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The first Saturn I was launched October 27, 1961
|Function||Large booster technology
Large scientific satellite payloads in
|Country of origin||United States|
|Height||55 m (180 ft)|
|Diameter||6.52 m (21.39 ft)|
|Stages||2 or 3
(3rd stage never flown)
||20,000 lb (9,070 kg)
||4,900 lb (2,220 kg) (2 stage)|
|First flight||October 27, 1961|
|Last flight||July 30, 1965|
|First stage -
|Burn time||~150 seconds|
|Thrust||90,000 lbf (400 kN)|
|Burn time||~482 seconds|
|Third stage -
|Thrust||133 kN (30,000 lbf)|
|Burn time||~430 seconds|
The Saturn I (pronounced "Saturn one") was the United States' first
The Saturn project was started as one of a number of proposals to meet a new
Von Braun returned the design to DoD in December, 1957 as A National Integrated Missile and Space Vehicle Development Program, outlining the new design, then known simply as "Super-Jupiter". Several variations were proposed, using a common clustered first stage, and upper stages based on either the
Satisfied with the outcome, ARPA Order Number 14-59, dated 15 August 1958, ordered the program into existence:
This was followed on 11 September 1958 with another contract with Rocketdyne to start work on the H-1. On 23 September 1958, ARPA and the Army Ordnance Missile Command (AOMC) drew up an additional agreement enlarging the scope of the program, stating "In addition to the captive dynamic firing..., it is hereby agreed that this program should now be extended to provide for a propulsion flight test of this booster by approximately September 1960." Further, they wanted ABMA to produce three additional boosters, the last two of which would be "capable of placing limited payloads in orbit."
Von Braun had high hopes for the design, feeling it would make an excellent test-bed for other propulsion systems, notably the F-1 if it matured. He outlined uses for the Juno V as a general carrier vehicle for research and development of "offensive and defensive space weapons." Specific uses were forecast for each of the military services, including navigation satellites for the Navy; reconnaissance, communications, and meteorological satellites for the Army and Air Force; support for Air Force manned missions; and surface-to-surface logistics supply for the Army at distances up to 6400 kilometers. Von Braun also proposed using the Juno V as the basis of a manned lunar mission as part of
Even by this point the name "Saturn", as "the one after Jupiter" was being used. One early ARPA report noted "The SATURN is considered to be the first real space vehicle as the Douglas DC-3 was the first real airliner and durable work-horse in aeronautics." The name change became official in February 1959.
The formation of NASA on July 29, 1958 led to an effort to collect the existing heavy-launch rocket programs and select a single set of designs for future work. At the time, both the
Von Braun was asked to chair a committee to study the existing efforts and write up recommendations. They presented their report on 18 July, starting with a criticism of how the US program had been mishandled to date and pointing out that the Soviet program was definitely ahead. It went on to describe five "generations" of rockets, starting with the early Vanguard, through the Junos,
In December all of the teams gathered to present their designs. NASA selected von Braun's proposal on January 6, giving it a vital boost. At the end of January NASA outlined their complete development program. This included the Vega and Centaur upper stages, as well as the Juno V and their own Nova boosters. Vega was later cancelled when information on the formerly secret
Progress on the Saturn design seemed to go smoothly. In April 1959 the first H-1 engines started arriving at ABMA, and test firings started in May. Construction of the
Then, quite unexpectedly, on 9 June 1959, Herbert York, Director of Department of Defense Research and Engineering, announced that he had decided to terminate the Saturn program. He later stated that he was concerned that the project was taking ARPA money from more pressing projects, and that as it seemed upgrades to existing ICBMs would provide the needed heavy-lift capability in the short term. As ABMA commander
Looking to head off the cancellation, Saturn supporters from the DoD and ARPA drafted their own memo arguing against the cancellation. Working against them was the fact that neither the Army nor NASA had any in-writing requirement for the booster at that time. A three-day meeting between 16 and 18 September 1959 followed, where York and Dryden reviewed Saturn's future and discussed the roles of the Titan C and Nova. The outcome was equally unexpected; York agreed to defer the cancellation and continue short-term funding, but only if NASA agreed to take over the ABMA team and continue development without the help of the DoD. NASA was equally concerned that by relying on third parties for their boosters they were putting their entire program in jeopardy.
