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Title: Expendable Space Transportation Systems

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5

Expendable Space Transportation Systems
5.1 Introduction
Expendable space transportation systems have been derived from early ICBM
development programs. These vehicles have taken men to space and have served
our country well for more than 40 years. This chapter discusses the history and
relevance of past, present, and future expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). New
configurations or updates to these expendable launch systems are continually occurring, and older versions dropped or modified. The chapter encapsulates ELVs
as of the late 1990s. In the United States, the principal expendable launch systems
have historically been the Atlas, Delta, and Titan launch vehicle families. Figure 5.1 shows the principal expendable launch vehicles worldwide in use or under
development as of the mid-1990s. Table 5.1 lists the worldwide launch vehicle
rates through the 1990s.
Robust, reliable, and cost-effective space transportation systems are needed to
provide easy, low-cost access to, from, and within space for payloads and systems that government agencies and commercial users develop. Future emphasis
will be on expendable vehicles that extend the basic Space Shuttle capability discussed in Chapter 4 by providing improvements in payload, cost, and servicing
for ranges and durations outside the shuttle performance envelope. As discussed
in this chapter and Chapter 6, the United States needs a further evolution of the
Space Shuttle in conjunction with the International Space Station's (ISS's) permanent presence in space. Future launch systems must provide capabilities for
manned operations in low orbits below or above the shuttle's access, reduce costs
to communications satellites, and avoid further losses and erosion of U.S. launch
market share to foreign competition. The advantages of reusability must be exploited, while increasing the effectiveness of shuttle-fleet utilization, with servicing
to geostationary orbits, eventual capability for orbiting payloads larger and heavier than those the shuttle can launch, and the enabling of the ISS research and
development facilities for developing space technology.
The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 gave NASA the responsibility
of "the preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and
space science technology."1 NASA's role as an R&D organization is firmly embedded in its institutional culture. The Air Force is mission oriented; its launch systems
organization is therefore organized to respond to the special transportation needs
of the DoD payload community. Both organizations have developed different institutional cultures applying different operational approaches, which occasionally
lead to costly friction in programs of mutual interest. For example, in the area of
launch vehicle R&D development, the two organizations continue to compete for
funding and for program lead. Yet, especially in this era of budget stringency, the
Air Force and NASA must work together more effectively on research to improve
existing systems and develop the next-generation launch systems.
229

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nloaded by PURDUE UNIVERSITY on September 18, 2016 | http://arc.aiaa.org | DOI: 10.2514/5.9781600862380.0229.0273 | Book DOI: 10.2514/4.86

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EXPENDABLE SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

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Table 5.1 Worldwide launch vehicle rates, 1990-1998 (Sources: The Space
Review, Airclaims Limited, London, 1998, and Florida Today Space Online.}

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Country

Vehicle

1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998

France Ariane
6
United
Atlas
1
States
Delta
11
Titan
5
Athenaa
1
Pegasus
——
Taurus
Space Shuttle
6
China
Long March
5
Japan
"N" and "H"
3
Vehicle
1
Israel
Shavit
Cosmos
Russia
10
Proton
11
Soyuz
32
SL-18/SL-20 ——
(Start)
2
SL-16Zenit
a

8
2

7
5

7
5

8
5

11
11

11
7

24
10

12
8

5
2

11

3
5
2
3
1
7
5
2

3
4
2
2
0
7
3
1

15
4
2
5
0
7
6
1

16
8

13

9
1
8
5
3

2
5
6
2

0
0
12
2
1

0
1
9
9
1

0

3

2
——
6
1
1

0
——
8
4
1

7
2
1
2
——
7
1
0

0
12
9
24
——

0
7
8
24
——

0
6
6
17
1

0

1

5
13
15
0

5
7
12
1

0
3
8
9
0

1

3

2

4

1

1

3

5
3
6

Originally the Lockheed launch vehicle (LLV) series.

