Tag Archives: Two-Stage Rocket

24 July 1950

Bumper 8 launch at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 24 July 1950. The wooden structure in the foreground houses the firing crew and support personnel. (NASA)

24 July 1950: The first rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, took place. Bumper 8 was a two-stage rocket consisting of a captured German V-2 ballistic missile as the first stage and a WAC Corporal sounding rocket as the upper, second, stage. The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 3 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and followed a ballistic trajectory over the Joint Long Range Proving Ground. This was a low-angle atmospheric flight. The WAC Corporal reached an altitude of 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) and traveled 200 miles (322 kilometers) downrange.

The Bumper Project was a U.S. Army Ordnance Corps program, with overall responsibility contracted to the General Electric Corporation. The V-2s used in the Bumper Project were modified at accept the WAC Corporal second stage. Compressed air was used to separate the stages after the V-2 engine was cut off.

The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile weighing 28,000 pounds (12,500 kilograms) when fully loaded. It carried a 2,200 pound (1,000 kilogram) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. Propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as oxidizer.

When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,761 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (322 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,881 kilometers per hour).

The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.

At the end of World War II, many V-2 rockets and components were captured by Allied forces and were brought to the United States for research, along with many of the German engineers, scientists and technicians who had worked on the German rocket program. Others were captured by the Soviet army.

Bumper 8 supported by a gantry at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (U.S. Army)

The WAC Corporal was a liquid-fueled hypergolic rocket. After separation from the first stage, the WAC Corporal was capable of reaching more than 80 miles (129 kilometers). It was designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and built by Douglas Aircraft. The rocket carried small research packages into the upper atmosphere. The two-stage rocket was used to develop launch techniques and to refine the separation of upper stages at very high speed.

Now named the Kennedy Space Center, but known simply as “The Cape,” the location was selected to allow rocket testing to take place over the Atlantic Ocean, minimizing danger to persons and property. As one of the points within the United States closest to the Equator, rockets launched on an eastward trajectory receive additional velocity due to the Earth’s rotation.

Launch Pad 3 at Cape Canaveral, circa 1950. A rocket is on the pad surrounded by the gantry structure. (U.S. Air Force)
Launch Complex 3 at Cape Canaveral, 28 July 1950. The Bumper 7 two-stage rocket is on the pad surrounded by a gantry structure. It was launched the day after this photograph was taken. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 May 1947, 0130 GMT

Hermes II (NASA)

29 May 1947: At 1930 hours, Mountain Daylight Time, a Hermes II two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket was launched from Launch Complex 33 at southern end of the White Sands Proving Grounds, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

White Sands Proving Grounds Gate sign

Earlier in the day, a launch attempt failed when the first stage engine failed to produce thrust. Repairs were made and the second attempt succeeded—sort of. . .

The plan was for the rocket to arc toward the north, heading for the far end of the proving grounds. Instead, the Hermes II arced to the SOUTH.

People standing on the rim of the crater on the night of 29 May 1947. (El Paso Times)

The Range Safety Officer was prevented from sending a DESTRUCT signal when a program scientist physically restrained him. The rocket peaked at 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers), passed over Fort Bliss and El Paso, and after about five minutes of flight, hit the ground about one-half mile from the Buena Vista Airport in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

At impact, the rocket dug a crater 50 feet (15.2 meters) across and 24 feet (7.3 meters) deep. The explosion shook buildings in El Paso and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Fabens, Texas. The rocket barely missed a powder magazine where mining companies were storing dynamite and other explosives.

Fortunately, there were no injuries, and property damage was minor.

Hermes II crater near Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The crater is approximately  50 feet across and 24 feet deep, (White Eagle Aerospace)

Hermes II was the world’s first multi-stage rocket. Developed from the German V-2 rocket (Vergeltungswaffen 2), it was intended to serve as a test bed for ramjet testing. The span of the fins were increased to improve stability. The upper stage had a broad wing the flight tests with the ramjet. (For this launch the ramjet was not operational.)

The Hermes II was 51.50 feet (15.70 meters) tall. The tail fins had a span of 17.75 feet (5.41 meters), and the second stage wing span was 15.26 feet (4.65 meters). The rocket had a gross weight of 31,750 Pounds (14,400 kilograms). The liquid oxygen/alcohol-fueled engine produced 60,000 pounds of thrust (267 kilonewtons).

