KING OF GODS: The Jupiter Missile Story
First in a Series Reviewing Jupiter's Place in Space
by Ed Kyle, Updated 7/01/2011
First Jupiter Launch, March 1, 1957
Of the four first generation long-range U.S.
ballistic missile systems Atlas, Jupiter, Thor, and Titan only Jupiter
failed to live on, in some form, into the 21st Century. As a missile, Jupiter was
shortest-lived and least-deployed. As an orbital launch vehicle, renamed Juno II when a
cluster of upper stage motors were added, it orbited only four satellites and garnered
notoriety as the object of one of NASAs first blue ribbon failure
investigations. By the end, NASA managers, and even personnel working on the Juno II
program, were relieved to shut it down.
The stubby missile was an orphan, develop by the U.S. Army for the U.S. Navy, which
dropped it, and ultimately deployed by a reluctant U.S. Air Force. Jupiter struggled to
win approval and was on the verge of cancelation at least once. Its deployment was
delayed, scaled back, implemented, and then suddenly withdrawn as part of a deal between
Robert Kennedy and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that helped end the Cuban Missile
Though overlooked today, without Jupiter there would
have been no Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), no Explorer I, no Saturn launch
vehicle, and no Marshall Space Flight Center.
Without Jupiter, U.S. astronauts would not have walked
on the Moon in 1969.
For its Redstone Arsenal developers, the Jupiter
intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) was an essential bridge between the V-2 based
Redstone missile and the 680 tonne-force (1.5 million pound) thrust cluster-engine Saturn
I. Jupiter was why ABMA was created and why the Army missile team was ready and able, when
the call finally came, to orbit Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite.
Jupiter performed the first successful IRBM range test flight, launched a triplet of
famous monkeys, Gordo, Able and Baker, on early suborbital test flights for NASA, and was
deployed for several years at the height of the Cold War as an active missile system in
Italy and Turkey. The Turkish deployment in particular played a role in the Cuban
Missile Crises when Robert Kennedy offered to withdraw the missiles - Turkey shared a
border with the U.S.S.R. - in return for a Soviet withdraw of its missiles from Cuba.
Jupiter was quickly converted into an early satellite
launcher named Juno II, which, despite suffering more failures than desired, succeeded in
launching the first U.S. satellite to escape Earths gravity and orbit the sun.
AM-5 Flew First Tactical Nose Cone
When Wernher von Brauns ABMA missile team needed
to test its Jupiter nose cone ablative heat shield, it added a Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)
upper stage cluster of solid rocket motors to a stretched Redstone rocket to create
Jupiter-C (Jupiter Composite Test Vehicle). With two upper stages, Jupiter-C
flew farther and faster than any previous rocket on September 20, 1956, and successfully
tested the nose cone heat shielding technique on two occasions in 1957. When the time
came, a carefully stored backup Jupiter-C was quickly readied to orbit Explorer I, which
it did on February 1, 1958 (GMT date).
The satellite success cemented ABMAs reputation. The team won funding to develop a
Super Jupiter (later named Juno V, then Saturn). Saturn development was
hastened by use of Jupiter structures, propulsion, guidance, ground test systems,
contractors, and personnel. Saturns rapid progress led to ABMAs inclusion in
the newly created NASA.
As the head of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center, Wernher von Braun was able
to authoritatively tell President Kennedy, when the President asked, that a Moon landing
was possible before 1970. His group superbly led development of Saturn V, the massive
rocket that launched humans to the Moon.
After developing the U.S. Army Redstone ballistic missile, the Armys Guided Missile
Development Division (GMDD) of the Ordnance Missile Laboratories, at Redstone Arsenal,
Alabama, turned its attention to longer range missiles.
Initial thought was given to improving the existing Redstone, by replacing its alcohol/LOX
engine with North American Aviation Rocketdyne Divisions 54.43 tonne-force (120,000
pound) thrust alcohol/LOX engine, developed for the U.S. Air Force Navaho pilotless
bomber, and by adding a second stage. This would be a 1,852 km (1,000 nautical mile)
of ABMA's Redstone and Jupiter Missiles
By early 1955, prompted by shifting Pentagon planning
resulting from warhead weight reduction and progress in the Atlas intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM) development program, the Army team was proposing a missile able
to propel a 907 kg (2,000 pound) warhead payload 2,778 km (1,500 nautical miles). The
missile would use Rocketdynes innovative 61.24 tonne-force (135,000 pound) thrust
kerosene/LOX engine being developed for the second generation intercontinental-range
Navaho missile. The engine was soon uprated to 68.04 tonnes-force (150,000 pounds) thrust.
Wernher von Braun presented the proposal before the Armed Services Policy Council in mid
1955. He proposed a six-year, $240 million development program that would test 50
The proposal fueled an inter-service struggle for control of the IRBM. The U.S. Air Force
maneuvered to gain control of the Armys GMDD team for its own IRBM development
effort, but failed.
Finally, in September 1955, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson decided that there would
be two IRBM programs, one for the U.S. Air Force and another jointly developed by the U.S.
Army and U.S. Navy. The Air Force IRBM would be named SM-75 (Strategic Missile)
Thor. The Army/Navy IRBM would be SM-78, given the name Jupiter in
April 1956. The missile was named after the largest planet in the solar system, and for
the Roman god Jupiter, king of the gods.
Next: Defining and Designing Jupiter