Wednesday, August 25, 2004

the A4s of Kapustin Yar

Googling for the intriguing piano music of Nikolai Kapustin, pynchonoid found 11 post-WWII A4 rocket launchings in Kapustin Yar, with photos (including these two) and a brief history, excerpted below.

road to Kapustin Yar

A4 at Kapustin Yar

Along with working on prospective designs during summer of 1947, NII-88 completed assembly of several A-4 rockets of the "T" series, in addition to "N" series assembled back in Germany. Both batches, along with auxiliary hardware from Germany were shipped to a newly founded test range in Kapustin Yar. On July 26, 1947, the Soviet of Ministers officially scheduled test launches of the A-4 missiles in Kapustin Yar during September-October 1947. (52)

One day, to the surprise of Gröttrup's family "half of the Ministry" (of Armaments) descended onto his house for a meeting at the conclusion of which, he had to gather his winter clothes and leave in the unknown direction. Gröttrup, joined all leading officials from NII-88 at Kapustin Yar.

According to Irmgard Gröttrup's memoirs, she followed her husband to Kapustin Yar several weeks later -- the claim vehemently denied by the veteran of the Russian space program Boris Chertok. Yet, discounting some confusion with dates and few misinterpreted technical details, Mrs. Gröttrup's descriptions of events and the atmosphere in Kapustin Yar can now be confirmed almost by the letter from Russian witness accounts published half a century later.

By the time, the NII-88's "rocket train" arrived to the range, soldiers were still erecting most essential infrastructure at the site. The construction of a special test stand out of hardware shipped from Germany was hardly completed, as the first rocket No. 02T was installed for the test.

After some troubles with fueling, the live firing of the A-4 engine was conducted on October 17, 1947 at 0:30 Moscow Time. Next morning, Russians and Germans started preparing another rocket for launch. At the end of the day, at 21:00 Moscow Time, the vehicle No. 010T was rolled out to the launch site.

The first launch of the A-4 rocket designated No. 010T, was preceded by a short delay caused by the failure of the ignition system. Three Russian technicians run to a fully loaded rocket and replaced pyrotechnic device initiating the launch. The vehicle blasted off on October 18, 1947 at 10:47 Moscow Time and after a short arc into the stratosphere impacted 206.7 kilometers from the launch site deviating around 30 kilometers to the left from the target. Absence of the large crater at the impact site showed that the rocket apparently disintegrated before crashing.

The second launch took place on October 20, 1947 at 11:14 Moscow Time and proceeded in the wrong direction due to control system failure. It fell 231 kilometers from the launch site. (170)

Search for the cause of the failure, forced Gröttrup to summon two of his compatriots from NII-88 to Kapustin Yar. During the flight to the range, the security policy officer, who escorted two men, tried to get them drank as a way of preventing Germans from figuring out the geographical location of the "secret" test site. In spite of such treatment, engineers set out to work immediately upon landing and soon were able to resolve the problem.

Gravity's Rainbow, pp. 272-273:
Here's a man running loose who knows everything it's possible to know--not only all about the A4, but about what Great Britain knows about the A4. Zurich teems with Soviet agents. What if they've already got Slothrop? They took Peenemunde in the spring, it appears now they will be given the central rocket works at Nordhausen, another of the dealings of Yalta. . . .