Author Topic: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch  (Read 11998 times)

Offline Art LeBrun

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May 8, 2012: 50 years ago today the first flight of the revolutionary liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engined Centaur stage took place at Cape Canaveral. While a failure the effort had been made and after 5 years 3 months the first operational flight was made with Surveyor 1. Many more flights would take place before the initial configuration was retired leaving behind a fascinating history.
« Last Edit: 05/11/2012 03:04 AM by Art LeBrun »
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline simonbp

It was a rather embarrassing failure, IIRC, with the Centaur blowing up due to hydrogen overpressure after the insulation fell off. The project was moved from MSFC to Lewis, despite calls from von Braun to cancel it entirely...

Offline douglas100

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Kind of ironic, isn't it? Just as well von Braun didn't get his way. Centaur is still with us, but the Saturns are long gone...
Douglas Clark

Offline spaceStalker

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Why von Braun want it canceled ?

Offline Rocket Science

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Happy anniversary to a marriage made in heaven… for the heavens… ;D
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Offline Blackstar

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Why von Braun want it canceled ?

From vague memory, wasn't it simply because it was a troubled development and he thought it interfered with the other projects they were working on?

Offline Proponent

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Why von Braun want it canceled ?

MSFC was focused on Saturn -- Centaur was a distraction.  IIRC, MSFC proposed Saturn-Agena in place of Centaur.

Offline Art LeBrun

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I believe it was the Centaur structure that was disliked. The engines were already to be used in the S-4 stage.
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline brihath

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Why von Braun want it canceled ?

MSFC was focused on Saturn -- Centaur was a distraction.  IIRC, MSFC proposed Saturn-Agena in place of Centaur.

I wonder how that scenario fit with the fact that the original Saturn 1 second stage was configured with 6 RL-10 engines and flew successfully on several missions.  Was the Agena to be a 3rd stage?

Offline simonbp

Yes, and you have to remember that at the time Centaur was a vehicle looking for a mission. Surveyor was the only scheduled mission for it, and that could be done with a combination of existing stages (despite how goofy Saturn-Agena would have looked). With so much on its plate, an unnecessary, expensive, and failing project like Centaur was not what NASA needed at all. So despite how we all like Centaur in retrospect, from the perspective of 1962, von Braun's suggestion was probably the better management decision.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #10 on: 05/09/2012 02:34 PM »
Yes, and you have to remember that at the time Centaur was a vehicle looking for a mission. Surveyor was the only scheduled mission for it, and that could be done with a combination of existing stages (despite how goofy Saturn-Agena would have looked).

I wonder how long that situation lasted. In other words, how long was it before other potential payloads requiring Centaur came along. Didn't NASA very quickly get to the point where they needed that performance for planetary missions?

Certainly there's a chicken-egg situation, but I assume that the demand for a more powerful upper stage was rising fast.

Offline Art LeBrun

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #11 on: 05/09/2012 02:43 PM »
Centaur initiated earth orbit missions in 1968 and planetary flights in 1969 so there had to be reasons on the horizon (plus an early Mariner-Venus mission was planned in 1962).
« Last Edit: 05/09/2012 03:04 PM by Art LeBrun »
1958 launch vehicle highlights: Vanguard TV-4 and Atlas 12B

Offline simonbp

Titan II had about the same performance to LEO as the initial Atlas-Centaur, and was already in NASA's sights for Gemini. IMHO, it could easily have filled the role of Centaur for OAO, and with a small third stage could have launched the Mariners. Plus, since it shared so much with USAF/NRO vehicles it would have been much cheaper.

A further question is what would have happened to Atlas without Centaur. After the NRO and Gemini docking target flights finish, it may simply have died out...

Offline Proponent

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #13 on: 05/10/2012 02:02 AM »
I wonder how that scenario fit with the fact that the original Saturn 1 second stage was configured with 6 RL-10 engines and flew successfully on several missions.  Was the Agena to be a 3rd stage?

I've never seen a proposed Saturn configuration with an Agena third stage.  To my knowledge, in fact, every early Saturn configuration from the time of the Silverstein Report in December 1959 (see the attachment to this message) featured a Centaur as a final stage.  Ironic, isn't it?
« Last Edit: 05/10/2012 04:12 AM by Proponent »

Offline simonbp

I've never seen a proposed Saturn configuration with an Agena third stage.  To my knowledge, in fact, every early Saturn configuration from the time of the Silverstein Report in December 1959 (see the attachment to this message) featured a Centaur as a final stage.  Ironic, isn't it?

