Modeling New Ware’s Vostok 3KA

article by David Weeks

published in IPMS Journal



In the 1950’s and 60’s Sergi Korolev, known only to the west at that time as the ”Chief Designer”, was the main driving force behind the Soviet Union’s space flight effort. Korolev was not only responsible for the design, development and production of the early Soviet manned and unmanned satellites, but the launch vehicle family that boosted them into orbit as well. As it had in 1959 with the launch of Earth’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, the Soviets once again up-staged the United States in the ”space race” with the April 12, 1961 manned launch of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1.

As the Soviet Union’s first generation manned spacecraft, the Vostok exhibited many of the same traits as America’s first manned spacecraft, called Project Mercury. Both vehicles could only change their attitude around their axis but not change their overall orbital parameters. Both also relied on batteries for power and the re-entry trajectories of both were strictly ballistic in nature with no provision to alter that trajectory once the retrograde rockets had fired to bring them back to earth.

But there were significant differences as well. On orbit, the Vostok weighed over three times what the Mercury vehicle weighed and was made up of two separate modules, one for re-entry and the other for most of the equipment that supported the cosmonaut while on orbit. For the mercury spacecraft, all of these systems were contained within the re-entry vehicle. The Vostok re-entry module was spherical while the Mercury had a blunt-ended conical shape. The Vostok included an ejection seat, which served two functions. The first was to allow an avenue of escape during the early phase of the launch with the other being the only way the cosmonaut could exit the vehicle after re-entry and be reasonably assured of an injury-free landing. In contrast, the Mercury used an escape tower for the former and retained the astronaut within using the regular recovery parachutes in water landings for the latter. The life-sustaining atmosphere used within the two vehicles was also different. The Vostok used a sea level pressure Earth atmosphere mix of approximately 79% nitrogen to 21% oxygen as opposed to Mercury, which used only oxygen at about 5 PSI.

Assembling the Model

With the continued growth of the ”garage kit manufactures”, finding accurate ”real-space” models is becoming a much easier task. One such ”garage” company out of the Czech Republic is New Ware, run by Tomas Kladiva. I acquired one of his 1/48 scale Vostok 3KA models after reading several enthusiastic previews and reviews. The kit, which was mastered by Andi Wuestner, consists of 72 high quality pressure cast resin and 46 photo-etch parts plus decals. With the large number of parts and the complexity of the assembly, I would consider this kit to be a real test for the less experienced modeler.

It became apparent that the research used in creating this model is quite up-to-date. I spent some time at two on-line sites, Sven Knudsen’s Scale Models: Spacecraft, Rockets, Missiles, and X-Planes! ( and Mark Wade’s Encyclopedia Astronautica ( Most of the contemporary photos I’ve seen of Vostok 1 are in black and white and while these can be of help in researching the details, colors are a different matter. It appears that the color call-outs mentioned in the instructions were gleaned from pictures taken of the un-flown Voskhod-3 vehicle that is on display at the RKK Energia Museum in Korolev, Russia (The Voskhods were a variant of the Vostoks).

The five sheets of instructions included with the kit are certainly above average in detail and surpass some mainstream model companies with the quality of the graphics and the clarity of placement of the small detail parts. But still, there are some part numbering errors, so be sure you read through all of sheets carefully. Because of the large number and similarity of pieces, a complete study is essential to understand where all of the photo-etch and resin goes on the various modules.

The assembly of the kit is broken down into major sub-assemblies with the equipment module taking up the majority of the sheets. But if you stick to the suggested assembly sequence, you’ll find that handling the sub-assemblies is next to impossible. I deviated quite a bit from the instructions in assembling my model.

Construction began by sorting all the resin parts, first by where they went on the model and second by what color they were to be painted. After cleaning up the resin, the majority of the pieces were painted and the two main parts of the equipment module were epoxied together. I then located a spot where a hole could be drilled to accept the aluminum tubing used to support the finished model and also drilled another hole down the spacecraft’s centerline, including the re-entry sphere, for a piece of 1/8” diameter aluminum rod to re-enforce the entire model once it was assembled on the stand.

