV and the ESLV between 1975 and 1982 did bring experience to the Indian aerospace engineers and allowed them to design their next rocket with liquid engines, the Advanced Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The ASLV first launched on September 13, 1982, delivering a two ton satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit. In the following years the ASLV proved itself to be a reliable launch vehicle and allowed the ISRO to dream of manned space flight.

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