The Saturn/Agena for Surveyor would have been the Saturn I first stage (Block II probably) and an Agena second stage. The S-IV was not necessary for such a small payload.

And it's not ironic that many potential Saturn configurations used Centaur (S-V) as an upper stage; it was an MSFC-managed project. The fact that it was the least successful of all the stages that MSFC was developing (none of the others ever failed on their first flight) was a large factor in why a frustrated von Braun suggested it just be canceled.

EDIT: I take that back, you couldn't just use Agena as a second stage, as it would send just 11 kg to TLI! On the other hand, the standard two-stage Saturn (S-I + S-IV) would send 1.5 tonnes to TLI, and adding an Agena third stage would bump that up to 3 tonnes. Surveyor only weighed 1 tonne at launch, so I'm not sure what the plan was, or why the suggestion wasn't just for a standard Saturn I...
« Last Edit: 05/10/2012 03:20 PM by simonbp »

Offline Prober

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #15 on: 05/10/2012 03:32 PM »
Raises a glass to toast Centaur......

?  Is Centaur considered "man rated"

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Offline Jim

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #16 on: 05/10/2012 03:36 PM »
Titan II had about the same performance to LEO as the initial Atlas-Centaur, and was already in NASA's sights for Gemini. IMHO, it could easily have filled the role of Centaur for OAO,..

Not true.  Titan II could only do low LEO.  its performance drops off steeply with altitude.  It could not reach OAO orbit with OAO mass.  Centaur had it place in the US stable of launch vehicles.

Also, Atlas Agena lasted until 1978.
« Last Edit: 05/10/2012 05:21 PM by Jim »

Online edkyle99

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #17 on: 05/10/2012 04:10 PM »
Why von Braun want it canceled ?

MSFC was likely involved because Saturn's S-V stage had originally been, essentially, a Centaur.  But S-V was dropped, well before the first Atlas Centaur launch, and so Centaur became a low priority for Marshall.

In addition, Centaur had gained weight and lost capability, making it, in von Braun's eyes, not worth pursuing because it could no longer perform some of its planned missions.

By the way, von Braun's team nearly beat Centaur.  The SA-5 launch, which used the first liquid hydrogen fueled S-IV stage, took place on January 29, 1964.

AC-2, the first successful liquid hydrogen fueled stage flight (only an ascent burn with no RL10 restart), occurred on November 27, 1963.  For awhile, it looked like SA-5 might beat AC-2 off the pad, but delays in S-IV testing, coupled with a pad fire during a November cryogenic tanking test and the discovery of cracked sleeves on pneumatic hydraulic line joints in the first stage delayed the SA-5 launch by several weeks.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 05/10/2012 04:11 PM by edkyle99 »

Offline Proponent

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #18 on: 05/11/2012 03:36 AM »
And it's not ironic that many potential Saturn configurations used Centaur (S-V) as an upper stage....

I just meant it's ironic that the Centaur appeared in every proposed Saturn configuration, even those in which all other stages were RP-1-fueled, yet it never actually flew.

Quote
EDIT: I take that back, you couldn't just use Agena as a second stage, as it would send just 11 kg to TLI! On the other hand, the standard two-stage Saturn (S-I + S-IV) would send 1.5 tonnes to TLI, and adding an Agena third stage would bump that up to 3 tonnes. Surveyor only weighed 1 tonne at launch, so I'm not sure what the plan was, or why the suggestion wasn't just for a standard Saturn I...

Indeed, it was precisely Saturn I-Agena that was considered.  My statement about there being no Agena third stage is completely incorrect.  From chapter 2 of On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet. 1958-1978:

Looking at all possible launch vehicle combinations, JPL specialists concluded that the Saturn C-1 combined with the Agena had several obvious advantages:

(a) The C-1 development appears to be on a sound basis and reasonably predictable. [The first Saturn C-1 test flight took place on 27 October 1961 (SA-1) and the second (SA-2) on 25 April 1962.]

(b) Substantial performance margins above our minimum requirements can be confidently expected.

(c) Substantial use of all stages is already programmed for other purposes.

(d) No new stage development is required.(e) The resulting over-all funding requirements can be expected to be essentially the same as those now expected for the Centaur-based program.

