KING OF GODS: The Jupiter Missile Story
Third in a Series Reviewing Jupiter's Place in Space
by Ed Kyle, Updated 7/29/2011
The Jupiter program, like all big rocket development
efforts, started with propulsion. In this case, the propulsion already existed, or nearly
existed, thanks to the long-running Navaho and more recent Atlas programs.
Rocketdyne tested its first 150K S-3 engine
at Santa Susana, California in November 1955. It delivered a mock up S-3 to ABMA during
January 1956, and shipped the first of several 68.04 tonne-force (150,000 pound) thrust
gas generator S-3 research and development engines to ABMA in July, 1956. One can imagine
the von Braun teams interest in the arrival of these innovative, powerful tubular
There were about 300 tubes - nickle alloy tubes that
were formed into near-rectangular cross sections and brazed together to create the thrust
chamber and nozzle. Stainless steel bands were welded to the exterior of the formed
chambers to add strength. The design provided an unprecedented thrust to weight
Engine testing began in September at the Arsenal's Power
Plant Test Stand. Trouble was soon encountered during testing with four engines
failing by November. There were instabilities that caused turbopump failures or that
burned up injectors. The problems forced ABMA and Rocketdyne to down-rate engines to the
proven 61.24 tonne-force (135,000 pounds) thrust used for Navaho. Down-rated engines
would be used for the initial test flights while design modifications were underway.
Successful tests with the down rated engines were achieved in January 1957.
The S-3 engine was similar to its Thor and Atlas
cousins, but would uniqely use a steerable turbopump exhaust nozzle to facilitate vehicle
roll control during first stage flight. Roll steering was added in steps, as thrust
was gradually increased to the originally planned 68.06 tonnes. The final version,
S-3D, was lighter, more compact, and used simplified starting and control systems compared
to the initial S-3 variants.
First Jupiter Raised into Static Test Stand West,
At Redstone Arsenal, Test Laboratory director Karl
Heimburg oversaw completion of a massive new Static Test Stand. The 44.2 meter (145 foot)
tall, dual-position structure was begun in 1954 with Redstone in mind but it was finished
for Jupiter by early 1957. In January 1957 the first flight Jupiter was erected in the
west position, Static Test Stand West, by a giant gantry crane.
The Jupiter was fired for the first time on February 12,
1957. Harry Johnstone, test director, summarized the result in an on-line history. During the test,
an explosion occurred in the LOX start tank discharge valve. As a result, the team lost
control pressure and was unable to open the tank vent valves. As LOX tank pressure
increased a foreman named Paul Kennedy left the safety of his pill box position to connect
a ground high pressure line and to block open the LOX tank vent valve on the missile,
saving the missile from likely destruction.
Full vehicle static tests taught vital lessons. For
example, after this test the team developed a fail-safe system that would open the vent
valves if control pressure or power failure occurred during a test. Similar systems are
still used today. The team also learned that the explosion was due to a lubricant in the
LOX start tank discharge valve not being compatible with the LOX used by the Jupiter
missile. A new LOX compatible lubricant was quickly developed.
Jupiter Static Test in West Stand with Jupiter also in East
The new test stand quickly proved its worth, with two
Jupiter missiles often on the stand simultaneously, one on the East Stand side and one on
the West Stand side. Missiles built both by ABMA and by Chrysler were tested.
The peak years for testing were likely 1958-59, when most of the 30 R&D and test
missiles were delivered. During 1959, the East Test Stand was reallocated for use by
ABMA's Saturn program.
After implementing fixes, ABMA successfully static fired
the first Jupiter and transported it to a mosquito invested, snake-ridden spit of land
that few U.S. citizens had ever heard about: Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Launch infrastructure development, typically a pacing
item for big rockets, was aided by the Redstone program already underway. Flight testing
took place from ABMA Missile Firing Laboratory (MFL) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. There,
Dr. Kurt H. Debus had already overseen development of Launch Complex (LC) 5 and adjacent
LC 6 for Redstone flight testing. ABMAs site, about 4 km south of Cape Canaveral
lighthouse, was inaugurated with the seventh Redstone launch from LC 6 on April 20, 1955.
(The fist six Redstones flew from LC 4, a small flat pad near the Cape Canaveral
Overview of MFL, May 1958, with Redstone CC-1002 on LC 5,
Foreground, and Jupiter AM-5 on LC 26B, Looking North. Note Thor Pads at LC 17 on
LC 5/6 was the first of the substantial ballistic
missile launch complexes built on the Cape after 1955. Its twin flat pads, aligned to aim
missiles south-southeast down the Atlantic Missile Range, were 61 meter (200 foot) square,
and centered 152.4 meters (500 feet) apart. They shared a common blockhouse that was only
about 91.5 meters (300 feet) from the center of each pad on the up-range (west-northwest)
Early Jupiters would fly from LC 5/6, but during 1956-57
MFL built two new launch pads (A and B) for Jupiter at LC 26, just north of LC 5 and 6.
The setup mirrored LC 5/6, with a nearly identical dual-pad blockhouse, but the LC 26
blockhouse was further back, a full 122 meters (400 feet) from the pads. The pad lineup
from north to south was LC 26A, LC 26B, LC 6, and LC 5.