5.2 Expendable Launch Vehicle Design
The design and fabrication of the outer structure for expendable launch systems is relatively straightforward. Most of the complexity and cost resides in the
propulsion engines and the avionics—that is why these are always mentioned to
be recovered first when considering launch systems. It should be noted that for expendable launch vehicles, the tanks are usually designed to give structural rigidity
(when pressurized and containing propellant) to the outer skin of the vehicle.
Example 5.1 Atlas Expendable Launch Vehicle Fabrication
and Production
The Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) Atlas series of launch vehicles is primarily manufactured at three U.S. facilities (Fig. 5.2).2'3 Each site focuses
on operations of fabrication, assembly, processing, testing, and launch best suited
to their capabilities and is supported by a team of international subsystem and component suppliers. As shown in Fig. 5.2, fabrication takes place at three facilities:
NISE-West (Naval In-Service Engineering West Facility, San Diego, California
[formerly Air Force Plant 19]), the Final Assembly Building (FAB) and Vertical
Test Facility (VTF) in Denver, Colorado; and Harlingen, Texas.
Tanks for the Atlas Centaur and sustainer stages are manufactured at NISEWest. Beginning life as 32-in. rolls of thin, corrosion-resistant steel, the Atlas and
Centaur stages are fabricated by first welding the stainless steel into 10-ft-diam

SPACE TRANSPORTATION

232

Production Operations
Lockheed Martin Astronautics

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Denver, Colorado
—— • Final Assembly Bldg (Final Assembly)
• Vertical Test Facility (Fixed Foam)
San Diego, California
—— • NISE-West (Tank Construction)

—— Harlingen, Texas
• Manufacturing (Structural Components)

Fig. 5.2

Lockheed Martin's Atlas production organization (overview).3

rings. These rings are stacked, stove pipe fashion, and welded end-to-end to the
required tank lengths. The thickness of the stainless steel varies from 0.046 inch
near the bottom of the stage to 0.015 at the top of Centaur. After fabrication,
extremely thin-shelled ELY propellant tanks such as these have to be pumped up
and sealed with an inert gas like nitrogen to avoid deformation or outright buckling
of the tank wall during shipping and handling. (The 1990s evolved ELV version
of Atlas has been redesigned with an aluminum, structurally stable tank having
an isogrid-pattern internal wall providing some measure of structural rigidity. The
new Atlas III and evolved ELV design was adopted because stable-wall tanks are
more compatible with the common core concept.) Following tank fabrication, the
Atlas and Centaur tanks are shipped to FAB/VTF in Denver for final assembly
and installation to the vehicle. A fixed-foam application cell within the existing
VTF applies fixed foam to the Centaur. As with the booster, the Centaur then is
assembled, tested, and prepared for shipment with the booster to the launch site.
The sustainer stage engines and booster thrust section are added and final assembly
takes place at the FAB in Denver.
Harlingen, Texas, is the site for manufacturing the payload fairing, spacecraft
adapters, interstage adapter, and thrust section of the booster half-stage. Harlingen
ships its products to Denver or the launch site for final assembly with the specific
launch vehicles. Components for the Atlas and Centaur upper stage are delivered
to the FAB from Harlingen, NISE-West, and various subcontractors. The booster
is assembled, tested, and prepared for shipment to the launch site.
Upon completion of final assembly at the respective facilities, Atlas and Centaur are flown either to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) for east coast
launches or to Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) for west coast launches. At
CCAFS the spacecraft is fueled, prepped, and encapsulated at Astrotech and then
trucked to Launch Complex 36 for placement on the Atlas. The west coast launch
site at VAFB concentrates on final vehicle and system checks before launching
vehicles.

5.3

History Behind Existing ELVs

5.3.1 Atlas Series of Launch Vehicles
Overview. The Atlas series of space launch vehicles evolved from the successful Atlas ICBM, developed in the 1950s as a counter to the Soviet threat. Figure 5.3

233

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EXPENDABLE SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

.2

p2
<

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234

SPACE TRANSPORTATION

traces the evolution of the Atlas family of launch vehicles over the years. In the
early to mid-1960s, Atlas D, E, and F vehicles were operational as ICBMs with
159 vehicles deployed at U.S. missile sites. As Minuteman missiles replaced Atlas
ICBMs in the late 1960s, Atlas vehicles were withdrawn and converted for space
launch. The basic one and a half stage vehicle has changed little over the years
and has been a mainstay in U.S. spaceflight. Atlas has been involved in many
prominent NASA projects but has primarily been (more than 75% of its flights) an
Air Force launch vehicle.
The first of several notable space launch missions performed by an Atlas vehicle was Project SCORE, which was the world's first communications satellite.
Launched in 1958 on a modified Atlas B, this satellite transmitted President Eisenhower's Christmas message. The same year, Atlas was chosen for Project Mercury,
the first U.S. manned space program. On 20 February 1962, after a successful
launch on the man-rated Atlas D, then-Col. John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth. The Atlas space launch vehicle also was involved in early
lunar exploration missions. All three of the unmanned lunar exploration programs
(Ranger, Lunar Orbiter, and Surveyor) used Atlas vehicles. Finally, Mariner probes
to Mars, Venus, and Mercury and the Pioneer probes to Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus
were launched by Atlas Centaur vehicles. The Atlas II series continues to be used
as an ELV for DoD and civil space missions.

