The Launch of SA1

Prelaunch preparation began at 7:00 a.m. on 26 October 1961. Mechanical Office tasks that morning included inspection of the high pressure gas panel, cable masts, and fuel masts; ordnance installation; and preparation of the holddown arms. At 12:30 p.m., Thomas Pantoliano's 12-man propellants section checked out the RP-1 fuel facility while Andrew Pickett's team pressurized the helium bottle. RP-1 loading began an hour later. The propellant team filled the launch vehicle's tanks to the 10% level, using a slow, manual procedure of approximately 750 liters per minute to check for leaks. A leak in the fuel mast vacuum breaker was easily repaired, and at 2:30 p.m. the launch team cleared the pad for the automatic "fast fill" operation. Fuel flowed into the launch vehicle at 7,570 liters per minute, reaching the 97% level in about 35 minutes. The propellants team then reverted to the "slow fill" procedure. As the design of the Saturn included a fuel drainage system, Pantoliano's crew placed 103% of the required RP-1 aboard the Saturn. Just before launch, the propellants team would take a final density reading and drain sufficient kerosene to achieve the desired level.35

The ten-hour countdown started at 11:00 p.m. as LC-34 switched to the Cape's emergency generating plant. This facility supplied the launch team a current relatively free of the fluctuations common in commercial power. The Saturn's electrical circuits and components began warming up when vehicle power was applied at T-570 - 570 minutes before launch time exclusive of holds. Five minutes later the measuring panel operator turned on the eight telemetry channels, A series of calibration checks followed. At T-510 range and launch officials initiated an hour of radar checks.36

Loading of liquid oxygen started after 3:00 a.m. on the 27th (T-350). The Saturn's LOX tanks were 10% filled to check for leaks in the launch vehicle or in the 229-meter transfer line, as well as to precool the line for the fast flow of super-cold LOX. While the automatic fast fill rom the 473,000 liter LOX storage tank employed a centrifugal pump, the 10% precooling operation relied on the pressure in the reservoir. The 10% level in the Saturn's tanks was maintained for the next four hours by feeding LOX from the 49,000-liter replenishing tank. 37

Testing of command and communication systems began at T-270. The flight control panel operator activated the guidance system's stabilized platform, the ST-90, to check pitch, roll, and yaw response. Ten minutes later the network panel operator placed the vehicle on internal power to ensure that the Saturn's batteries functioned properly. Meanwhile other engineers conducted Azusa, UDOP , radar, and telemetry checks. The operation was over by T-255, and the launch vehicle was returned to external power. 38

Two hours from the 9:00 a.m. scheduled liftoff, an unfavorable weather report prompted launch officials to call a hold. When the count resumed at 7:34 a.m., the launch team rolled the service structure back to its parking area, 180 meters from the rocket. The propellants team set up the LOX facility for fast fill at T-100. The order to clear the pad came 20 minutes later; the blockhouse doors swung shut at T-65. One hour from launch the pad safety officer gave his clearance and the propellants team initiated a 6.5-minute precool sequence, a slow fill to recool the main LOX storage tank line, which had not been in use for four hours. When the "Precool Complete" light flashed on, the LOX facility's pump began moving 9,500 liters per minute into the Saturn. In 30 minutes the tanks were 99% full. LOX loading changed over to the replenish system. An adjust-level drain* had already been made on the RP-1 tanks, bringing the fuel level down to 100%.39

