By the middle of 1975 two competing designs had emerged within NPO Energiya for a Soviet response to the Space Shuttle. In Glushko’s vision the orbiter would be just one of the payloads for his RLA rockets, mounted on top of the rocket as a conventional payload. If a winged orbiter was going to be mounted atop an RLA booster, it would place very high loads on the core stage, especially during the phase of maximum aerodynamic pressure. Therefore, the core stage would have to be strengthened, making it even heavier than it already was and decreasing the rocket’s payload capacity [52]. Therefore, the top-mounted orbiter would have to be a wing­less, vertical-landing lifting body. This configuration was backed by NPO Energiya luminaries such as Boris Chertok, Yuriy Semyonov, and Konstantin Bushuyev, who were convinced the USSR was not capable of building a reusable space transporta­tion system akin to the Space Shuttle [53]. It would also eliminate some thorny organizational problems, requiring minimal involvement from the Ministry of the Aviation Industry.

Another option under consideration was to mimic the Space Shuttle as closely as possible, namely to build a winged orbiter with main engines which would be strapped to an external fuel tank with strap-on boosters. Known as OS-120, it would enable the Russians to benefit from research and development done in the US and thereby minimize risk. While backed by Igor Sadovskiy, it was Glushko’s nightmare, since this design left no room for the family of launch vehicles he had been dreaming of for many years. The philosophy behind the OS-120 was that the Soviet Union would solely be able to match the US Shuttle’s capability to place 30 tons into orbit and return 20 tons back to Earth and nothing more. After all, the 100 to 200-ton payload capacity of the heavy RLA rockets, mainly needed for establishing lunar bases and staging manned interplanetary missions, was of little interest to the Soviet military.