JPL planners anticipated that a Saturn-Agena could boost an 810-kilogram Mariner B, a significant increase over the 225-350 kilograms proposed for Mariner C. That meant "many of the current physical and weight constraints on these spacecraft [could] be relaxed, redundancy... added in key areas, and realistic mission flexibility... incorporated'' into planetary space probes. Marshall could apparently ready the first planetary Saturn-Agena for a 1965 launch of Mariner B to Venus; a Mariner B mission to Mars on Saturn-Agena might also be feasible for 1966.
« Last Edit: 05/11/2012 12:07 PM by Proponent »

Offline dbaker

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #19 on: 07/02/2012 02:40 PM »
Yes, and you have to remember that at the time Centaur was a vehicle looking for a mission. Surveyor was the only scheduled mission for it, and that could be done with a combination of existing stages (despite how goofy Saturn-Agena would have looked). With so much on its plate, an unnecessary, expensive, and failing project like Centaur was not what NASA needed at all. So despite how we all like Centaur in retrospect, from the perspective of 1962, von Braun's suggestion was probably the better management decision.

Not strictly true. It was awash with missions from the outset.

Remember, ARPA started Centaur on August 28, 1958. Hydrogen as a rocket propellant had been studied in the Suntan spyplane work done by Pratt & Whitney on the Model 304 engine for the CL-400. That project was range-limited so a competing longer-range concept was chosen - the A-12, later developed into the SR-71.

In December 1958 the Centaur had been assigned the USAF Advent geosynchronous-orbit satellite constellation which no other launch vehicle/upper stage could match. That was its prime mission, the first three (low weight precursors) were to have been launched by Atlas-Agena, the rest by Atlas-Centaur from 1963.

NASA got control of Centaur on July 1, 1959, in the general shift of all propulsion development to the new space agency and Marshall got it by default. NASA/JPL picked it up and assigned it to Mariner and Surveyor in July 1960 with flights planned for 1962 and 1964 and Saturn/Centaur planetary flights from 1966.

Von Braun and the German team at Huntsville were at serious odds with General Dynamics/Convair over the enginering philosophy and they disliked hydrogen as a fuel from their experiences of tests with it in Germany during the war. The 1959 Silverstein Committee imposed it upon them and to everyone's surprise at Huntsville, von Braun caved in and agreed to take it. So he was never happy with it, only reluctantly accepting development to get the RL-10 engines on the S-IV stage. But that was a short-lived programme. Of course, eventually it went to Lewis where it had a much happier time!

There was a real scandal when von Braun lobbied Jim Webb direct to cancel Centaur, going right over the heads of his bosses and even Max Faget thought the missions it was to carry should be canceled to free funds for Apollo!

Offline simonbp

NASA got control of Centaur on July 1, 1959, in the general shift of all propulsion development to the new space agency and Marshall got it by default. NASA/JPL picked it up and assigned it to Mariner and Surveyor in July 1960 with flights planned for 1962 and 1964 and Saturn/Centaur planetary flights from 1966.

But it's more than that, because JPL had just already designed Vega the year before (Vega description from June 1959 below), and it would have been much cheaper to develop a larger third stage (or just replace it with an Agena) than to get Centaur working from scratch.

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=19730064945

So, to me, it sounds like the push was more from the desire to get a single-launch circumlunar launch vehicle, which to Silverstein meant either S-IV or Centaur or both. One wonders how things would have gone if the Silverstein Committee had instead been dominated by people wary of LH2...

Quote
There was a real scandal when von Braun lobbied Jim Webb direct to cancel Centaur, going right over the heads of his bosses and even Max Faget thought the missions it was to carry should be canceled to free funds for Apollo!

Faget was certainly the only one at NASA at the time whose ego could match WvB...
« Last Edit: 07/02/2012 04:55 PM by simonbp »

Offline dbaker

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #21 on: 07/02/2012 05:52 PM »
Remember, Vega was canceled when the Air Force suddenly and unexpectedly made known to NASA late in 1959 the existence, and availability, of the restartable Agena B.

Centaur was a very different beast to Vega with much more potential. ARPA needed to have the cryogenic restart for Advent and that is what drove the decision. NASA was not (has never been!) as independent as the popular myth proclaims. It was told the nation had to have this added lift and restart capability for the military geosynch missions - although that would change over the next several years.

When HQ put its shoulder behind the wheel, it glued a lot of missions on to Centaur and in so doing dug itself in to a 'must have' mentality for the cryogenic stage. Which in turn brought it into conflict with WvB. HQ needed Atlas because Saturn was too big and costly for all the planetary missions anticipated.

I should have added earlier (just found the letters in the files) that WvB wrote to Congress over the heads of everbody and urged cancelation. His co-conspirator in that was Brian Sparks, deputy boss at JPL, who favoured a C-1/Agena for planetary missions.