Atlas development history.4 The Atlas ICBM project was initiated by Convair, now part of General Dynamics, as project MX-774 for the Air Force in 1945.4
After being cancelled in 1947 for lack of funds, it was reinstated four years later.
The ICBM was scaled down in size in 1955 because of breakthroughs in thermonuclear weapons size and weight and made its first test flight two years later. From
1957 to 1959, research and development efforts produced Atlas A, B, and C versions. A modified Atlas B was used for Project SCORE on one of its 10 successful

tests during 1958 and 1959. Development continued with an improved guidance
system for the Atlas C. The Atlas A, B, and C versions had a total of 23 research
and development flights, which led to the first operational Atlas D in 1959.
The Atlas D could be considered the "granddaddy" of the current operational
system. It was launched 123 times (more than any other version) and was man-rated
for use on the Mercury program. The Atlas D used a cluster of three engines (two
boosters, one sustainer), which compose its one and a half stages, a staging scheme
used on all subsequent Atlas vehicles. Atlas D development split in two directions,
with one branch deriving the E and F ICBMs and the other growing Atlas D as a
space launch vehicle. Atlas D was modified, man-rated, and renamed LV-3B for
the Mercury missions. The 94.5-ft tall vehicle used the same basic Atlas D system
with the addition of a 3000 Ib manned Mercury capsule on top. Unlike Project
SCORE in which the empty tank and sustainer section also achieved orbit, the
Mercury pay loads were separated to fly independently. Seven of the 10 Mercury
flights were successful, including all four manned missions.
As needed, additional Atlas Ds were converted to Atlas LV-3As or LV-3Cs by
modifying vehicle structure and subsystems for each mission to be flown. This led
to a successful set of launch vehicles and upper stages (LV-3A used Agena, and
LV-3C used Centaur). The LV-3a was involved heavily in the Ranger and Mariner
programs; it made 43 successful launches in 53 attempts. The LV-3A was first

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EXPENDABLE SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

235

launched in 1958 for Project SCORE and was last used in July 1965. The LV-3C's
11 successes in 12 attempts consisted of research and development flights for the
Centaur and the Surveyor lunar landers.
Unfortunately, the mission tailoring that was required to convert Atlas missiles
to space launch vehicles caused long lead times that detracted from their low
cost. As a result, a contract was awarded to General Dynamics in 1962 to develop
a standardized launch vehicle (SLV). The SLV line began with the SLV-3. This
vehicle, like its predecessor the LV-3A, used primarily Agena upper stages. From
its first launch in August 1964 to its final launch in August 1968, the SLV was
successful in 49 of 51 orbital launch attempts, including all five lunar orbital flights.
In 1965, the Convair Division of General Dynamics won an Air Force contract to improve the performance of its vehicles, and the SLV-3A and -3C were
introduced. Both vehicles had been lengthened to add propellant and increased
engine thrust and had reduced vehicle weight. They used the Rocketdyne MA-5
engine system with a total thrust of 431,300 Ib. As with the previous Atlas vehicles,
these vehicles were considered one and a half stages with two booster engines and
one sustainer engine. All three engines ignited at liftoff, but the booster section was
jettisoned midway through flight, and the sustainer section continued thrusting to
fuel depletion (for SLV-3C) or until guidance-commanded cutoff (for SLV-3A).
The radio-guided SLV-3 A stood 78.7 ft tall (9.75 ft taller than SLC-3) and 118 ft
with an Agena upper stage and payload fairing. It could deliver 8500 Ib of payload
into a 100 n. mile circular orbit with the Agena. The SLV-3 A was used primarily
for classified missions and was successful on 11 of 12 flights through its final
launch in 1978. The SLV-3C was similar to the SLV-3 A but was designed for use
with the Centaur D upper stage. It successfully completed 14 of its 17 missions.
While the Centaur was emerging as an exceptional upper stage, the SLV-3C
evolved into the SLV-3D. Unlike its predecessor, the SLV-3D was integrated electronically with the new Centaur D-1A upper stage. Thus, the Centaur's autopilot
and guidance systems were used to control the launch vehicle, as opposed to earlier vehicles that were guided by radio. Most other systems remained the same
as those in preceding SLVs, including the same engine thrust as the SLV-3C. The
SLV-3D stood 69.5 ft by itself and 131 ft with the Centaur and payload fairing.
All 32 SLV-3D launches used the Centaur D-l As; its thirtieth success took place
on the last launch in May 1983.
As the Atlas was progressing as a space launch vehicle, it was also developing
as an ICBM. Atlas Es and Fs were being developed along with Atlas Ds and U.S.
ICBMs in the late 1950s. The Atlas E and F were virtually identical one-and-ahalf stage vehicles that used General Electric's radio tracking system (GERTS) for
guidance. A major difference between the E and F vehicles and the SLVs was that
the E and F used a Rocketdyne MA-3 engine system instead of the MA-5. The
Atlas Es and Fs were deployed in U.S. missile silos for much of the 1960s until
they were replaced by the Minuteman in 1965. The Atlas F then was used primarily
for the advanced ballistic reentry system (ABRES) program from 1965 to 1974.
By the late 1970s, the remaining Atlas Es and Fs were converted for space launch.
In January 1967, launch responsibility for Atlas Es and Fs was returned to General
Dynamics by the Air Force. Since that time, 78 of 85 flights have been successful.
The Atlas Es and Fs could place 1750 Ib into polar LEO with no upper stage.
In 1981, the Canoga Overhaul Program (COP) was started because of Atlas E