Launch officials, concerned that a patch of clouds over the Cape might obscure tracking cameras, called a second hold at 9: 14 a.m. A northeast breeze was soon clearing the skies, and within half an hour the countdown resumed. During the last 20 minutes, the launch team made final checks of telemetry, radar, and the command network. Automatic countdown operations commenced at T-364 seconds. A sequencer or central timing device controlled a series of electrical circuits by means of relay logic; i.e., if event A occurred (e.g., opening a valve), the sequencer triggered event B, and so on through the required functions to liftoff. The sequencer monitored tank, hydraulic, and pump pressures; ordered a nitrogen purge of the engine compartment; and closed the LOX tank vents to pressurize the liquid oxygen. The Saturn vehicle switched to internal power at T-35 seconds. Ten seconds later the sequencer ejected the long cable mast. The pad flush command at T-5 seconds began a flow of water around the launcher base. At that time, a number of possible malfunctions (a premature commit signal, insufficient thrust in one or more engines, rough combustion, short mast failure, detection of fire, or voltage failure) could still cause the automatic programmer to terminate the countdown. 40

Away from launch complex 34, Cape watchers gazed uncertainly at the Saturn rocket as the countdown neared completion, No previous maiden launch had gone flawlessly, and the Saturn C-1 was considerably more complicated than earlier rockets. LOD officials gave the rocket a 75% chance of getting off the ground, a 30% chance of completing the eight-minute flight. Although odds on a pad catastrophe were not quoted, launch officials acknowledged their vulnerability. With the construction of LC-37 barely begun, a pad explosion could delay the Saturn program a year. Critics had questioned the wisdom of the clustered booster design. Propellant pumps were supposedly reaching design limits and the Saturn C-1 had 16 pumps in eight engines. Local wags derisively referred to the SA-1 launch as "Cluster's Last Stand." 41

Saturn backers, while expressing confidence in the rocket, were concerned about its launch effects. During test firings at Redstone Arsenal, residents 12 kilometers away had reported shattered windows and earth tremors. The launch team had set up panels and microphones at the Cape to register the Saturn's shock and sound waves. At the press site, 3 kilometers from pad 34, reporters were issued ear plugs as a precautionary measure. LOD officials had assured local residents that fears of the rocket were exaggerated. Still, everyone wondered what it would be like. The moment of truth came at 10:06 a.m. Contrary to popular belief, no one pushed a firing button to send SA-1 on its way. Launch came when the sequencer ordered the firing of a solid propellant charge. The gases from the ignition accelerated a turbine that in turn drove fuel and LOX pumps. Hydraulic valves opened, allowing RP-1 and LOX into the combustion chambers, along with a hypergolic fluid that ignited the mixture. The engines fired in pairs, developing full thrust in l.4 seconds. A final rough combustion check was followed by ejection of the LOX and RP-1 fill masts from the booster base. The four hold-down arms released the rocket 3.97 seconds after first ignition. SA-1 was airborne.

Liftoff of Saturn I. Note the long cable mast falling away on the right.

Spectators saw a lake of flame, felt the rush of a shock wave, and then heard the roar of the eight engines. Trailer windows at the viewing site shook in response to the Saturn's power. Yet for many of the thousands watching the launch, the roar was a letdown. Reporters thought the sound equaled an Atlas launch viewed at half the distance.** The Miami Herald headline the next morning read: "Saturn Blast 'Quieter' Than Expected." 42

Although the Saturn's roar failed to meet expectations, the human noise at LC-34's control center was impressive. Bart Slattery, a NASA information officer, told reporters that when the rocket passed maximum Q (point of greatest aerodynamic pressure) at about 60 seconds into the flight, "all hell broke loose in the blockhouse." Kurt Debus's face reflected the happy sense of accomplishment hours later when he informed the press that it had been a nearly perfect launch.43

The success was particularly welcome to the Kennedy administration, coming at a time of high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. The raising of the Berlin Wall had stunned the Western world in August 1961. President Kennedy had responded with a partial mobilization of U.S. reserve forces, but most political analysts considered the events a Russian victory. In late October, as the Soviet Union prepared to test a 50-megaton H-bomb, the President had proposed a massive fallout shelter program. On the day of the SA-1 launch, Russian tanks moved into East Berlin for the first time in several years.

