To Reach the High Frontier

To Reach the High Frontier: A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles

Roger D. Launius
Dennis R. Jenkins
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    To Reach the High Frontier
    Book Description:

    Access -- no single word better describes the primary concern of the exploration and development of space. Every participant in space activities -- civil, military, scientific, or commercial -- needs affordable, reliable, frequent, and flexible access to space.To Reach the High Frontierdetails the histories of the various space access vehicles developed in the United States since the birth of the space age in 1957. Each case study has been written by a specialist knowledgeable about the vehicle described and places each system in the larger context of the history of spaceflight. The technical challenge of reaching space with chemical rockets, the high costs associated with space launch, the long lead times necessary for scheduling flights, and the poor reliability of the rockets themselves show launch vehicles to be the space program's most difficult challenge.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4807-6
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Episodes in the Evolution of Launch Vehicle Technology
    (pp. 1-32)
    Roger D. Launius

    Access. No single word better describes the primary concern of everyone interested in the exploration and development of space. Every participant in space activities—civil, military, or commercial—needs affordable, reliable, frequent, and flexible access to space. Comparisons with Earth-based activities are illustrative of the problems encountered with the current situation in space access.

    Terrestrial shipping services deliver on a fairly predictable schedule, function in a variety of climates, often book shipments on short notice, and hardly ever destroy the cargo. The same cannot be said for space launch services. Delivery is frequently held up by technical glitches and adverse...

  4. 1 Rocketry and the Origins of Space Flight
    (pp. 33-69)
    Ray A Williamson and Roger D. Launius

    Curiosity about the universe and other worlds has been one of the few constants in the history of humankind. Prior to the twentieth century, however, there was little opportunity to explore the universe except in fiction and through astronomical observations. These early explorations led to the compilation of a body of knowledge that inspired and in some respects informed the efforts of certain scientists and engineers who began to think about applying rocket technology to the challenge of space flight in the early part of the twentieth century. These individuals were essentially the first space-flight pioneers, translating centuries of dreams...

  5. 2 Stage-and-a-Half: The Atlas Launch Vehicle
    (pp. 70-102)
    Dennis R. Jenkins

    All of the three major expendable U.S. launch vehicles during the last half of the twentieth century can be traced directly back to the earliest ballistic missiles developed by the United States Air Force. In two cases the launch vehicles bore only slight resemblance to the original missile—the Delta was a highly developed two-stage version of the original Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and the Titan III core was loosely based on the longrange Titan intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). But the third major expendable launch vehicle, Atlas, remained much truer to its roots—until very recently the basic Atlas...

  6. 3 Delta: The Ultimate Thor
    (pp. 103-146)
    Kevin S. Forsyth

    Delta is one of the most enduring members of the original family of U.S. space launch vehicles and has long been known as “the workhorse of space.” The vehicle originated with the U.S. Air Force’s Thor, a medium-range weapon that became the first operational American ballistic missile. In 1960 NASA added flight-proven upper stages from the Vanguard project to create the Delta launch vehicle. Soon Delta was evolving through numerous updates and performance improvements that used dependable, “off-the-shelf” components. The payload capacity of the current vehicle is more than forty times that of the original, and after more than a...

  7. 4 Titan: Some Heavy Lifting Required
    (pp. 147-185)
    Roger D. Launius

    The first true space launch vehicles developed within the United States emerged from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) ballistic missile programs of the 1950s, and as a result, most of the current U.S. space launch capability rests on the shoulders of the investment made in technology for the ballistic missiles of the cold war. The Titan launch vehicle family was developed by the United States Air Force to meet its medium ballistic missile lift requirements in the latter 1950s and early 1960s. It has been modified since that time into a heavy-lift space launcher for a broad range of military...

  8. 5 History and Development of U.S. Small Launch Vehicles
    (pp. 186-228)
    Matt Bille, Pat Johnson, Robyn Kane and Erika R. Lishock

    The history of small American launch vehicles—those capable of lifting 1, 100 pounds or less to low-Earth orbit (LEO)—is a surprisingly complex and interesting tale. Tracing the origins, development, and contributions of small launchers from the 1950s to the present illustrates the directions the U.S. military, civil, and commercial space programs have taken and sheds light on the roles of governmental and commercial developers in pushing back the space frontier. The cross-fertilization between military and civil small launch vehicle (SLV) programs was extensive in the beginning and has continued to the present day. In 2002 advancing technology is...