In November 1962 JFK was all set to order cancelation of Centaur (it had yet to fly successfully) and only the concerted efforts, and personal intervention, of Webb in citing it as a vital R&D tool for the general handling of super-cryo propellants necessary for the Saturn V saved it. This, at a time when JFK was adamant that nothing else NASA was doing should take equal ranking with Apollo. He just wasn't interested in the space program - only in achieving his ordained goal. But that's another story!

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #22 on: 07/02/2012 06:26 PM »
Remember, Vega was canceled when the Air Force suddenly and unexpectedly made known to NASA late in 1959 the existence, and availability, of the restartable Agena B.

How unexpected was this?

I haven't looked at this, but I suspect that the restart capability was not exactly secret. Lots of surprises happen because people aren't paying attention.

Offline dbaker

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #23 on: 07/03/2012 08:39 AM »
I suspect that the restart capability was not exactly secret. Lots of surprises happen because people aren't paying attention.

Absolutely! But interesting to note that in 1959 Vega was positioned at the performance it had specifically so as to be a step to (and lower capability than) the existing centaur (ordered by ARPA in August 1958).

When in late 1959 the Air Force told NASA it could have the Agena B, while knowledge of it was 'known' to a few outside the circled wagons of classified defense projects the imminent availability of it killed Vega as an unnecessary duplication.

Agena B was already in existence, Centaur was (supposedly) coming along for 1962 missions (!) and this gave the hurry-up to JPL and confidence to NASA for an accelerated Moon/planetary missions model.

Offline dbaker

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #24 on: 07/03/2012 08:40 AM »
In too much of a hurry! That quote was from Blackstar not dbaker!

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #25 on: 07/03/2012 12:25 PM »
In too much of a hurry! That quote was from Blackstar not dbaker!

You can fix that stuff. Nice aspect of the software.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #26 on: 07/03/2012 12:25 PM »
By the way, there was a pretty detailed history of Vega in Quest a few years ago. Not sure when that was or who wrote it. Maybe it was Joel Powell?

Offline truth is life

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #27 on: 07/03/2012 04:46 PM »
One thing I've been wondering for a while: Did Advent ever actually fly? Or was it superseded/replaced/downgraded into other geostationary communications programs?

Also, here is Taming Liquid Hydrogen, aka SP-4230, the official NASA history of the Centaur from a while back (early 2000s, IIRC). A good read if you're interested in this stuff (albeit with a few glaring errors).

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #28 on: 07/03/2012 05:56 PM »
1-One thing I've been wondering for a while: Did Advent ever actually fly? Or was it superseded/replaced/downgraded into other geostationary communications programs?

2-Also, here is Taming Liquid Hydrogen, aka SP-4230, the official NASA history of the Centaur from a while back (early 2000s, IIRC). A good read if you're interested in this stuff (albeit with a few glaring errors).

1-No. Never flew. Too ambitious. I've never seen a good history article on Advent. Indeed, the most I've seen is short references to it. I thought it never got anywhere, which is why I was really surprised when the San Diego Air and Space Museum posted some photos of a high fidelity Advent mockup on their flickr page a few months ago.

There's also a congressional report on Advent that I think I posted here awhile back. Lots of detail about the overall program, although not much on the technology. Apparently Advent got so expensive and behind schedule that Congress took a look--around 1960 or so (proof that schedule slips and cost overruns go back to the beginning of the space age). Search for it and see if it pops up on the site.

2-What "glaring errors"?  Somebody posted here awhile back that they thought the book gave too much credit to the govt. and not enough to the contractors. It has been a long time since I read the book, and actually, I'm not sure that I read the final product. I was a reviewer for the manuscript and helped out the author a lot with documents, which I think got me mentioned in the acknoledgment section.

Offline truth is life

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #29 on: 07/03/2012 07:00 PM »
1-No. Never flew. Too ambitious. I've never seen a good history article on Advent. Indeed, the most I've seen is short references to it. I thought it never got anywhere, which is why I was really surprised when the San Diego Air and Space Museum posted some photos of a high fidelity Advent mockup on their flickr page a few months ago.

There's also a congressional report on Advent that I think I posted here awhile back. Lots of detail about the overall program, although not much on the technology. Apparently Advent got so expensive and behind schedule that Congress took a look--around 1960 or so (proof that schedule slips and cost overruns go back to the beginning of the space age). Search for it and see if it pops up on the site.

Will do. Another one of those programs that you have to dig around in obscure (quasi-)primary sources to get any information about...

2-What "glaring errors"?  Somebody posted here awhile back that they thought the book gave too much credit to the govt. and not enough to the contractors. It has been a long time since I read the book, and actually, I'm not sure that I read the final product. I was a reviewer for the manuscript and helped out the author a lot with documents, which I think got me mentioned in the acknoledgment section.

