Project Vanguard

Vanguard rocket on Pad LC-18A

Project Vanguard was a program managed by the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), which intended to launch the first artificial satellite into Earth orbit using a Vanguard rocket[1] as the launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida.

In response to the surprise launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the U.S. restarted the Explorer program, which had been proposed earlier by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). Privately, however, the CIA and President Dwight D. Eisenhower were aware of progress being made by the Soviets on Sputnik from secret spy plane imagery.[2] Together with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), ABMA built Explorer 1 and launched it on January 31, 1958. Before work was completed, however, the Soviet Union launched a second satellite, Sputnik 2, on November 3, 1957. Meanwhile, the spectacular televised failure of Vanguard TV3 on December 6, 1957 deepened American dismay over the country's position in the Space Race.

On March 17, 1958, Vanguard 1 became the second artificial satellite successfully placed in Earth orbit by the United States. It was the first solar-powered satellite. Just 152 mm (6.0 in) in diameter and weighing just 1.4 kg (3.1 lb), Vanguard 1 was described by then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as, "The grapefruit satellite."[3]

Vanguard 1, and the upper stage of its launch rocket, are the oldest artificial satellites still in space, as Vanguard's predecessors, Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2, and Explorer 1, have decayed from orbit.

Project history

In the early 1950s, the American Rocket Society set up an ad hoc Committee on Space Flight, of which Milton W. Rosen, NRL project manager for the Viking rocket, became chair. Encouraged by conversations between Richard W. Porter of General Electric and Alan T. Waterman, Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Rosen on November 27, 1954 completed a report describing the potential value of launching an earth satellite. The report was submitted to the NSF early in 1955.[4] As part of planning for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) (1957–1958), the U.S. publicly undertook to place an artificial satellite with a scientific experiment into orbit around the Earth.

The three services' proposals

Proposals to do this were presented by the United States Air Force (USAF), the United States Army, and the United States Navy. The Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) under Dr. Wernher von Braun had suggested using a modified Redstone rocket (see: Juno I) while the Air Force had proposed using the Atlas rocket, which did not yet exist. The Navy proposed designing a rocket system based on the Viking and Aerobee rocket systems.

The Air Force proposal was not seriously considered, as Atlas development was years behind the other vehicles. Among other limitations, the Army submission focused on the vehicle, while a payload was assumed to become available from JPL, and the network of ground tracking stations was assumed to be a Navy project. Meanwhile, the NRL proposal detailed all three aspects of the mission.[5]