  9. 6 Minuteman and the Development of Solid-Rocket Launch Technology
    (pp. 229-300)
    J.D. Hunley

    The Minuteman missile was only possible because of a large number of technologies developed during and after World War II. Further technologies developed specifically for Minuteman have, in turn, helped to enable production of the large solid rocket motors for the Titan III and Titan IV space launch vehicles and the still larger Solid Rocket Boosters for the Space Shuttle. Thus, Minuteman was not only a major step forward in missile technology and our longest lasting strategic missile, it was a major contributor to launch-vehicle technology. This paper will trace the evolution in rocket technology that made Minuteman possible and...

  10. 7 The Biggest of Them All: Reconsidering the Saturn V
    (pp. 301-333)
    Ray A. Williamson

    On 25 May 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced to the nation a goal of sending an American safely to and from the Moon before the end of the decade. This decision involved much study and review prior to making it public, and tremendous expenditure and effort to make it a reality by 1969.² Only the building of the Panama Canal rivaled the Apollo program’s size as the largest nonmilitary technological endeavor ever undertaken by the United States; only the Manhattan Project was comparable in a wartime setting. The human spaceflight imperative was a direct outgrowth of it; Projects Mercury...

  11. 8 Taming Liquid Hydrogen: The Centaur Saga
    (pp. 334-356)
    Virginia P. Dawson

    In May 1962 a Centaur upper stage, mated to an Atlas rocket, exploded 54 seconds after launch. Centaur’s tank-filled with liquid hydrogen fuel-split open when its insulation came loose and tore a hole through its paper-thin wall, immediately engulfing the rocket in a huge fireball. This disaster prompted the Subcommittee on Space Sciences, headed by Congressman Joseph E. Karth of Minnesota, to call for a probe. Centaur had been pitched to Congress as crucial to the space program. Two years earlier Abe Silverstein, Associate Administrator for Space Flight Development Programs, had declared during the 1960 NASA budget hearings that Centaur...

  12. 9 Broken in Midstride: Space Shuttle as a Launch Vehicle
    (pp. 357-414)
    Dennis R. Jenkins

    Perhaps more so than most ideas, the Space Shuttle was the result of a truly grandiose plan. The United States was riding high on the successes of the early human space flights, particularly the Apollo Moon program, and visions of “space stations” and “space shuttles” were firmly implanted in the minds of both engineers and the public. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick furthered these ideas to the music of the Blue Danube in the movie2001: A Space Odyssey.The future was bright.

    Surprisingly, launch vehicles had evolved remarkably little in the twenty years between the launch of the...

  13. 10 Eclipsed by Tragedy: The Fated Mating of the Shuttle and Centaur
    (pp. 415-442)
    Mark D. Bowles

    In August 1985 scientists and engineers at General Dynamics in San Diego, California, triumphantly unveiled the next generation launch vehicle of the space program. Such excitement had rarely been seen since the glory days of the Apollo program. The theme from the movieStar Warsaccompanied the applause of more than three hundred officials from the company, the U.S. Air Force, and NASA. The focus of their attention was the new Centaur launch vehicle and the seminal role it would play for the American initiative in space. Craig Thompson, a General Dynamics operations representative, said, “I almost had tears in...

  14. 11 The Quest for Reusability
    (pp. 443-469)
    Andrew J. Butrica

    The quest for a reusable launcher has been long, yet it has met with only partial success. The single greatest touted advantage of the fully reusable rocket is that it reduces launch costs. Comparing reusable and expendable rockets is not simple, but a rather complicated task, not unlike the proverbial comparing of apples and oranges. In order to compare the costs of the two types of rockets, and therefore ascertain the cost advantage of reusable over expendable launchers, we must consider two types of costs, recurring and nonrecurring. Nonrecurring costs entail those funds spent on designing, developing, researching, and engineering...

  15. 12 Epilogue: “To the Very Limit of Our Ability”: Reflections on Forty Years of Military-Civil Partnership in Space Launch
    (pp. 470-501)
    David N. Spires and Rick W. Sturdevant

    In an April1960 memorandum, United States Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas D. White informed his staff that the “Air Force must cooperate with NASA . . . to the very limit of our ability and even beyond it to the extent of some risk to our own programs.”¹ Although cooperation has been a hallmark of civil-military relations, the partnership also has reflected competition and mutual dependence. Most recently, the partnership agreement between Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and NASA represents the high-water mark of cooperation between the military and civilian space communities. While clearly motivated by budget...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 502-504)
  17. Index
    (pp. 505-519)