Author Topic: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957  (Read 1043 times)

Offline catdlr

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1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957 Convair Astronautics-US Air Force

Jeff Quitney
Published on May 29, 2018

June 11, 1957: First launch of an Atlas missile at Cape Canaveral is shown from four different camera angles in this contractor's progress report. After engine failures, the Atlas explodes when the destruct signal is sent by the Range Safety Officer. Narrated by Don Macnamara.

The SM-65 Atlas was the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) developed and deployed by the United States. It was built for the U.S. Air Force by Convair Division of General Dynamics at the Kearny Mesa assembly plant north of San Diego, California. Atlas became operational as an ICBM in October 1959 and was used as a first stage for satellite launch vehicles for half a century. The Atlas missile's warhead was over 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped over Nagasaki in 1945.

An initial development contract was given to Consolidated Vultee Aircraft (Convair) on 16 January 1951 for what was then called MX-1593, but at a relatively low priority. The 1953 testing of the first dry H-bomb in the Soviet Union led to the project being dramatically accelerated... on 14 May 1954 the Atlas program was formally given the highest national priority. A major development and test contract were awarded to Convair on 14 January 1955 for a 10-foot (3 m) diameter missile to weigh about 250,000 lb (113,400 kg). Atlas development was tightly controlled by the Air Force's Western Development Division, WDD, later part of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division. Contracts for warhead, guidance and propulsion were handled separately by WDD. The first successful flight of a highly instrumented Atlas missile to full range occurred on 28 November 1958. Atlas ICBMs were deployed operationally from 31 October 1959 to 12 April 1965.

On 18 December 1958, the launch of Atlas 10B sent the missile into orbit around the Earth (without use of an upper stage) carrying the "SCORE" (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment) communications payload. Atlas 10B/SCORE, at 8,750 lb (3,970 kg) was the heaviest man-made object then in orbit, the first voice relay satellite, and the first man-made object in space easily visible to the naked eye due to the large, mirror-polished stainless steel tank. This was the first flight in what would be a long career for the Atlas as a satellite launcher. Many retired Atlas ICBMs would be used as launch vehicles... Even before its military use ended in 1965, Atlas had placed four Mercury astronauts in orbit and was becoming the foundation for a family of successful space launch vehicles, most notably Atlas Agena and Atlas-Centaur.

Mergers led to the acquisition of the Atlas-Centaur line by Lockheed Martin which in turn became part of the United Launch Alliance. Today Lockheed Martin and ULA support a new Atlas rocket family based on the larger "Atlas V" which still uses the unique and highly efficient Centaur upper stage.

Design...

Atlas was unusual in its use of balloon tanks for fuel, made of very thin stainless steel (with the uncoated steel necessitating the development by Convair of the anti-corrosive spray WD-40) with minimal or no rigid support structures. The pressure in the tanks provides the structural rigidity required for flight. An Atlas rocket would collapse under its own weight if not kept pressurized and had to have 5 psi (34 kPa) nitrogen in the tank even when not fuelled. The only other known use of balloon tanks at the time of writing is the Centaur high-energy upper stage, although some rockets (such as the Falcon series) use partially pressure-supported tanks. The rocket had two small thrust chambers on the sides of the tank called vernier rockets. These provided fine adjustment of velocity and steering after the sustainer engine shut down.

Atlas also had a unique and somewhat odd staging system... the decision was made to ignite all of the Atlas' engines at launch; later the booster engine(s) would be discarded, while the sustainer continued to burn. Rockets using this technique are sometimes called stage-and-a-half boosters.
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Reupload of a previously uploaded film with improved video & sound.

Originally a public domain film, 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).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy6wX7XNJds?t=001

Tony De La Rosa

Offline WallE

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #1 on: 05/30/2018 11:41 PM »
Heat and vibration were the primary failure causes of the first two Atlas flights; this led to the booster skirt being shortened, a more substantial heat shield being installed, and improvements made to the autopilot. The turbine exhaust was also canted instead of pointing directly downward. In addition, aluminum plumbing was replaced by heavier, but more substantial steel plumbing after it came out that the Sycamore Canyon team had replaced the aluminum plumbing on test article missiles with steel due to its higher heat tolerance.

Recirculated exhaust gases caused the failure of propellant ducting on 4A, followed by loss of thrust. On 6A, a LOX regulator failed, causing gas generator flameout. Modifications led to the successful flight of Atlas 12A on 12/17/57 after which the Air Force publicly acknowledged for the first time that the new vehicle was an Atlas. The brief flight of 4A was important in that it verified that the Atlas and its balloon structure, which engineers were skeptical of, would actually lift and fly.

Also the stage and a half design of the Atlas was not at all odd for the mid-1950s time period it was designed in, since the problem of air starting rocket engines had not yet been solved so the only choice was to start all engines at liftoff. The R-7 was designed at the same time as the Atlas and had a stage and a half setup for the same reason. Technological improvements advanced quickly however and the problem of air starting rocket engines was overcome by 1958-59.
« Last Edit: 05/31/2018 05:04 AM by WallE »

Offline Steve G

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #2 on: 05/31/2018 02:30 AM »
Absolutely superb video. Thanks so much for posting it.

Offline Steve G

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #3 on: 05/31/2018 02:49 AM »
Can any of you Atlas experts identify this unsuccessful launch (Atlas-Centaur?) that appears in this Dutch group "The Gathering" song called "Travel". The Atlas launch starts at about 4 minutes in. After the explosion the camera follows the flaming engine nearly to the ground. Spectacular video, great song and amazing vocals by Anneke van Giersbergen.




Offline Helodriver

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #4 on: 05/31/2018 03:21 AM »
Can any of you Atlas experts identify this unsuccessful launch (Atlas-Centaur?) that appears in this Dutch group "The Gathering" song called "Travel". The Atlas launch starts at about 4 minutes in. After the explosion the camera follows the flaming engine nearly to the ground. Spectacular video, great song and amazing vocals by Anneke van Giersbergen.



It looks like that band just took the ending few minutes of the 1980s film Koyaanisqatsi and just dubbed their own music over it.  :o

The Atlas crashing in the clips is the first Atlas Centaur flight from May 1962.

« Last Edit: 05/31/2018 03:21 AM by Helodriver »

Offline Steve G

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #5 on: 05/31/2018 03:28 AM »
There was credit to Koyaanisqatsi in the offical video.  There is a white plume coming from the Centaur shortly before it exploded. What caused the failure? EDIT - okay, found an article about it!
« Last Edit: 05/31/2018 03:43 AM by Steve G »

Offline WallE

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Re: 1st US ICBM Flight; First Atlas Launch & Blowup 1957
« Reply #6 on: 05/31/2018 05:02 AM »
The white plume is LH2 being released out of the boil-off valve in a vain attempt by the Centaur's pneumatic system to reduce building tank pressure caused by the LH2 heating and expanding from the loss of the insulation panel. Eventually the pressure levels built up to the point where the LH2 tank ruptured. Flying debris then punctured the Atlas's LOX tank, followed by engine flameout and total structural breakup. The camera tracking the sustainer engine down to the ocean was standard operating procedure since camera crews were instructed to focus on the engines at all times during launch; in footage of some other Atlas failures, for example 3D and 102D, the camera also follows the sustainer engine post-vehicle breakup.

There were only four Atlas-Centaur failures in the first two minutes of launch and one of them happened behind cloud cover and was not visible, the other three are staples of rocket failure videos and you've all seen them before.

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