- Covering the Past, Present and Future of
VANGUARD Fact Sheet
Written and Edited by Cliff Lethbridge
Classification: Space Launch Vehicle
Length: 72 feet
Diameter: 3 feet, 9 inches
Number Launched from
Vanguard was the first
In March, 1955 the Eisenhower Administration approved a plan to orbit a series of instrumented Earth satellites during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) which extended from July 1, 1957 through December 31, 1958. The IGY was an unprecedented international effort to advance scientific studies of Earth.
The Stewart Committee was comprised of eight members. Two members represented the Army, two members represented the Navy, two members represented the Air Force and two members were appointed by Quarles. The Stewart Committee began meeting in July, 1955 and was presented with three distinct options.
The first, named Project Orbiter, was a joint Army-Navy proposal which would employ a multi-stage version of the Army's Redstone missile as a booster. The second, ultimately named Vanguard, was a Navy Research Laboratory proposal which would employ a multi-stage version of the Navy's Viking research rocket as a booster. A third proposal was offered by the Air Force, which would employ its yet-to-be-flown Atlas missile as a booster.
On August 3, 1955 the Stewart Committee voted 5 to 2, with one member absent, to select Vanguard to launch a series of IGY satellites. Proponents of Project Orbiter objected bitterly, but the decision of the Stewart Committee was officially endorsed by President Eisenhower and the Department of Defense on September 9, 1955.
Vanguard offered several advantages, including civilian management of booster and satellite development. This reflected a desire of President Eisenhower to distance the military from IGY research efforts. Although the Viking rocket which would provide the core of the Vanguard booster was a product of the Navy, it had been used strictly for scientific purposes.
And, Viking was a proven vehicle. On May 24, 1954 a Viking rocket launched
from White Sands,
In addition, Vanguard would not draw resources away from vital ballistic missile research being conducted by the Army and Air Force. The decision of the Stewart Committee has, to an extent, been characterized as a bitter rivalry between the Army and Navy. This is not completely accurate, since the Navy in fact provided vital technical support of Redstone-based Project Orbiter. Also, the 5 to 2 vote of the Stewart Committee was clearly not cast along the political lines of any branch of military service, each of which was equally represented.
The Vanguard rocket emerged as a relatively small three-stage vehicle employing a modified Viking rocket as first stage. The first stage engine, manufactured by General Electric, burned a combination of liquid oxygen and RP-1 (kerosene) liquid fuel and could produce a thrust of 28,000 pounds. An Aerojet second stage engine burned IWFNA/UDMH liquid fuel and could produce a 7,500-pound thrust. A solid-fueled Altair third stage produced a thrust of 3,100 pounds. Prime contractor for the Vanguard rocket was the Martin Company.
At least six Vanguard rockets had been scheduled for test launches prior to
what would have been the first
Before even a third Vanguard test launch could occur, the
To counter a remarkable and unexpected Soviet achievement, which was followed by their launch of Sputnik II on November 3, 1957 a bold decision was made to attempt a satellite launch aboard the next available Vanguard rocket, a "Test Vehicle" called TV-3. This launch would occur prior to the conclusion of the test series originally intended to validate the Vanguard rocket. TV-3 would be the first Vanguard rocket to fly with powered upper stages, and the success of the mission was doubtful.
Vanguard TV-3, carrying a tiny 3.25-pound, 6.4-inch diameter spherical
tracking satellite made of aluminum, exploded on Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 18A
just seconds after it was launched on December 6, 1957. The first
Despite the highly publicized Vanguard failure on December 6, 1957 the
Vanguard program continued. A second, but less spectacular, Vanguard failure
occurred upon a follow-up satellite launch attempt on February 5, 1958. But
success would follow. The next Vanguard rocket carried the Vanguard-1 satellite
into orbit on March 17, 1958. This was the second
The next four attempts to launch satellites aboard Vanguard rockets failed, but the Vanguard-2 satellite was successfully launched on February 17, 1959. After two more Vanguard failures, the very last launch of a Vanguard rocket scored a success. The Vanguard-3 satellite was successfully launched on September 18, 1959. Both Vanguard-2 and Vanguard-3 were instrumented satellites weighing just over 22 pounds.
Although retired after just 14 flights, Vanguard technology was successfully applied to other programs. The rocket's upper stages formed the basis for upper stage configurations employed on Atlas-Able, Thor-Able and Scout rockets. Vanguard technology even found its way into the NASA Apollo program, with a modified Vanguard upper stage forming the basis of the Atlas-Antares second stage. Atlas-Antares was used in NASA Project Fire to test proposed Apollo re-entry vehicle designs.
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