Well, "glaring" might have overstated it a bit; they jumped out at me, is what I meant. Maybe they wouldn't jump out to other people. It's been a while since I read it, and I don't have a detailed list of what mistakes I thought I had found around or anything like that, but I recall little things like using "thrust" for "specific impulse". Overall, though, I think it's quite a good book. Especially if you look at in conjunction with parts of SP-4231, the history of the Galileo probe, which goes into some detail about how Shuttle-Centaur development (or non-development, or reinstatement, or so on and so forth) affected that probe. If there were histories about Magellan and Ulysses around, those would be good as well, but I'm not sure there are.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #30 on: 07/03/2012 09:07 PM »
If there were histories about Magellan and Ulysses around, those would be good as well, but I'm not sure there are.

Try Venus Revealed, by David Grinspoon. A quick look indicates that it is mostly about Venus, with a few chapters about the spacecraft that went there. Should cover Magellan a bit.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #31 on: 07/03/2012 09:09 PM »
1-No. Never flew. Too ambitious. I've never seen a good history article on Advent. Indeed, the most I've seen is short references to it. I thought it never got anywhere, which is why I was really surprised when the San Diego Air and Space Museum posted some photos of a high fidelity Advent mockup on their flickr page a few months ago.

There's also a congressional report on Advent that I think I posted here awhile back. Lots of detail about the overall program, although not much on the technology. Apparently Advent got so expensive and behind schedule that Congress took a look--around 1960 or so (proof that schedule slips and cost overruns go back to the beginning of the space age). Search for it and see if it pops up on the site.

Will do. Another one of those programs that you have to dig around in obscure (quasi-)primary sources to get any information about...


I was thinking about writing an article about Advent. A lot of times I get interested in something, go looking for a good article about it, realize that nobody has written it, so I decide to write it myself. (Then nobody reads it.) Advent is one of those programs that has gotten no more than a single line in various space histories. It just doesn't get discussed at all. I thought it was all paper, but apparently the contractor started bending metal when it got canceled. But it's a comsat, so people quickly forgot/forget about it.

Online catdlr

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #32 on: 08/11/2017 01:04 AM »
bump for historic video of project.....

Centaur Project Report, 3rd Quarter 1959 USAF-Convair; Liquid Hydrogen Upper Stage

Jeff Quitney
Published on Aug 10, 2017

Second contractor's progress report film for the liquid hydrogen fueled Centaur upper stage manufactured by General Dynamics' Convair division. Speakers include Centaur Program Director Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke and program managers from numerous subcontractors such as Arthur D. Little, Texas Instruments, General Electric and Minneapolis Honeywell.

Centaur is a rocket stage designed for use as the upper stage of space launch vehicles and is currently used on the Atlas V. Centaur was the world's first high-energy upper stage, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), and has enabled the launch of some of NASA's most important scientific missions over its 50-year history.

Centaur was the brainchild of Karel J. "Charlie" Bossart (the man behind the Atlas ICBM) and Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke, both Convair employees. Their design was essentially a smaller version of the Atlas, with its concept of using lightweight "stainless steel balloon" tanks whose structural rigidity was provided solely by the pressure of the propellants within. To keep the tanks from collapsing prior to propellant loading, they were either kept in "stretch" or pressurized with nitrogen gas.

Centaur is powered by one or two RL10 rocket engines (SEC and DEC variants respectively)...

History

In 1956 Krafft Ehricke of Convair began to study a liquid hydrogen upper stage rocket. In 1958 the project started through a joint between Convair, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and U.S. Air Force. In 1959 NASA assumed ARPA's role. Development started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and then at Lewis Research Center, now the Glenn Research Center, but proceeded slowly, with the first (unsuccessful) test flight in May 1962...

The Centaur was originally designed for use with the Atlas launch vehicle family, which shared its balloon structure. Known in early planning as the "high-energy upper stage", its eventual name was proposed by Krafft Ehricke of General Dynamics, who also directed its development...

Centaur was considered essential for the launch of the Surveyor probes, as well as proving the viability of liquid hydrogen as a high energy fuel. Both were important to the Apollo program—the Surveyor probes to study the lunar regolith and confirm that crewed landings would be possible, while liquid hydrogen had been selected as the ideal propellant for the Saturn I, IB, and Saturn V upper stages.

Initial Atlas-Centaur launches used developmental versions, labeled Centaur-A through C. The first launch on May 8, 1962, ended in an explosion 54 seconds after launch when insulation panels on the Centaur failed and caused the LH2 tank to rupture. After extensive redesigns, the next test took place on November 26, 1963, and was successful.

