The Most Launched Rocket – History Of The R-7

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


The R-7 family of intercontinental ballistic missiles with industrial designation 8K71.

Known technical specifications of the R-7 ICBM:

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



Sergey Kryukov, a key engineer behind the R-7.

The R-7 development team:

Element Developer Chief-designer Location
Overall design
S. P. Korolev
Podlipki (Korolev)
Production (initial)
Zavod No. 88
Podlipki (Korolev)
Production (serial)
Zavod No. 1 Progress
D.I. Kozlov
Kuibyshev (Samara)
Propulsion units (both stages)
V. Glushko
Control system
N. Pilugin
Launch complex (surface)
KB-59 Kompressor
V.P. Barmin


General configuration of the R-7 ICBM.


Main components of the R-7 rocket.

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 at 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.



An R-7 missile being integrated with the original version of its warhead.

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 grounded 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. According to recollections of Aleksandr Aleksandrov, the vehicle carried the head section simulating the planned satellite payload. (815)

The First Artificial Satellite of the Earth, Sputnik-1


1957 Oct. 4, 22:28:34 Moscow time (00:28:34 local time on October 5): The R-7 rocket (Number 8K71PSlaunched world’s first artificial satellite PS-1 or Sputnik-1 from Baikonur.

Second Artificial Satellite of the Earth, Sputnik-2 with dog Laika onboard

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.

Test flights of the R-7 rocket continue

1957 Dec. 22: The R-7 rocket (8K71 Number 11) arrived at 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. It was the first launch taking advantage of the Kvarts computer, calculating the trajectory of the flight based on radar data. (644)

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.

Third Artificial Satellite of the Earth, Sputnik-3

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)

Test launches of the R-7 ICBM and its upgraded version known as R-7A continued in Baikonur during 1958 and 1959. According to one source, the test flights during the second half of 1958 and the entire 1959 apparently carried payloads code-named Sliva (plum) and Grusha (pear).

First attempts to hit the Moon

1958 Sept. 23: An R-7-based 8K72 No. B1-3 launch vehicle fails 93 seconds after liftoff during an attempt to send the E1 No. 1 probe to impact the Moon.

1958 Oct. 12: An R-7-based 8K72 No. B1-4 launch vehicle fails 104 seconds after liftoff during an attempt to send the E1 No. 1 probe to impact the Moon.

1958 Dec. 4: An R-7-based 8K72 No. B1-5 launch vehicle fails 245.4 seconds in flight during an attempt to send the E1 No. 1 probe to impact the Moon.

R-7 declared operational

1960 Jan. 20: The R-7 ICBM enters armaments of the Soviet Strategic Missile Forces, RVSN.

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