In 1948, the Hermes II was redesignated RTV-G-3 by the U.S. Army.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 December 1965

Gemini 7, as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7, as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (Thomas P. Stafford/NASA)

15 December 1965: At 13:37:26 UTC, Gemini 6A, with NASA astronauts Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy and Major Thomas P. Stafford, United States Air Force, on board, lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida. During its fourth orbit, Gemini 6A rendezvoused with Gemini 7, carrying Major Frank F. Borman II, USAF, and LCDR James A. Lovell, Jr., USN.

This was the first time that two manned space vehicles had rendezvoused in Earth orbit.

The two spacecraft remained together for 5 hours, 19 minutes before separating to a distance of approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers).

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)

Gemini 7 had been in orbit since 4 December. Gemini 6, then 6A, had been postponed several times before finally launching on 15 December. It would return to Earth the following day, landing in the North Atlantic Ocean. Gemini 7 remained in orbit until 18 December.

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a series of cone-shaped segments forming a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 18 feet, 9.84 inches (5.736 meters) and a maximum diameter of 10 feet, 0.00 inches (3.048 meters) at the base of the equipment section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 6.00 inches (2.347 meters). The Gemini re-entry heat shield was a spherical section with a radius of 12 feet, 0.00 inches (3.658 meters). The weight of the Gemini spacecraft varied from ship to ship. Gemini VII had a gross weight of 8,076.10 pounds (3,663.26 kilograms) at launch. It was shipped from St. Louis to Cape Kennedy in early October 1965.

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin Marietta Corporation SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland, plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program. The GLV-7 first and second stages were shipped from Middle River to Cape Kennedy on 9 October 1965.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 70 feet, 2.31 inches (21.395 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). It was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by Aerozine 50, a hypergolic 51/47/2 blend of hydrazine, unsymetrical-dimethyl hydrazine, and water. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR87-7 produced approximately 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons). It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. Post flight analysis indicated that the first stage engine of GLV-7 had produced an average of 462,433 pounds of thrust (2,057.0 kilonewtons). The second stage was 25 feet, 6.375 inches (7.031 meters) long, with the same diameter, and used an Aerojet LR91 engine which produced approximately 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons), also burning Aerozine 50. GLV-7’s LR91 produced an average of 102,584 pounds of thrust (456.3 kilonewtons).

The Gemini/Titan II GLV-7 combination had a total height of 107 feet, 7.33 inches (32.795 meters) and weighed 346,228 pounds (157,046 kilograms) at ignition.

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 December 1965, 19:30:03.702 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini 7 lifts off from Launch Complex 19, 1430 EST, 4 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini VII/Titan II GLV-7 lifts off from Launch Complex 19, 1430 EST, 4 December 1965. (NASA)

4 December 1965, 19:30:03.702 UTC: At 2:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Gemini VII/Titan II GLV-7 lifted of from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida. On board were Major Frank F. Borman II, United States Air Force, the mission command pilot, and Lieutenant Commander James A. Lovell, Jr., United States Navy, pilot. During the climb to Earth orbit, the maximum acceleration reached was 7.3 Gs.

Gemini VII was placed into Earth orbit at an initial maximum altitude (apogee) of 177.1 nautical miles (327.8 kilometers) and a minimum (perigee) of 87.2 nautical miles (161.5 kilometers), at a velocity of 16,654.1 miles per hour (26,802.2 kilometers per hour), relative to Earth.

This mission was a planned 14-day flight which would involve an orbital rendezvous with another manned spacecraft, Gemini VI-A. The actual total duration of the flight was 330 hours, 35 minutes, 1 second.

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a series of cone-shaped segments forming a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 18 feet, 9.84 inches (5.736 meters) and a maximum diameter of 10 feet, 0.00 inches (3.048 meters) at the base of the equipment section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 6.00 inches (2.347 meters). The Gemini re-entry heat shield was a spherical section with a radius of 12 feet, 0.00 inches (3.658 meters). The weight of the Gemini spacecraft varied from ship to ship. Gemini VII had a gross weight of 8,076.10 pounds (3,663.26 kilograms) at launch. It was shipped from St. Louis to Cape Kennedy in early October 1965.

