Launch Date Nov. 11, 1963
Launch Site Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Russia
Destination Earth’s Moon
Type Flyby
Status Unsuccessful
Nation Soviet Union
Alternate Names 3MV-1A (no. 1), 1963-044A, 00687, Unnamed Venera


Fly past and photograph the Moon.


None. A malfunction caused the the spacecraft to explode in Earth orbit.

In Depth

This was the first of the Soviet Union's "third-generation" deep space planetary probes of the 3MV series. Like the second generation, Soviet engineers projected four types of the 3MV: the 3MV-1 (for Venus impact), 3MV-2 (for Venus flyby), 3MV-3 (for Mars impact), and 3MV-4 (for Mars flyby).

The primary difference over the second generation was vastly improved (and in many cases doubled) orientation system elements.

While these four versions were meant to study Mars and Venus, the Soviets conceived of two additional variants of the series, similar but not identical to the 3MV-1 and 3MV- 4 versions. These "test variants" were designed to verify key technological systems during simpler missions on flyby missions to the Moon and the near planets.

On this particular launch, the first to fly a "test variant," the third and fourth stages separated abnormally; after the craft reached Earth orbit, ground control lost telemetry from the Blok L upper stage designed to send the vehicle past the Moon. The stage's main engine turbopump probably exploded upon ignition, destroying the payload.

With this mission, the Soviets began the practice of giving Kosmos designations to lunar and planetary probes that remained stranded in Earth orbit.


Launch Vehicle: 8K78 (no. T15000-19)

Spacecraft Mass: c. 800 kg

Spacecraft Instruments:

  1. radiation detector
  2. charged-particle detector
  3. magnetometer
  4. piezoelectric detector
  5. atomic hydrogen detector
  6. radio telescope
  7. ultraviolet and Roentgen solar radiation experiment
  8. technology experiment
  9. plasma engines

Typically Soviet planetary missions were initially put into an Earth parking orbit as a launch platform with a rocket engine and attached probe. The probes were then launched toward their targets with an engine burn with a duration of roughly 4 minutes. If the engine misfired or the burn was not completed, the probes would be left in Earth orbit and given a Kosmos designation.

Additional Resources

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Kosmos 21

Selected References

Siddiqi, Asif A. Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, NASA, 2002.

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