On May 30, 1966, an Atlas-Centaur boosted the first Surveyor lander towards the Moon. The soft landing of Surveyor 1 in the Ocean of Storms was NASA's first landing on any extraterrestrial body. This was followed by six more Surveyor missions over the next two years, four of which were successful, though Atlas-Centaur performed as expected for each launch. Further, these missions demonstrated the feasibility of reigniting a hydrogen engine in space, a capability vital to Apollo, and provided information on the behavior of liquid hydrogen in space.

By the 1970s, Centaur was fully mature and had become the standard rocket stage for launching larger civilian payloads into high earth orbit. In addition, it replaced the Atlas-Agena vehicle for NASA planetary probe missions. The Department of Defense meanwhile preferred to use the Titan booster family for its heavy lift needs.

Through 1989, the Centaur-D was used as the upper stage for 63 Atlas rocket launches, 55 of which were successful...

Launch history
Status:  Active
Total launches:  223 as of February 2015

------------------------------------------------

Originally a public domain film from the US Air Force slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and one-pass brightness-contrast-color correction & mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

There is a broadband hum in the vocal frequencies of this film which I cannot completely remove.

------------------------------------------------

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxNzqeD1mzU?t=001

Tony De La Rosa

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #33 on: 10/10/2017 11:55 PM »
Project Centaur Progress Report Jan-Mar 1961 Convair-NASA; 1st Liquid Hydrogen Fueled Rocket Stage

Jeff Quitney
Published on Oct 10, 2017


Contractor's progress report film for the liquid hydrogen-fueled Centaur upper stage manufactured by General Dynamics' Convair division. Speakers include Centaur Program Director Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke and program managers from subcontractors such as Arthur D. Little, Texas Instruments, General Electric and Minneapolis Honeywell.

Convair film AT-CR-120


Centaur is a rocket stage designed for use as the upper stage of space launch vehicles and is currently used on the Atlas V. Centaur was the world's first high-energy upper stage, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), and has enabled the launch of some of NASA's most important scientific missions over its 50-year history.

Centaur was the brainchild of Karel J. "Charlie" Bossart (the man behind the Atlas ICBM) and Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke, both Convair employees. Their design was essentially a smaller version of the Atlas, with its concept of using lightweight "stainless steel balloon" tanks whose structural rigidity was provided solely by the pressure of the propellants within. To keep the tanks from collapsing prior to propellant loading, they were either kept in "stretch" or pressurized with nitrogen gas.

Centaur is powered by one or two RL10 rocket engines (SEC and DEC variants respectively)...

History

In 1956 Krafft Ehricke of Convair began to study a liquid hydrogen upper stage rocket. In 1958 the project started through a joint between Convair, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and U.S. Air Force. In 1959 NASA assumed ARPA's role. Development started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and then at Lewis Research Center, now the Glenn Research Center, but proceeded slowly, with the first (unsuccessful) test flight in May 1962.

The Centaur was originally designed for use with the Atlas launch vehicle family, which shared its balloon structure. Known in early planning as the "high-energy upper stage", its eventual name was proposed by Krafft Ehricke of General Dynamics, who also directed its development.

Centaur was considered essential for the launch of the Surveyor probes, as well as proving the viability of liquid hydrogen as a high energy fuel. Both were important to the Apollo program—the Surveyor probes to study the lunar regolith and confirm that crewed landings would be possible, while liquid hydrogen had been selected as the ideal propellant for the Saturn I, IB, and Saturn V upper stages.

Initial Atlas-Centaur launches used developmental versions, labeled Centaur-A through C. The first launch on May 8, 1962, ended in an explosion 54 seconds after launch when insulation panels on the Centaur failed and caused the LH2 tank to rupture. After extensive redesigns, the next test took place on November 26, 1963, and was successful.

On May 30, 1966, an Atlas-Centaur boosted the first Surveyor lander towards the Moon. The soft landing of Surveyor 1 in the Ocean of Storms was NASA's first landing on any extraterrestrial body. This was followed by six more Surveyor missions over the next two years, four of which were successful, though Atlas-Centaur performed as expected for each launch. Further, these missions demonstrated the feasibility of reigniting a hydrogen engine in space, a capability vital to Apollo, and provided information on the behavior of liquid hydrogen in space.

By the 1970s, Centaur was fully mature and had become the standard rocket stage for launching larger civilian payloads into high earth orbit. In addition, it replaced the Atlas-Agena vehicle for NASA planetary probe missions. The Department of Defense meanwhile preferred to use the Titan booster family for its heavy lift needs.

