Computing in the Soviet Space Program












The construction of a laboratory building, 1972

The Scientific Research Center for Electronic Computer Technology: The Early Years, 1968-1975

by Viktor Przhiyalkovsky

from Russian Virtual Computer Museum

Translated from the Russian by Slava Gerovitch

The establishment of the Scientific Research Center for Electronic Computer Technology was directly linked to the launching of the Unified Series of Computers, a joint project of the socialist countries. On December 30, 1967, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the USSR Council of Ministers issued a joint resolution 1180-420 on the development of production of computer technology in the Soviet Union. This resolution assigned to the Ministry of Radio Industry the design and serial production of the Riad series of information and computing machines. To supervise the design of the entire series, the Ministry was permitted to establish the Scientific Research Center for Electronic Computer Technology (NICEVT) in Moscow.

On January 31, 1968, the Minister of Radio Industry issued the order 51 to the Ministry's Eighth Chief Administration to prepare and submit a proposal for the establishment of NICEVT within a month. On March 18, 1968, the Minister issued the order 138 on the formation of NICEVT and designated it to be the lead organization for the design of the Unified Series of Computers, the Riad. 

From the text of the resolution 1180-420 it appears that its initiator and draft compiler, the head of the Eighth Chief Administration M.K. Sulim, envisioned NICEVT as a complex that would include the Moscow Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Technology (ITMVT) and the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Calculating Machinery Construction (NIISCHETMASH). This is why the order 138 specified that by March 30, 1968, the Eighth Administration "together with the directors of the organizations included in NICEVT" must resolve all the issues of the formation of various divisions of NICEVT according to the authorized structure and their completion by transferring appropriate units from these institutes and also some units from the Design Bureau of Industrial Automation (KBPA) already engaged in the Riad project. The works stipulated by the resolution 1180-420 were included by the same order in the plans of various organizations subordinate to the Third, Fourth, and Eighth Chief Administrations of the Ministry. Besides coordinating and providing funding for the design of the Unified Series, NICEVT was also assigned the development of two major models in the Riad, the R-50 and the R-60. The Minsk Design Bureau of the Ordzhonikidze Plant and the Erevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machinery Construction were assigned the development of the R-20 and the R-30 models respectively. NIISCHETMASH was assigned the leading role in the design of input-output devices. Over time it became clear that neither ITMVT, nor NIISCHETMASH displayed any interest in merging with NICEVT. Instead of functioning as a complex of institutes, the latter would become an ordinary scientific research institute.

On July 1, 1968, the Minister issued the order 332 appointing Director of NIISCHETMASH V.B. Ushakov acting director of NICEVT; the NIISCHETMASH administration was to perform temporarily the administrative duties for NICEVT. By this order, several leading administrators and department heads of NICEVT were also appointed. V.K. Levin was transferred from KBPA and appointed deputy director in charge of research. 460 engineers and technicians were transferred from KBPA to NICEVT in total, including 5 mathematicians and logicians, 270 electronic engineers and physicists, 173 engineers from other departments, and 12 administrative personnel. For the accommodation of NICEVT personnel, the order assigned some premises: 2,400 sq. m. at the Moscow Calculating and Analytical Machines Plant (SAM) and 1,000 sq. m. at the shosse Entuziastov KBPA location.

In July 1968 NICEVT was formally established as a separate organization with 500 personnel and 3,400 sq. m. office space. The number of people involved in the Riad project was thus cut in half compared to the number that had participated in the preparation of the Riad project at KBPA. In July-November 1968 NICEVT hired 400 more people. For their accommodation and for the joint work with experts from socialist countries, the premises of the NIISCHETMASH kindergarten on Varshavskoe shosse (1,600 sq. m.) were leased.

By the middle of 1968 the actions taken by the Ministry and its Eights Administration enabled the new organization to begin work for which it had been created. However the overall performance in this period was extremely low. The acute shortage of office space, the scarcity of skilled personnel, the understaffing of the management, and the lack of such essential units as general technical support services, an archive of technical documentation, design and technological divisions, and pilot production facilities seriously constrained the functioning of NICEVT and the coordination of its activity with other organizations.