The space race was an important element in a Cold War that threatened to turn hot. With the success of the Saturn booster, the United States had achieved a launch capability of 5.8 million newtons (1.3 million pounds of thrust). Space reporters were quick to point out the limits of the American success. The Soviet Union already had workable upper stages for their first stage. Furthermore, the current Russian tests in the Pacific would likely result in sizable booster advances. Despite these caveats, commentators agreed that SA-1 was an important step toward a lunar landing. 44

* Establishing an exact ratio of RP-1 to LOX was important since simultaneous depletion of propellants at cutoff was desired. Flight data later indicated a 0.4% deviation in the RP-1 fuel density sensing system, 0.15% above design limits. Too much LOX (400 kilograms) and not enough RP-1 (410 kilograms} were therefore loaded. The error contributed to a premature cutoff 1.6 seconds ahead of schedule.

** Marshall Center scientists, after studying readings taken in nearby communities during launch, explained that weather conditions were such that sound was absorbed by the atmosphere. As a result, sound levels were less than those experienced during static firings at Huntsville.

35. "Saturn Test Procedures: SA-1 Mechanical Office L-1 Day Prelaunch Preparations," Moser papers; MSFC, SA-1 Flight Evaluation, pp. 9-10; interview with Chester Wasileski by Benson, 14 Dec. 1972; Pantoliano interview.

36. MSFC, Launch Countdown Saturn Vehicle SA-1, report MIP-LOD-61-35-2 (Huntsville, AL, 3 Oct. 1961), pp. 9-15, Moser papers.

37. MSFC, SA-1 Flight Evaluation, p. 10; MSFC, Countdown SA-1.

39. MSFC, SA-1 Flight Evaluation, pp. 11-12; MSFC, Countdown SA-1, pp. 28-30; LOD, Saturn Test Procedures: SetUp LO2 Facility for Feist Fill (T -100), procedure LOD-M703; LOD, Saturn Test Procedures: Fast Fill LO2 Loading(T - 60), procedure L0D-M704.

40. MSFC, Countdown SA-1, pp. 36-39; Alexander, "Telemetry Confirms Success," p. 31: "Emergency Procedures SA-1," LOD Networks Group, pp. 2-3, Moser papers.

41. Richard Austin Smith, "Canaveral, Industry's Trial by Fire," Fortune, June 1962. pp. 204, 206; "Saturnalia at Canaveral," Newsweek, 6 Nov. 1961, p. 64; Miami Herald, 28 Oct. 1961, p. 1; "Saturn's Success," Time, 3 Nov. 1961, p. 15.

42. New York Times, 28 Oct. 1961, pp. 1, 9; Miami Herald, 28 Oct. 1961, p. 1. The MSFC news release on the SA-1 launch, dated 1 Nov. 1961, included a paragraph on the sound effect.

43. Miami Herald, 28 Oct. 1961, p. 1 (UPI release).

44. New York Times, 27 Oct. 1961, p. 1; 28 Oct. 1961, pp. 1, 9.

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Chapter 4

Origins of the mobile Moonport

Ambitious Plans and Limited Space

The original commitment of the Saturn program to a Cape Canaveral launching site was for the research and development launches only.* A launch site for operational missions remained an open question long after construction started on LC-34. Four major questions were involved: Would blast and acoustic hazards require an isolated - perhaps offshore - launch pad for larger Saturn rockets? If not, could the pads be safely located on the coast of Florida or elsewhere - Cumberland Island, Georgia, perhaps? Would the Saturn become America's prototype space rocket? If so, how many Saturn launches per year would be required? In the midst of these questions was one stern reality: Cape Canaveral was running out of launching room.

The Crowded Cape.

By early 1960 the Cape resembled a Gulf Coast oil field. Launch towers crowded the 16 kilometers of sandy coastline with less than a kilometer of palmetto scrub separating most of the pads. The busy landscape testified to the recent advances in America's space program, but the density of the launch pads posed a problem for NASA and Air Force officials. Launch programs were under way for Titan, Polaris, Pershing, and Mercury; plans for Minuteman and Saturn were well along. A Department of Defense management study, prepared in April 1960, reported that the Atlantic Missile Range was "substantially saturated with missile launching facilities and flight test instrumentation."! This seconded a 1959 congressional study that criticized the range's severe shortage of support facilities.2 With the siting of the second Saturn launch complex (complex 37) near the northern boundary of the range, launch officials were running out of real estate.