Through 1989, the Centaur-D was used as the upper stage for 63 Atlas rocket launches, 55 of which were successful.

---------------------------------------

Originally a public domain film from the US Air Force slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and one-pass brightness-contrast-color correction & mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

There is a broadband hum in the vocal frequencies of this film which I cannot completely remove.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wh8KpVYrpg?t=001


Tony De La Rosa

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #34 on: 10/27/2017 06:01 AM »
Atlas-Centaur 1st Flight Blowup: Project Centaur Progress Report Jan-Jun 1962 Convair-NASA

Jeff Quitney
Published on Oct 26, 2017

Atlas-Centaur first flight on 8 May 1962 ends at T+53 seconds when an insulation panel is torn off the Centaur during ascent, leading to the explosion of both stages.

Contractor's progress report film for the liquid hydrogen-fueled Centaur upper stage manufactured by General Dynamics' Convair division. Speakers include Centaur Program Director Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke and program managers from subcontractors such as Arthur D. Little, Texas Instruments, General Electric and Minneapolis Honeywell.

Centaur is a rocket stage designed for use as the upper stage of space launch vehicles and is currently used on the Atlas V. Centaur was the world's first high-energy upper stage, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX), and has enabled the launch of some of NASA's most important scientific missions over its 50-year history.

Centaur was the brainchild of Karel J. "Charlie" Bossart (the man behind the Atlas ICBM) and Dr. Krafft A. Ehricke, both Convair employees. Their design was essentially a smaller version of the Atlas, with its concept of using lightweight "stainless steel balloon" tanks whose structural rigidity was provided solely by the pressure of the propellants within. To keep the tanks from collapsing prior to propellant loading, they were either kept in "stretch" or pressurized with nitrogen gas.

Centaur is powered by one or two RL10 rocket engines (SEC and DEC variants respectively).

History

In 1956 Krafft Ehricke of Convair began to study a liquid hydrogen upper stage rocket. In 1958 the project started through a joint between Convair, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and U.S. Air Force. In 1959 NASA assumed ARPA's role. Development started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and then at Lewis Research Center, now the Glenn Research Center, but proceeded slowly, with the first (unsuccessful) test flight in May 1962.

The Centaur was originally designed for use with the Atlas launch vehicle family, which shared its balloon structure. Known in early planning as the "high-energy upper stage", its eventual name was proposed by Krafft Ehricke of General Dynamics, who also directed its development.

Centaur was considered essential for the launch of the Surveyor probes, as well as proving the viability of liquid hydrogen as a high energy fuel. Both were important to the Apollo program—the Surveyor probes to study the lunar regolith and confirm that crewed landings would be possible, while liquid hydrogen had been selected as the ideal propellant for the Saturn I, IB, and Saturn V upper stages.

Initial Atlas-Centaur launches used developmental versions, labeled Centaur-A through C. The first launch on May 8, 1962, ended in an explosion 54 seconds after launch when insulation panels on the Centaur failed and caused the LH2 tank to rupture. After extensive redesigns, the next test took place on November 26, 1963, and was successful.

On May 30, 1966, an Atlas-Centaur boosted the first Surveyor lander towards the Moon. The soft landing of Surveyor 1 in the Ocean of Storms was NASA's first landing on any extraterrestrial body. This was followed by six more Surveyor missions over the next two years, four of which were successful, though Atlas-Centaur performed as expected for each launch. Further, these missions demonstrated the feasibility of reigniting a hydrogen engine in space, a capability vital to Apollo, and provided information on the behavior of liquid hydrogen in space.

By the 1970s, Centaur was fully mature and had become the standard rocket stage for launching larger civilian payloads into high earth orbit. In addition, it replaced the Atlas-Agena vehicle for NASA planetary probe missions. The Department of Defense meanwhile preferred to use the Titan booster family for its heavy lift needs.

Through 1989, the Centaur-D was used as the upper stage for 63 Atlas rocket launches, 55 of which were successful.

--------------------------------------------------

Originally a public domain film from the US Air Force slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and one-pass brightness-contrast-color correction & mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

There is a broadband hum in the vocal frequencies of this film which I cannot completely remove.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Eg-h-2RvXM?t=001

Tony De La Rosa

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #35 on: 10/28/2017 05:42 PM »
Some sources claim that the Atlas exploded when the liquid hydrogen spilled down the stack and ignited on contact with the engine exhaust but GD/A docs state that the LOX tank ruptured from flying debris, which should be fairly obvious from the video. You can see the engines flame out just before the RP-1 blows.