Compared to the work on the Unified Series in Minsk and Erevan, as well as in socialist countries, the activity of NICEVT as the lead organization looked totally unsatisfactory. The head of the defense industry department of the Party Central Committee I.D. Serbin and the deputy chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Presidium of the Soviet Council of Ministers L.I. Gorshkov paid close attention to the organizational problems of NICEVT. Under their direct control the formation of NICEVT was significantly accelerated by merging it with the fully staffed Scientific Research Institute of Electronic Machinery (NIEM), which had already had a twenty year-long history.

NIEM (formerly the Special Design Bureau 245, or SKB-245, known for its development of the Strela, the Ural-1, the M-20, and the M-220 computers) from the very beginning specialized on military-purpose computers and mobile computing devices, including onboard computers. In 1963 it was designated as the lead organization for onboard computer design in the country.

On November 14, 1968, by the Minister's order Director of NIEM Sergei Arkad'evich Krutovskikh, Candidate Degree in Engineering, was appointed Director of NICEVT and the Chief Designer of the Unified Series. V.K. Levin, deputy director in charge of research, and later B.I. Rameev were appointed deputy chief designers.

On December 9, 1968, by the Ministry order 709 NIEM was transferred under the control of NICEVT along with all its employees (nearly 1,700), office space (23,000 sq. m.), the equipment, and the research agenda. A.I. Lazarev, chief engineer and deputy director of NIEM in charge of research, remained in NIEM until August 1, 1969, organizing transfer of employees to NICEVT and the functioning of those units that had not yet been transferred.

In the first half of 1969 a complete reorganization of NICEVT was carried out, and all its divisions are set up according to the authorized structure. By the middle of 1969 the structure of NICEVT included the following:
  • Administrative and managerial personnel: 209 people, including 9 top executives (In December 1968 all management positions were filled except for the post of chief engineer and deputy director in charge of research; on October 24, 1969, A.M. Larionov, Candidate Degree in Engineering, was appointed to this post.);
  • 10 scientific and technical divisions with the total personnel of 2166, including divisions for software, base elements, RAM, external storage, onboard computers, design, technology, and the Unified Series division;
  • 17 separate scientific-technical and general-technical branch departments with the total personnel of 897;
  • A pilot production facility with several repair and operational divisions (5 main and 4 support departments) with the total personnel of 883.

Thus by the middle of 1969 NICEVT had formed in organizational terms, but it took a long time for its diverse personnel to learn to work well together and to acquire experience in the design of the Unified Series of computers and in the supervision of various projects carried out at numerous enterprises at home and abroad. 

On June 30, 1969, by the Minister's order 380 two branches of NICEVT were created: one in Minsk (based on the Minsk Design Bureau of the Ordzhonikidze Plant) and one in Astrakhan' (based on the Design Bureau of the "Progress" Plant). 

After the merger with NIEM and a reorganization three main directions of research at NICEVT were formed, and they were carried out at following three main divisions:

  • Division 16 (head V.S. Antonov, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for the design of top models of the Unified Series and for the organizational and financial support of computer design work at the Minsk branch and at the Erevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machinery Construction;
  • Division 17 (head A.F. Kondrashev, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for the design of onboard computers (continuing work that had been carried out at NIEM);
  • Division 18 (head A.M. Larionov, Candidate Degree in Engineering; after October 1969, A.M. Litvinov, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for the design of the Beta-2 and the Beta-3M mobile computer systems for the Ministry of Defense and for the development of the MSM computer system for ground spacecraft control.

To support the work of the main divisions, several specialized divisions were created:

  • Division 12 (head B.I. Rameev; after 1970, L.D. Raikov) for software development for the Unified Series;
  • Division 13 (head B.N. Faizullaev, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for electronic construction; together with organizations of the Ministry of Electronic Industry, this division worked on the design of base elements, the development of equipment for testing micro-circuits and standard replacement elements, and the compilation of rules and specifications for the assembly of elements and panels;
  • Division 14 (head V.N. Osokin; later A.S. Fedorov, Candidate Degree in Engineering; after that N.M. Sharunenko, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for the design of RAM for all computers developed at NICEVT;
  • Division 15 (head V.G. Makurochkin, Candidate Degree in Engineering) for the design of external storage on magnetic tape and disks both at NICEVT and at its Minsk branch, at the Penza Scientific Research Institute of Computer Technology, and at TSIIT in Sofia, Bulgaria;
  • Division 19 for the construction of computers and other devices;
  • Division 20 for the development of manufacturing techniques;
  • Division 21 (head A.I. Lazarev, Candidate Degree in Engineering), a computation center that included departments for automation of programming and for computerized preparation of documentation.