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236

SPACE TRANSPORTATION

propulsion system failures. The program involved a complete overhaul and re-hotfiring of Atlas MA-3 engines. All COP engines either performed satisfactorily or
were installed on the seven remaining Atlas Es used for the Defense Meteorolgical
Satellite Program (DMSP), Space Test Program (STP), and National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) space launches.
Two vehicles emerged from the SLV-3D: the Atlas G and Atlas H. The Atlas H
used most of the basic SLV systems but employed the GERTS guidance and avionics of the Atlas E. The MA-5 engines used LO2/RP-1 propellants and provided
more than 439,000 Ib of thrust: 377,500 Ib with two booster engines, 60,500 Ib
with a sustainer, and 1338 Ib with two verniers. In place of the Centaur, the Atlas
H used a solid propellant kick motor as a second stage to propel up to 4400 Ib into
polar LEO. The Atlas H was successful on all five of its launches; the last launch
occurred in 1987, and there are no plans for future Atlas H launches.
The Atlas G is a stretched version (72.7 ft) tall of its predecessor, the SLV-3D.
Its MA-3 engine provides over 7500 Ib more thrust than the SLV-3D's MA-5. All
three engines are gimbaled to allow thrust vector control. The Atlas G was designed
for use with the Centaur D-1A upper stage, including use of the Centaur guidance
system. The Atlas G-Centaur combination stands 137 ft tall and is capable of
delivering 5200 Ib to GTO.
As a result of an unprecedented string of U.S. launch vehicle failures and a related decision to remove commercial payloads from the shuttle manifest, General
Dynamics decided in 1987 to develop and build 18 Atlas-Centaurs (designated
Atlas I) for commercial sale without having firm contracts for their purchase. Two
new metal payload fairings were introduced with 11-ft and 14-ft diameters. This
in-house production plan would enable General Dynamics to have a commercial
vehicle on the market by early 1990. In May 1988, the Air Force chose General
Dynamics to develop the Atlas II for launch of the defense satellite communications system (DSCS) payloads. Subsequently, General Dynamics decided to scale
back the Atlas I program to 12 vehicles and use the excess assets for other Atlas
programs. General Dynamics now offers four commercial vehicles: the Atlas I,
Atlas II, and the Atlas IIA and HAS, two enhanced versions. A chronology of the
Atlas launch vehicle family is shown in Fig. 5.3.
The Atlas II is a further growth of the proven Atlas-Centaur family. This configuration was developed in response to a DoD requirement for a medium lift launch
vehicle to boost 10 DSCS satellites and 1 STP payload into orbit. The Atlas booster
had been stretched 9 ft to increase the amount of propellant the booster can carry.
It will employ an improved Rocketdyne engine set, the MA-5A. Booster engines
will incorporate flight-proven thrust chambers and turbomachinery to increase
sea-level thrust to 414,000 Ib. The sustainer engine will not be modified; thus, it
will provide the nominal 60,500 Ib of thrust. Vernier engines will be replaced by
hydrazine roll thruster modules mounted on the interstage adapter. In addition,
the Centaur will be stretched by 3.0 ft but will still use two unmodified Pratt and
Whitney RL-10 engines. Burning LO2/LH2, these engines provide a total thrust
of 33,000 Ib. Finally the fiberglass honeycomb insulation panels for the Centaur
will be replaced with polyvinyl chloride fixed foam insulation panels. The baseline
Atlas II will use the 11-ft-diam payload fairing of the Atlas I. This configuration
will be capable of placing 6100 Ib into GTO. The 14-ft payload fairing can also
be used but reduces capability to 5900 Ib to GTO.