The lack of room at the Cape did not deter Marshall Space Flight Center personnel from preparing plans for 20, 50, even 100 Saturn flights a year. The Army's failure to carry out Project Horizon and put a squad of men on the moon had not dulled Hermann Koelle's enthusiasm (Chapter 1-5). Now under NASA, his Future Projects Office was investigating earth-orbital space stations, a permanent scientific facility on the moon, a "switchboard in the sky" to serve communications satellites, and manned exploration of Mars. The last project would extend into the 1980s and involve sending several spaceships to that planet.3

NASA's ability to implement Koelle's plans depended upon the development of the launch vehicle in Huntsville. With the Saturn C-1 off the drawing boards, Huntsville planners were working on Saturn C-2. This threestage rocket was to use the two stages of the C-1 configuration and insert a new second stage incorporating Rocketdyne's J-2 engine. A cluster of four J-2s, fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, could produce 3,520,000 newtons (800,000 pounds of thrust), giving the C-2 a total of 10,428,000 newtons (2,370,000 pounds of thrust). The C-2 could carry a payload 2.5 times that of the C-1; large enough to send a 3,630-kilogram manned spacecraft to the vicinity of the moon, that payload would still be far short of what was needed for a direct ascent lunar landing (flying one spacecraft to the moon, landing, and returning to earth). An alternative to direct ascent was the use of earth-orbital rendezvous. This scheme involved launching a number of rockets into earth orbit, assembling a moon rocket there, and then firing it to the moon. NASA officials estimated that an earth-orbital rendezvous would take six or seven C-2 launches to place a 3,630-kilogram spacecraft on the moon, nine or ten launches for a 5,445-kilogram spacecraft. With this in mind, Koelle warned Debus at a 15 June 1960 meeting that such programs might require as many as 100 C-2 launches annually.4

Debus considered Koelle's projections plausible. Future Projects Office charts indicated that the cost per launch vehicle might drop as low as $10 million at the higher launch rate. If the space program received 3% of the annual gross national product for the next two decades, the American launch program could reach 100 vehicles per year.5 A launch rate of such magnitude seemed unrealistic to other Launch Operations Directorate (LOD) members in light of their experience with the Redstone and Jupiter missiles - programs that had not exceeded 15 launches per year. Some doubted the Atlantic Missile Range's capability to sustain so large an operation, as well as the nation's willingness to fund it. Aware of the impact his program would have on LOD, Koelle asked Debus to determine the highest possible firing capability for Saturn from the Atlantic Missile Range.6

There was general agreement within LOD that launch procedures at complex 34 could not satisfy the Future Projects Office plans. Debus and his associates estimated that LC-34 could launch four or five vehicles per year, depending upon the degree to which checkout was automated. This allowed two months for vehicle assembly and checkout on the pad and a month for rehabilitation after the launch. With its two pads, LC-37 could handle six to eight launches annually.7 The two complexes together barely satisfied Koelle's lowest projection for the C-2 study (12 launches annually); 48 Saturn launches per year would require at least 10 launch pads. Since the protection of rockets on adjacent pads might entail a safety zone of nearly 5 kilometers, a Saturn launch row could extend 48 kilometers up the Atlantic Coast. Purchase of this much land would be a considerable expense, and the price of maintaining operational crews for 10 pads would eventually prove even more costly. Limited space, larger launch vehicles with new blast and acoustic hazards, a steeply stepped-up launch schedule - all combined to set up a study of new launch sites for the Saturn. How and where to launch the big rocket?