As the parties continued discussions over the next week an agreement was hammered out; von Braun's team at ABMA would be kept together and continue working as the lead developers of Saturn, but the entire organization would be transferred to NASA's management. By a presidential executive order on 15 March 1960, ABMA became NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).
In July 1959 a change request was received from ARPA to upgrade the upper stage to a much more powerful design using four new 20,000 lbf (89 kN)
In order to reach some sort of accommodation, a group pulled from NASA, Air Force, ARPA, ABMA, and the Office of the Department of Defense Research and Engineering formed under the
The Committee outlined a number of different potential launch configurations, grouped into three broad categories. The "A" group were low-risk versions similar to the Saturn designs proposed prior to the meeting; the original design using Titan and Centaur upper stages became the A-1, while another model replacing the Titan with cluster of IRBMs became A-2. The B-1 design proposed a new second stage replacing the A-2s cluster with a new four-engine design using the H-1 like the lower stage. Finally there were three C-series models that replaced all of the upper stages with liquid hydrogen ones. The C-1 used the existing S-I clustered lower, adding the new S-IV stage with four new 15,000 to 20,000 lbf (89 kN) engines, and keeping the two-engine Centaur on top, now to be known as the S-V stage. The C-II model added a new S-III stage with two new 150,000 to 200,000 lbf (890 kN) engines, keeping the S-IV and S-V on top. Finally, the C-3 configuration added the S-II stage with four of these same engines, keeping only the S-III and S-IV on top. The C models easily outperformed the A's and B's, with the added advantage that they were interchangeable and could be built up in order to fit any needed payload requirement.
Of these new stage designs only the S-IV would ever be delivered, and not in the form that was drawn up in the Committee report. In order to meet development schedules a cluster of six Centaur engines were placed in the new 220" stage to produce the "new"
In the end the Titan C was never delivered, and the Air Force instead turned to "thrust augmented" Titan II's using clustered solid fuel rockets. These new designs, the Titan III's, became the DoD's main heavy-lift launch vehicle for decades afterwards as it cost significantly less to manufacture and fly, in part due to using hypergolic propellants that could be stored at room temperature. An important factor in this decision was that the DoD preferred to have a launch vehicle that they were in complete control of instead of having to share the Saturn with NASA (of all Titan III/IV vehicles launched during its 40-year run, only a handful carried NASA payloads). Likewise, the development of the Titan III eliminated the need for the "flexible" staging concepts of the Saturn, which was now only intended to be used for manned launches in the Apollo program. With the need for flexibility in launch configuration removed, most of these designs were subsequently dropped. Only the S-V survived in its original form, while the S-IV would appear in modified form and the
The Saturn I made its maiden flight on October 27, 1961 with a dummy upper stage and partially fueled first stage. Tension in the blockhouse was high as no launch vehicle to date had been successful on the first attempt and there was the widespread fear of a pad explosion. As the Saturn was the largest booster yet flown, such an event was sure to be extremely destructive, possibly putting the launch complex out of use for six months.
In the end, however, these worries subsided as the booster lifted and performed a flawless test flight. Three more flights with dummy upper stages followed over the next 17 months, which were all completely or mostly successful. Two of them had the S-IV filled with water and detonated at high altitude after stage separation to form an ice cloud that was then photographed.
Flight #5 in January 1964 was the first to carry a live S-IV, which restarted its engine in orbit to boost to a high altitude where it would remain until decaying two years later. Another two flights followed during the year with boilerplate Apollo CSMs.
By this point however, the advent of the Titan III had robbed the Saturn of a role as a DoD launcher and with the newer, improved Saturn IB in development (as the Apollo CSM ended up being heavier than originally expected and so needed a more powerful launch vehicle), the booster quickly became orphaned and no practical use could be found for it.