Author Topic: Atlas-Centaur: the 50th anniversary of the first R&D launch  (Read 8558 times)

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!

Online 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!

Online 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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

Tony De La Rosa

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