Among the general-technical departments, the most important were departments of technical documentation (V.I. Lisov, L.F. Shevchenko), quality control (O.D. Leont'ev, V.I. Dudorov), standardization (B.V. Sokolov), reliability (L.A. Kozharsky, B.P. Mikhailin), information (Selivanov J.P.), and patents (G.V. Vitaliev). Designated as lead organizations for the entire branch of radio industry, these departments served not only NICEVT, but also the apparatus of the Eighth Chief Administration of the Ministry of Radio Industry.

This structure of NICEVT with small modifications was preserved until the middle of 1982, when much more autonomous, complex divisions for the main directions of research were organized. 

In 1969-70 divisions 17 and 18 carried out their previously signed research contracts on the full scale activity, while experiencing significant reductions in manpower, in office space, in management attention, and in support from the Chief Administration. Most of the NICEVT resources were mobilized for its new research project, the Unified Series of Computers. This project acquired the best personnel, office space, and financial resources.

In 1968, in strict accordance with the preset deadlines, the development of the onboard computer Argon-11S was completed (chief designers G.M. Prokudaev and N.N. Solov'ev). It was the first-ever computer in space, the first Soviet onboard computer with triple hardware redundancy, which carried out automatic control of a space flight in the Zond program (the orbiting of the Moon with a return of the landing module to the Earth).

The same year the work on the onboard computer Argon-12S was completed (chief designer A.T. Eremin). It was intended for the guidance system of the Almaz space-rocket complex landing module.

In 1969 the Argon-1 and the Argon-10M onboard computers were completed. The former (chief designers S.P. Solov'ev, S.N. Tsaplin, and A.A. Pereshivkin) was a mobile ground computer for troop control; it was later produced in large numbers by the "Progress" Machinery Construction Plant in Astrakhan' and at the Computer Plant in Frunze.

The Argon-10M computer (chief designer A.A. Solov'ev, Candidate Degree in Engineering) was developed for the first Soviet system of air traffic control near airport (the "Start"). In 1979, after the introduction of this system at several airports, A.A. Solov'ev was awarded the State Prize for its development. The Argon-10M was manufactured at the "Progress" Machinery Construction Plant in Astrakhan'.

In 1969-70 the workers of Division 18 developed design documentation for the MSM computer system for ground spacecraft control. Since 1973 this system, based on the Ritm-20 mobile computer of the Beta-2 computer system, was manufactured at the Zvezda Production Association in Zagorsk, and it still remains in operation.

During 1969-70 Division 16 gradually increased the range and tempos of work on the machine of the ES-1050 computer, the top model of the Unified Series of Computers System 1. Understandably, this work lagged behind that at the Minsk branch of NICEVT and at the Erevan Scientific Research Institute of Mathematical Machinery Construction, since the NICEVT collective, composed of the best specialists from NIEM and KBPA, had just began to work together, and its task was much more complex.

The ending of the country's eighth five-year production period (1965-70) proved quite unfortunate for the leadership of NICEVT. In 1970, S.A. Krutovskikh, Director of NICEVT, the chief designer of the Unified Series, and the chief designer of the Argon onboard computer system, fell seriously ill. Until March 1971 his duties was carried out by the deputy director and deputy chief designer A.M. Larionov.

In March 1971, Larionov was appointed Director of NICEVT, the chief designer of the Unified Series, and the chief designer of the Argon onboard computer system. In July 1971, V.V. Przhiyalkovsky, Candidate Degree in Engineering, was transferred from the Minsk branch of NICEVT and appointed deputy director in charge of research, the chief engineer of NICEVT, and deputy chief designer of the Unified Series. B.I. Komkov, B.I. Ermolaev, and Yu.S. Ob'edkov continued to serve as deputies of the chief engineer. Thus after Krutovskikh's sudden illness the top management of NICEVT was restored. 

During the country's ninth five-year production period (1971-75) the NICEVT collective worked at full capacity and created a whole series of new products in all main areas of research.