After the equipment module halves were epoxied together, I temporarily glued the re-entry sphere in place. Then using Zap-A-Gap cyanoacrylate glue, I attached the four re-entry sphere retaining straps plus the cap at the top of the sphere. Next, four holes were drilled for the ‘paperclip’ and two for the whip antennas. The sphere was then removed and the equipment module was ready for parts application.

As I haven’t had much experience with photo-etch, I didn’t realize that etching the fret with some vinegar would be helpful before painting it. Since I chose to use Testors Metalizer Non-Buffing Aluminum, I had to re-paint the parts after bending them. Once the parts were cut out of the fret, I used a Hold and Fold PE Workstation from The Small Shop Company to bend them into shape.

With both of the equipment module cones glued together, I could now rest the module either on its ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ depending on which cone of the module I was attaching parts. The first things applied to the module were the various wire bundles. These were the only parts that needed major attention to get a complete ”wiring harness” look. Quite a bit of softening of the long bundles to bend around the angles of the module and filling of their ends to look like complete cable runs was necessary. I’d suggest that the cable runs be replaced with fine solder or styrene rod if building ‘out-of-the-box’ is not important to you. The application sequence after that was to attach most of the other details with the exception of the Oxygen and Nitrogen tanks and a couple of photo-etched panels on the sides. All of the small photo-etched ‘shelves’ that had resin parts attached were sub-assembled before being glued to the equipment module.

I was going to attach the radiator panels and other small parts to the equipment module with cyanoacrylate but I chicken out and ended up using Aleene’s Super Quick Dry ”Tacky” Glue instead. This actually worked out rather well as this type of white glue allowed me a little time to position the parts and any small amounts of visible glue was easily cleaned up using water. Another plus is that I haven’t had any of the radiator panels fall off even though the model has already traveled almost 1,000 miles! The final parts attached to the module were the four antennas buried within the radiators, which were the only kit-supplied antennas I used.

A suitable wooden parts holder was created to hold the Nitrogen and Oxygen spheres so that they could be prepped for the attachment of the photo-etch straps. There were a few pinholes that needed to be filled and then the spheres were painted with a custom dark green paint mix. After the white decal strips were applied and some Micro-Sol was used to snuggle them down, the photo-etched straps were super-glued in place.

After touching up the paint, mainly on the wiring bundles and fixing the equipment module to the stand, final assembly commenced. First, the Nitrogen and Oxygen spheres were attached and then the re-entry sphere epoxied in place. The umbilical between the two modules came next and after applying the attitude control nozzles, the retrograde motor housing was epoxied to the end of the equipment module.

The last steps involved attaching the rest of the antennas. I made these out of .015-inch diameter music wire for the whips and .025-inch for the four ‘paper clips’ on the re-entry sphere, sanded them all down a bit and cut the whips to the length mentioned in the instructions. The kit supplied whip antennas, which mimic the ones seen in the Voskhod-3 photos are in their retracted state and should not be used if one is representing the vehicle in an on-orbit configuration.

I used mainly Floquil Railroad paints for the majority of the non-metallic colors. Reefer White was about the only ‘out-of-the-bottle’ color with the rest being custom mixed to match the hues seen on the Voskhod-3 photos. Off-white was mixed to paint the re-entry sphere with the hexagonal scribing being washed with a medium gray acrylic. A gray-green mix was used on equipment module and the retrograde motor housing with the details shadowed with a dark green acrylic wash. The cabling bundles were painted a soft yellow mix with the same acrylic medium gray washed used to accent the individual cables. Several Testors Metalizer colors were employed to give some variation to the small details on the equipment module and retrograde motor housing.

It took about two months to complete this model which is a quick build for me and I was quite pleased with how it turned out, even more so when it won the out-of-the-box award in the Real Space Category at the 2004 Nationals. The quality and accuracy of the New Ware kit allowed me to construct a very accurate out-of-the-box representation of Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok-1 spacecraft.

photos of finished David Weeks Vostok