When all four pads were completed by late 1957, creating
a contiguous 244 x 854 meter (800 x 2,800 foot) complex, a single set of double railroad
tracks allowed two A-frame mobile service towers, or gantries, to move along the pad
centerline. Both towers approached the pads from the south. By mid-1958, an additional set
of "bypass" tracks had been installed that allowed the towers to shuffle between
During early 1959, a new H-frame mobile service tower
was installed at LC 6. The LC 6 tower rode on large pneumatic tire bogies instead of
rails, requiring a dedicated paved "gantryway" that kept the H-frame tower
emplaced at LC 6.
Eventually, the four interconnected flat pads would host
102 Redstone, Jupiter-A, Jupiter-C (Juno I), Jupiter, Juno II, and
Mercury-Redstone launches from 1955 to 1963. These would include the first successful
U.S. IRBM flight, the first U.S. satellite launch, the first U.S. primate flights, the
first launch of a U.S. satellite into solar orbit, and the first suborbital launch of a
U.S. astronaut. Jupiter missiles eventually flew from all four pads.
Redstone Missile 25, Flew as a Jupiter-A from LC 6
on October 30, 1956
Flight testing within the auspices of the Jupiter
program began, according to U.S. Army records, weeks before the program was officially
approved, and seven months before the program was officially named Jupiter.
These were in reality little more than previously planned Redstone research and
development launches. The Army decided in September 1955 to identify these as
Jupiter-A missions in order to secure mission priority.
Oddly, U.S. Army ABMA and U.S. Air Force Missile Test
Center records to this day disagree as to which Redstone launches were Jupiter-A missions.
The Army lists Missile RS-11, launched September 22, 1955, as the first Jupiter-A, with
the second (RS-12) on December 5, 1955. Air Force records show the first Jupiter-A launch
occurring on March 14, 1956. Similarly, the Air Force considers the final three Jupiter-A
missions, flown by RS-46, CC-43, and CC-48 in 1958, to be Redstone tests.
The Air Force thus lists 20 Jupiter-A launches, but as
far as ABMA was concerned there were 25 Jupiter-A flights, comprising nearly all Redstone
missile launched from September 22, 1955 until June 11, 1958, one from LC 5 and the rest
from LC 6. Two flew in 1955, nine in 1956, ten in 1957, and four in 1958. Twenty-one of
the flights were successful, with ranges between 130 and 400 nautical miles achieved.
Jupiter-A flights tested systems that were either shared with or closely related to
Jupiter hardware. Among these were the Redstone ST-80 inertial guidance platform, Jupiter
angle-of-attack sensors, warhead fusing systems, and explosive bolts.
RS-27, the First Jupiter-C, on LC 5 Before its Long Range Flight
Jupiter-C was the second launch vehicle used to test
Jupiter components. It was designed specifically to test the Jupiter nose cone design, a
test that required the test item to reach unprecedented range and velocity. For that
purpose, Jupiter-C (Jupiter Composite Reentry Test Vehicle) topped a stretched Redstone
with two small upper stages housed in a spinning "tub" perched atop the vehicle.
The first stage weighed about 28,803 kg (63,500 pounds).
The second stage was a 326 kg (719 pound) circular cluster of eleven scaled-Sergeant solid
rocket motors that produced an average of 9,131 kgf (20,130 pounds) thrust for 5.52
seconds. The 89 kg (196 pound) third stage, nestled within the second, used three
scaled-Sergeants to produce 2,490 kgf (5,490 pounds) of average thrust for 5.52 seconds. A
scaled Jupiter nose cone weighing 158.8 kg (350 pounds) topped the third stage.
Both upper stages were spun up to 400 times per minute
by two electric motors, a process that began before liftoff, to provide directional
stability as the motors fired. Jupiter-C could fling the nose cone about 2,222 km (1,200
Only three Jupiter-C launches were needed to prove the ablative heat shield nose cone. The
first, flown on September 19, 1956 from LC 5 by Missile No. 27, was a test of the rocket
itself. No nose cone was carried. All three stages fired successfully and the final stage
reached an altitude of 1,100 km (682 statute miles). A dummy fourth stage was placed atop
the vehicle as an aerodynamic and structural test. It was apparent that a live fourth
stage would have been able to push a small payload to orbit, but ABMA was not authorized
to make the attempt.
Missile No. 34, the second Jupiter-C, carried the first scaled nose cone from LC 6 on May
15, 1957. The first stage operated correctly, but the second stage unexpectedly pitched up
and yawed left as it fired. The third stage failed to ignite. Although the nose cone
reentered 778 km (420 nautical miles) short of its target, telemetry showed that the
ablative heat shield worked. The short range prevented a planned nose cone recovery from
of Spinning Upper Stage Motor Cluster, Topped by Scaled Jupiter Nose Cone.
The third Jupiter-C, Missile No. 40 flown from LC 6 on
August 8, 1957, was completely successful. The nose cone reached 4,004 meters per second
velocity, 482 km (260 nautical mile) altitude, and traveled 2,163 km (1,168 nautical
miles) downrange. During reentry the ablative heat shield protected the nose cone
structure from reentry heating. A small parachute lowered the nose cone into the Atlantic
swells while a large balloon inflated to keep the nose cone afloat and to serve as a
recovery marker. The U.S. Navy recovered the nose cone within three hours of launch.
Following the success, ABMA carefully stored several Jupiter-C missiles, calling the
effort a long term missile storage study.
History of the Jupiter Missile System, James Grimwood,
Frances Stroud, U.S. Army Ordnance Missile Command, July 27, 1962.
The Life and Times of Harry M. Johnstone, http://www.enginehistory.org/hjohnstone.shtml
Next: Jupiter Flies