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EXPENDABLE SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

237

In the 1990s, new configurations of the Atlas-Centaur family were designated
as Atlas IIA and IIAS. These vehicles were further modifications of the Atlas II,
incorporating an upgraded RL-10 engine. The new RL-10 provided 20,250 Ib of
thrust and incorporated extendable nozzles to provide 6.5 s added specific impulse.
The Atlas IIAS also added four Thiokol Castor IVA SRMs to the booster stage.
Each SRM provided an average thrust of approximately 97,500 Ib.
As of 1998, the Atlas is evolving from the IIAR/IIARS family (the R meaning
reengined) to extend Atlas vehicle performance capability while providing improved producibility and reliability and enabling a competitive decrease in launch
service pricing. The Atlas IIARS is capable of delivering payload systems weights
in the 8900-9400-lb range to GTO. In 1998, the Atlas IIAR was redesignated as the
Atlas IIIA and uses a high-performance RD-180 propulsion system produced by
a U.S.-Russian joint venture composed of Pratt and Whitney (United States) and
NPO Energomash (Russia). The RD-180 engine is a two-thrust chamber adaptation of the Russian RD-170 currently used on the Zenit launch vehicle. The
RD-180 burns liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellant and throttles to various levels
during atmospheric ascent to effectively manage the airloads experienced by the
vehicle, enabling minimum Atlas vehicle and launch site infrastructure changes.
Additionally, throttling results in satellite-experienced flight environments that are
nearly identical to the Atlas IIAS. The Centaur IIIA upper stage is powered by one
Pratt and Whitney RL10A-4-1 turbopump-fed engine burning liquid oxygen and
liquid hydrogen. The Atlas IIIA is capable of delivering 8940 Ib to GTO.
In 1998, the Atlas IIARC (C for cargo) was redesignated the Atlas IIIB. The
main difference between the IIIA and IIIB is that the IIIB upper stage is powered
by two Pratt and Whitney RL1-A-4-2 turbopump-fed engines. The Atlas IIIB is
capable of delivering 9920 Ib to GTO. Next steps in the Atlas growth plan include evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) versions with improved booster
engines, stretched graphite-epoxy solid rocket motors, extended fuel tanks, and
multiengine Centaur or Atlantic Research/Aerojet Agena 2000 storable-propellant
upper stages. The most basic EELV version will place 8575 Ib into LEO or 4060 Ib
into GTO. Its larger medium lift cousin will put 16,100 Ib in LEO and take 8500 Ib
to GTO. Heavy lift variants, with three of the common cores strapped together under an upper stage, would carry 41,000 Ib to LEO or 13,500 Ib to GTO.6 Whether a
Centaur or Atlantic Research/Aerojet Agena 2000 storable-propellant upper stage
is used depends on the payload and desired orbit. A new launch pad and vertical
integration facilities are being developed at Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 41
by Lockheed Martin Astronautics for its EELV family.
5.3.2 Athena Launch Vehicle
In May 1993, Lockheed announced the internally funded development of a lowcost series of small to medium launch vehicles called the Lockheed launch vehicle
(LLV) (Fig. 5.4). Through combinations of common elements, an incrementally
increasing capability to LEO from 800 kg to 3655 kg was achieved. The concept is a new vehicle that makes use of existing rocket motor designs and other
components to minimize development cost and risk. In the mid-1990s, Lockheed
Martin evolved the Lockheed launch vehicle to become the "Athena" launch vehicle. The principal Athena vehicle building blocks are Thiokol Castor 120 engines,


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