* In mid-1960, 10 R&D launches were scheduled. LC-34 was to launch the first four Saturn C-1 shots (testing the booster). Six subsequent C-1 R&D missions with upper stages would be launched from a modified LC-34 and from LC-37. The latter complex would also be used for an undetermined number of C-2 R&D shots. Operational launches were still very tentative; a NASA Headquarters schedule in late 1960 called for 50 C-1 and C-2 launches between 1965 and 1970, 20 of them concerned with the Apollo program (reentry tests, earth orbital missions, and circumlunar missions).

1. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Report on Cape Canaveral Inspection, 86th Cong., 2nd sess., 27 June 1960, p. 1.

2. House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Management and Operation of the Atlantic Missile Range, 86th Cong., 2nd sess., 5 July 1960, p. 4.

3. Francis L. Williams interview.

4. David S. Akens, Saturn Illustrated Chronology (MSFC, Jan. 1971), pp. 7-8; J. P. Claybourne, Saturn Project Office, memo, "Saturn C-2 Configurations," 6 July 1960; NASA, "A Plan for Manned Lunar Landing" (Low Committee report), 7 Feb. 1961, pp. 7-13, figs. 4, 7, NASA Hq. History Office.

5. Interview with Debus by Benson, 16 May 1972; H. H. Koelle, "Missiles and Space Systems," Astronautics 7 (Nov.1962): 29-37.

6. Claybourne, "Saturn C-2 Configurations," 6 July 1960.

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Offshore Launch Facilities

As early as 1958, Livingston Wever, a member of the Army Test Office's Facilities Branch, had proposed the use of a modified Texas Tower* as an offshore launching platform for big rockets. Concerned about the Saturn's noise-making potential, Wever renewed his proposals in March 1960. Preliminary calculations, extrapolated from the noise levels measured during Atlas booster tests, indicated the Saturn C-1 would generate acoustical levels as high as 205 decibels at a distance of 305 meters from the launch pad. Peaks of 140 decibels, the threshold of pain, could be expected more than 3,000 meters from the pad. Wever was particularly concerned that the Saturn vehicle might emit a shock wave in the early stages of its trajectory (at heights from 600 to 900 meters) that would cause serious damage in nearby towns. He proposed to solve the acoustical problem by moving the launch platform to a structure 169 kilometers southeast of Cape Canaveral and 56 kilometers north of Grand Bahama Island. Wever noted that "because of the shallow waters and slight tide actions in the proposed area, it would not be unfeasible to construct a rugged, but unadorned, steel platform as large as 500 feet [150 meters] square, not only for immediate static tests of the Saturn, but also for actual launchings of the Saturn and large boosters of the future." Venting the rocket's exhaust into ocean water would save the cost of an expensive flame deflector. Wever also anticipated savings on the construction cost of the firing room (blockhouse).8

Wever's proposal met with mixed reactions at the Army Test Office's Facilities Branch. Although Nelson M. Parry, assistant branch chief, approved Wever's effort to circumvent blast and acoustical problems, Parry disagreed with the solution. Parry himself had been working on plans to develop artificial islands for several years. In a study completed December 1958, entitled "Land Development for Missile Range Installations," Parry proposed an artificial island large enough to contain a blockhouse, instrumentation, camera mounts, fuel storage, and launch pad and tower. His process involved pumping sand from the shallow waters just off the Cape. Parry estimated that an artificial island 1.6 kilometers square, with a mean elevation of 1.8 meters above high water, could be constructed for $9 million, This compared favorably with the $11 million cost of one Texas Tower in the early warning defense system. More important, the island would be a fixed platform; the Texas Towers swayed in moderate winds. Parry also objected to Wever's proposal to remove the launching site from the Cape to the Bahamas. This would introduce problems of telemetry, coordination, tracking, and camera coverage.9 Although supporting Parry's landfill procedures, Facilities Branch Chief Arthur Porcher considered the Banana River a better site for an island than the ocean floor off the Cape. He thought that any attempt to build up islands in the Atlantic would run into construction difficulties.10