As concerns the Unified Series, in 1973 the development of the ES-1050 was completed (chief designer V.S. Antonov, Candidate Degree in Engineering). This computer had powerful autonomous input-output channels (chief designer V.S. Lapin, Candidate Degree in Engineering), and its productivity in practice did not depend on the load of the input-output system. Before the ES-1050, this feature had been implemented only in one domestic computer, the Vesna. In all other Soviet computers, computation and input-output systems shared the same hardware, and loading of the input-output system sharply reduced productivity. Since 1974, the ES-1050 was manufactured at the Electronic Computer Machinery Plant in Penza and shipped with the 1.0 ES operating system developed by Division 12 of NICEVT (head L.D. Raikov). This operating system was extraordinarily powerful and advanced for the time. Division 15 (head V.G. Makurochkin) completed the development of the ES-5050 magnetic disk storage device and the ES-5012 and the ES-5014 magnetic tape storage devices. All these storage devices were fully compatible with foreign models in interface, control, capacity, and information location. This provided for full compatibility of the ES-1050 with IBM/360 computers. The Unified Series' 73 exhibit, which opened in 1973 at the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy in Moscow, summed up the results of five-year efforts aimed at creating a new series of computers with a wide range of peripheral devices and advanced software. The Ministry of Radio Industry assigned to NICEVT the task of organizing and running this exhibit.

As to the development of onboard computers, during the ninth five-year period the Argon-15 computer was completed (chief designers S.P. Solov'ev, Candidate Degree in Engineering, and A.A. Pereshivki). This computer was successfully used in several dozen military systems developed for the Air Force and the Air Defense. 

In 1973 the Argon-16 onboard computer was completed (chief designers A.T. Eremin, Candidate Degree in Engineering, and G.D. Monakhov, Candidate Degree in Engineering). This computer was used widely for prolonged work as part of the guidance systems for the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and the Salyut, the Almaz, and the Mir orbital stations.

The expansion of work on onboard computers and mobile computer systems created an urgent need to strengthen the management. In 1974 the post of deputy chief engineer in charge of onboard computers and mobile computer systems was established. The same year V.I. Shteinberg, formerly deputy head of Division 17, was appointed to this post.

The main achievement of Division 18 was the shipment of the MSM computer system to the assigned installation in late 1973. In 1972 the development of the Beta-2 mobile computer system for troop control at the operational level was completed (chief designer A.M. Larionov, later V.I. Shteinberg). The computational part of this system, the Ritm-20 computer used the same devices as the MSM. However, work on the transportation base of the Beta-2 and all further works on the Beta-3 mobile computer system were gradually transferred to Division 17. Division 18 was no longer working on special-purpose computer systems but was instead reassigned to work on the ES-1065 computer. By the end of the ninth five-year period this division was relocated to the main complex in Chertanovo and joined the ongoing work on the ES-1065.

During the ninth five-year period the material resources of NICEVT significantly increased. In 1969, 76 hectares of land were allocated for the construction of a new complex of NICEVT buildings on Varshavskoe shosse. As early as 1970, in extraordinary short time, a 2,000 sq. m. boiler-house (which supplied heat for the entire Chertanovo industrial zone) and two standard school-type buildings (8,600 sq. m. total) were built on this plot. These buildings housed the employees of Division 12, the Computation Center, and part of the personnel of Divisions 13 and 14. In 1971-72, an 18,000 sq. m. building for pilot production was constructed. In 1973 an energy supply unit (5, 350 sq. m.) and a dining hall (6,200 sq. m.) were completed. In late 1975 the first two sections of the main laboratory building (nearly 12,000 sq. m.) were finished. The deputy chairman of the Military-Industrial Commission of the Presidium of the Soviet Council of Ministers L.I. Gorshkov paid close attention to the design and construction of the NICEVT building complex, and for this reason it was built with astonishing speed.

During the ninth five-year period the structure of NICEVT was completely formed. Besides a branch of the Moscow Aviation Institute inherited from NIEM, NICEVT now had a correspondence graduate program, two specialized boards for awarding candidate degrees in engineering, and a practical training department affiliated with the Moscow Institute of Radioelectronics and Automation (MIREA). Director of NICEVT A.M. Larionov, who in 1975 became Doctor of Engineering, paid large attention to the organization and growth of units involved in training of research personnel.

See also Interview with Viktor Przhiyalkovsky

site last updated 27 February 2003 by Slava Gerovitch