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Soyuz launcher


First launched in 1957, the R-7 became the biggest leap in the world's rocketry since German A-4. Ironically, developed to be the first Soviet ICBM, the R-7 grew obsolete as a weapon even before it started flying. Yet, as a launch-vehicle, it continued serving Russian space program more than half a century after it was originally conceived. In the 21st century, the R-7-derived space boosters have remained only vehicles delivering Russian manned spacecraft into orbit. The construction of the International Space Station also depended on the R-7-based boosters, launching supply ships and lifeboats for the outpost's crews.

General configuration of the R-7 ICBM.

Major elements of the R-7 rocket.

Base R-7 rocket tech dossier:

Number of stages
Length of the vehicle
  • 28 meters (without warhead or upper stages)
  • 31.07 meters (an original R-7 8K71 ICBM with a warhead)
10.3-11.2 meters at the base of four strap-on boosters
Weight (fueled)
280 tons (empty weight: 27 tons)
Kerosene T-1
Oxidizer Liquid Oxygen
Weight of propellant 253 tons
First launch 1957
Launch sites Tyuratam (two pads), Plesetsk (four pads)

Flight range:

8,500-8,800 (8,000) km
Warhead type (single):
KB-11-developed - 5,300-5,500-kg, 7.27-meter, 3-5 megaton, thermonuclear
2.5-5.0 kilometers (max. deviation 10 kilometers)
Officially in armaments
R-7 (8K71) since January 20, 1960 until mid-1960s
Stage 1 Four strap-on booster (Blocks B, V, G, D)
Stage 1 weight

170 tons

Stage 1 length

19.2 meters

Stage 1 diameter 2.68 meters
Stage 1 burn time 104-130 seconds from launch
1st stage propulsion
  • 1 x four-chamber main engine RD-107 (8D74)
  • 2 x one-chamber steering engines
Stage 2 Core (Block A)
Stage 2 weight (fueled)

93.36 tons

Stage 2 dry weight

6.465 tons

Stage 2 length

28 meters

Stage 2 diameter 2.95 meters
Stage 2 burn time 285-320 seconds
2nd stage propulsion
  • 1 x four-chamber main engine RD-108 (8D75)
  • 1 x four-chamber steering engine
Launch system

ground-based: Tyulpan (8U215)

Storage time (fueled) 30 days
Readiness time 2 hours

The R-7 development cooperation:

Element Developer Chief-designer Location
Overall design
S. P. Korolev
Podlipki (Korolev)
Production (initial)
Zavod #88
Podlipki (Korolev)
Production (serial)
Zavod #1 Progress
D.I. Kozlov
Kyibushev (Samara)
Propulsion units (both stages)
V. Glushko
Control system
N. Pilugin
Launch complex (surface)
KB-59 Kompressor
V.P. Barmin

Early milestones in the R-7 program (Phase I of flight testing and orbital launch attempts):

First test mission

The first R-7 missile (Number 5L) arrived to Tyuratam on March 3, 1957. After pre-launch processing at Site 2, it was rolled out to the launch pad at Site 1 in the yearly hours of May 5, 1957. Key officials in charge of the program, walked by the transporter/erector all the way to the launch pad, starting a long tradition of future Soviet space launches.

1957 May 15, 19:01 Moscow Time: The first R-7 lifted off from Baikonur. It was programmed to fly a standard test distance of 6,314.5 kilometers, however failed and crashed 3,197 kilometers downrange, deviating 12.6 kilometers from the nominal flight path. Western sources suggested that the vehicle failed after around 20 seconds, however post-Cold War Russian memoirs revealed that although the fire in the tail section of the rocket developed shortly after the launch, controlled flight went on until T+98 seconds and the emergency shutdown of the engines took place around 100 seconds after liftoff.

Problems with the second rocket

During June 10-11, 1957, there were three attempts to launch the R-7 rocket (Number M1-6). However the missile remained on the pad due to technical problems. It was ultimately removed from the pad and eventually used as a training vehicle.

Third rocket, second launch

1957 July 12, 15:53: The R-7 rocket (Number M1-7) lifted off from Baikonur. The vehicle disintegrated at 32.9 seconds in flight. Its debris crashed about seven kilometers downrange (four kilometers, according to other sources).

Flight 3: almost a success

1957 Aug. 21, 15:25: The R-7 rocket (Number M1-9) launch from Baikonur. Flight went normally, but the warhead disintegrated at the altitude of around 10 kilometers over Kamchatka Peninsula. Despite a mishap at the end of the mission, on August 27, 1957, TASS officially announced "...the creation of a long-range multistage ballistic missile in the Soviet Union." The announcement went largely unnoticed in the West.

Flight 4

1957 Sept. 7, 14:39: The R-7 (Number M1-10) was launched from Baikonur. Flight went normally, but the warhead section apparently collided with the core stage during the separation and disintegrated again during the reentry.


1957 Oct. 4, 22:28:34 Moscow time (00:28:34 local time on October 5): The R-7 rocket (Number 8K71PS) launched world's first artificial satellite PS-1 or Sputnik-1 from Baikonur.


1957 Nov. 3, 05:30:42 Moscow time: The R-7 rocket launched Sputnik-2 carrying dog Laika onboard from Baikonur. Laika died three days after the launch from overheating of her cabin. The spacecraft had no reentry system onboard.

More tests

On Dec. 22, 1957: The R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 11) arrived to Baikonur. Its first launch attempt took place on Dec. 31, 1957, but it was scrubbed.

1958 Jan. 30, 00:15: Test launch of the R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 11) with the M1-12 warhead.

1958 March 12, 22:30: The attempt to launch the R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 6), which was removed from the pad in June 1957, failed again shortly after ignition of the first stage engines. The launch was aborted safely and the rocket was shipped back to the manufacturer.

1958 March 29, 17:40: Launch of the 8K71 (No. 10) with the M1-6A warhead, which became the first to reach its impact area without disintegrating in the air.

1958 April 4, 18:30: Launch of the 8K71 (No. 12) with the B1-11 warhead. Slight overflight of the target with some flight control problems.

1958 April 27, 12:01: Launch of the 8A91 B1-2 launch vehicle, carrying the Object D satellite. The rocket disintegrated 96.5 seconds after the launch.

1958 May 15, 10:00:35.5: Launch of the 8A91 No. B1-1 rocket, carrying a second version of the Object D satellite. After successful orbital insertion, it was announced by the USSR as the Third Artificial Satellite, or Sputnik-3. (51)


The R-7 ballistic missile during pre-launch processing inside MIK-2 processing area in Baikonur circa 1957. Anatoly Zak's archive

The original version of the R-7 ICBM rolls out to the launch pad. Note that the rocket is primarily white, despite popular Western tradition of depicting it in olive green colors. Anatoly Zak's archive

The original version of the R-7 awaits launch at Site 1 in Tyuratam (Baikonur). Credit: Tekhnika Molodezhi

Launch of the original version of the R-7 rocket. Anatoly Zak's archive

The R-7 ballistic missile on the launch pad at Site 31 in Baikonur circa 1960.

The R-7 ballistic missile on the launch pad in Area 31 in Baikonur circa 1960. Anatoly Zak's archive

Launch of the operational version of the R-7 rocket, featuring a modified reentry vehicle (warhead). Credit: RKK Energia

Launch of the third modification of the R-7 rocket, known as R-7A, featuring smaller, lighter warhead. Credit: RKK Energia

The RD-105 engine originally intended for the R-7 rocket. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

The RD-108 engine, which powered the core (second) stage of the R-7 rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak

Ground test of the RD-107 engine. Credit: GDL