In the Launch Operations Directorate, the job of evaluating offshore launch facilities fell to Georg von Tiesenhausen's Future Launch Systems Study Office. Tall, thin, and scholarly in appearance, von Tiesenhausen's looks befitted his "think-tank" role. His interest in offshore launch facilities dated back to World War II. Following the Allied bombing of Peenemunde in August 1944, von Tiesenhausen had recommended construction of floating pads to permit the dispersion of V-2 static firings. His plan had employed two barges, with the missile emplaced on cross bars.11 At the Cape, von Tiesenhausen assigned direct responsibility for studying offshore facilities to Owen Sparks, a former U.S. Army colonel and the team's unofficial technical writer. Sparks's first task was to prepare a preliminary survey for Debus.

Possible offshore Launch Facility, from a study by Owen Sparks in 1961.

Sparks's May 1960 report listed a number of launch problems for the Saturn program. These included the shortage of space at the Cape, safety hazards, and the problem of constructing an adequate flame deflector. The noise factor merited attention but was secondary. He suggested locating an offshore launch complex downrange in the nearest ocean area with a depth of 15 meters of water. He believed such a site would satisfy the requirements of blast absorption without unduly complicating range support. Since marine construction involved a great many problems, the design should be as simple as possible. Sparks recommended the use of a stiff-leg derrick combined with the umbilical tower to reduce gantry requirements, and the employment of a knock-down mobile service structure. Beyond provision for both static firings and launches any offshore facility should, he said, be expansible into a multipad complex.1_2

Sparks followed his first estimate with a preliminary feasibility study in late July 1960. His rationale for an offshore launching site had not changed. An evaluation of a half-dozen facilities favored the Texas Tower. This kind of facility, Sparks noted, could be placed in deep water where blast and sound posed no problems. Among other advantages, the offshore location would provide unlimited room for expansion, and fuel supplies could be kept on barges at a savings, compared to storage facilities on land. Sparks was no longer certain that the exhaust should be vented into the ocean - the resulting waves might damage the pad. Major disadvantages of a Texas Tower included the high cost of marine construction, the logistical problems of waterborne support for the facility, and the difficulty of providing a stable platform for handling vehicle stages and propellants. Sparks suggested further investigation of oceanographic conditions and their effects on launch structures, platform stability, and space vehicle requirements.13

* Named for their similarity to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas Towers were skeletal steel platforms built in the mid-1950s by the Air Force The structure's massive triangular platform, supported by three 94-meter stilt like legs, provided space for three large radars and a 73 man crew, Three of these towers were placed about 128 kilometers off the northeast coast of the U.S. to provide early warning of air attack.

8. Livingston Wever, Support Instrumentation Div., to Porcher, Facilities Br., Army Test Off., AFMTC, "Addendum to Scheme for Offshore Launching Platform for Space Vehicles," Mar. 1960; Wyle Laboratories, Sonic and Vibration Environments for Ground Facilities - A Design Manual, by L. C. Sutherland, report WR68-2, 1968, pp. 5-21, 10-2.

9. Nelson M. Parry, Army Test Off., AFMTC, "Land Developments for Missile Range Installations (Preliminary Notes)," 30 Dec. 1958, p. 3; Nelson Parry to Porcher, "Offshore Launch Platform for Heavy Space Vehicles," 6 Apr. 1960.

10. Porcher interview.

11. Von Tiesenhausen interview, 29 Mar. 1972; Sparks interview; von Tiesenhausen, "Vorversuche fur Project Schwimmiweste," Electromechanische Werke Peenemunde, 11 Sept. 1944, typescript, von Tiesenhausen's private papers.

12. Poppet to Debus, "Offshore Complex," 6 May 1960.

13. MSFC, Preliminary Feasibility Study on Offshore Launch Facilities for Space Vehicles, by O. L. Sparks, report IN-LOD-DL-1-60 interim (Huntsville, AL, 29 July 1960).

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