Initial suspicions were either dynamic loads from the unproven launch vehicle combination resulting in a structural failure like Mercury-Atlas 1 or perhaps an Atlas internal problem, which would potentially delay Scott Carpenter's Mercury flight in two weeks. However, study of visual and telemetry data quickly found that the Centaur rather than the Atlas was at fault.

The problem of holding the Centaur insulation panels in place had still not been solved when AC-2 was launched a year and a half later, so Abe Silverstein told them to just bolt the panels to the side of the Centaur. Vibration measurements from the flight found that if they hadn't been bolted down, the result would have just been a repeat of AC-1. Adding a more substantial release mechanism ended up increasing weight and reducing LV performance.

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #36 on: 10/29/2017 12:01 AM »
Some sources claim that the Atlas exploded when the liquid hydrogen spilled down the stack and ignited on contact with the engine exhaust but GD/A docs state that the LOX tank ruptured from flying debris, which should be fairly obvious from the video. You can see the engines flame out just before the RP-1 blows.
NASA's history (NASA SP-2004-4230) says that the Atlas Centaur F-1 flight failed when "[a]erodynamic pressure on the cover protecting the insulation (called the weather shield at that time) had caused it to burst, ripping away the insulation and exposing the walls of the fuel tank to the heat of the atmosphere. Pressure buildup in the tank from the boiling off of the liquid hydrogen caused the fuel tank to rupture, spilling volatile liquid hydrogen down the sides of the rocket, where it was ignited by a spark from the engine."

 - Ed Kyle

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #37 on: 10/29/2017 01:06 AM »
NASA's history (NASA SP-2004-4230) says that the Atlas Centaur F-1 flight failed when "[a]erodynamic pressure on the cover protecting the insulation (called the weather shield at that time) had caused it to burst, ripping away the insulation and exposing the walls of the fuel tank to the heat of the atmosphere. Pressure buildup in the tank from the boiling off of the liquid hydrogen caused the fuel tank to rupture, spilling volatile liquid hydrogen down the sides of the rocket, where it was ignited by a spark from the engine."

However, this excerpt from the GD/A doc "Atlas Airframe Difficulties" clearly states that the LOX tank ruptured. Most likely (and especially if you factor in aerodynamic forces at this point in the launch), the Atlas airframe would have peeled open like a banana after the initial disturbance. The LOX spills out, the engines shut down, and then the RP-1 spills out and kaboom.

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #38 on: 10/29/2017 03:10 PM »
NASA's history (NASA SP-2004-4230) says that the Atlas Centaur F-1 flight failed when "[a]erodynamic pressure on the cover protecting the insulation (called the weather shield at that time) had caused it to burst, ripping away the insulation and exposing the walls of the fuel tank to the heat of the atmosphere. Pressure buildup in the tank from the boiling off of the liquid hydrogen caused the fuel tank to rupture, spilling volatile liquid hydrogen down the sides of the rocket, where it was ignited by a spark from the engine."

However, this excerpt from the GD/A doc "Atlas Airframe Difficulties" clearly states that the LOX tank ruptured. Most likely (and especially if you factor in aerodynamic forces at this point in the launch), the Atlas airframe would have peeled open like a banana after the initial disturbance. The LOX spills out, the engines shut down, and then the RP-1 spills out and kaboom.

Yes, the Atlas LOX tank ruptured, but this was all after the Centaur stage had failed.  The cause of the overall failure is of interest to me.  What happens after is just a cascade of other things breaking.

 - Ed Kyle

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Re: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch
« Reply #39 on: 10/30/2017 06:31 PM »
Yes, the Atlas LOX tank ruptured, but this was all after the Centaur stage had failed.  The cause of the overall failure is of interest to me.  What happens after is just a cascade of other things breaking.

See this photo montage. In pic 1, the LH2 flashes as it contacts the engine exhaust, but in pic 2, the Atlas engines (circled) are still thrusting. The speed and airstream at this point would prevent the LH2 from exploding, it wouldn't do anything more than flash a bit. In pic 3, the engines no longer appear to be operating probably because of the LOX tank rupturing from being hit with flying debris and resultant decay in propellant flow and pressure. The circled part I think is the LOX tank dome. The Centaur and its interstage adapter are completely gone at this point. In pic 4, the tank dome goes flying away and the LOX goes spilling out everywhere. And then in the last two pics, the RP-1 goes off, initially with a bright white flash due to mixing with residual LOX, then cooling to a dark orange.


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