Gemini 7, photographed in Earth orbit from Gemini 6, December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini VII, photographed in Earth orbit from Gemini VI-A, 15–16 December 1965. (NASA)

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland, plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program. The GLV-7 first and second stages were shipped from Middle River to Cape Kennedy on 9 October 1965.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 70 feet, 2.31 inches (21.395 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). It was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by Aerozine 50, a hypergolic 51/47/2 blend of hydrazine, unsymetrical-dimethyl hydrazine, and water. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR87-7 produced approximately 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons). It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. Post flight analysis indicated that the first stage engine of GLV-7 had produced an average of 462,433 pounds of thrust (2,057.0 kilonewtons). The second stage was 25 feet, 6.375 inches (7.031 meters) long, with the same diameter, and used an Aerojet LR91 engine which produced approximately 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons), also burning Aerozine 50. GLV-7’s LR91 produced an average of 102,584 pounds of thrust (456.3 kilonewtons).

The Gemini/Titan II GLV-7 combination had a total height of 107 feet, 7.33 inches (32.795 meters) and weighed 346,228 pounds (157,046 kilograms) at ignition.

Lieutenant Commander James A. Lovell, Jr., U.S. Navy, and Major Frank F. Borman II, U.S. Air Force, with a scale model of a Gemini spacecraft. (NASA)
Lieutenant Commander James A. Lovell, Jr., U.S. Navy, and Major Frank F. Borman II, U.S. Air Force, with a scale model of a Gemini spacecraft. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 November 1966, 20:46:33.419 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 2:21:04 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)
Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 3:46:33 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)

11 November 1966: Gemini 12 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 3:36.33.419 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. NASA Astronauts James A Lovell, Jr., and Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, Jr. were the crew. This was the second space flight for Lovell, who had previously flown on Gemini VII, and would later serve as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and Mission Commander on Apollo 13. It was Aldrin’s first space flight. He would later be the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 11, and was the second human to set foot of the surface of the Moon.

The Gemini 12 mission was to rendezvous and docking with an Agena Target Vehicle, which had been launched from Launch Complex 14, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 34.731 seconds earlier by an Atlas Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), and placed in a nearly circular orbit with a perigee of 163 nautical miles (187.6 statute miles/301.9 kilometers) and apogee of 156 nautical miles (179.5 statute miles/288.9 kilometers).

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship, but Spacecraft 12 weighed 8,296.47 pounds (3,763.22 kilograms) at liftoff.

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons).¹ It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons).²

The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.³

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing in the open hatch of Gemini XII in Earth orbit. (NASA)

Gemini XII was the tenth and last flight of the Gemini program. The purpose of this mission was to test rendezvous and docking with an orbiting Agena Target Docking Vehicle and to test extravehicular activity (“EVA,” or “space walk”) procedures. Both of these were crucial parts of the upcoming Apollo program and previous problems would have to be resolved before the manned space flight projects could move to the next phase. Buzz Aldrin had made a special study of EVA factors, and his three “space walks,” totaling 5 hours, 30 minutes, were highly successful. The rendezvous and docking was flown manually because of a computer problem, but was successful. In addition to these primary objectives, a number of scientific experiments were performed by the two astronauts.

Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)
Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)

Gemini XII reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just 3.8 nautical miles ( statute miles/ kilometers) from the planned target point. Lovell and Aldrin were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3A helicopter and transported to the primary recovery ship, USS Wasp (CVS-18). Total duration of the flight was 3 days, 22 hours, 34 minutes, 31 seconds.

Gemini XII astronauts Major Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., USAF, and Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, arrive aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18), 15 November 1966. (Bettman/Corbis)
Gemini XII astronauts Major Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., USAF, and Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, arrive aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18), 15 November 1966. (Bettman/Corbis)

¹ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s first stage as 458,905 pounds of thrust (2,041.31 kilonewtons)

² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s second stage as 99,296 pounds of thrust (441.69 kilonewtons)

³ Gemini XII/Titan II GLV (GLV-12) weighed 345,710 pounds (156,811 kilograms) at Stage I ignition.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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