Saturn Illustrated Chronology - Part 1

April 1957 through December 1960



In April 1957 the scientific organization directed by Dr. Wernher von Braun began studies which led to Saturn, America's first rocket developed for space investigation. The team at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, hoped to design launch vehicles that could carry 20,000 to 40,000 pound payloads for orbital missions or 6,000 to 12,000 pound payloads for escape missions. High-thrust booster stages were essential.


In December 1957 the von Braun group, then working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), proposed a program to the Department of Defense (DOD).1 At that time the United States was considering an integrated missile and space vehicle development program. Creation of a booster with 1,500,000 pounds of thrust was the aim of the proposed program.
    1. ABMA to DOD, "Proposal: A National Integrated Missile and Space Vehicle Development Program," Dec. 10, 1957.
Proposed clustered booster1 1. Proposed configuration
of a clustered booster.

To secure this much power ABMA first considered clustering four 380,000 pound thrust Rocketdyne E-1 engines. This initial concept was discarded because of the time required to complete development of this type of engine. However, ABMA continued studies to determine if engines already developed could be used.



On August 15, 1958, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) formally initiated what was to become the Saturn project. The agency, a separately organized research and development arm of the Department of Defense, authorized ABMA to conduct a research and development program at Redstone Arsenal for a 1,500,000 pound thrust vehicle booster. A number of available rocket engines would be clustered. This design would be tested by a full-scale static firing by the end of 1959.2
    2. ARPA, ARPA Order 14-59, Aug. 15, 1958, p. 1.
Thor-Jupiter engine2 2. Thor-Jupiter engine.
3. Booster tooling.

The liquid oxygen (LOX) and fuel tanks developed for the Redstone and Jupiter missiles could be modified for use in the proposed booster. An existing engine, the S-3D, used on both the Thor and Jupiter missiles, could be modified to produce an increased thrust of 188,000 pounds. Numerous tools and fixtures developed for the Redstone and Jupiter program could also be used with comparatively little modification. Thus it was possible to begin booster development with hardware of proven reliability. Time for design and development of some important booster components and tooling could be significantly shortened and cost reduced.


As an immediate step a contract was awarded Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation on September 11, 1958, to uprate S-3D, the Thor-Jupiter engine. After redesign, simplification, and modification, the engine would be the H-1. 
Booster tooling3


In October 1958 ARPA expanded its program objectives. A multistage carrier vehicle capable of performing advanced space missions would be built. The vehicle was tentatively identified as Juno V. ARPA requested Redstone personnel to study a complete vehicle system so that upper-stage selection and development could begin, and initiated a study of Atlantic Missile Range (AMR) launch facilities which could accommodate the launch vehicle.3 Later, on December 11, 1958, ARPA authorized the Army Ordnance Missile Command (AOMC) to begin design, modification, and construction of a captive static test tower and facilities for use in the booster development program. AOMC was also to determine the design requirements for necessary launch facilities.4
    3. AOMC, Quarterly Progress Report on ARPA Orders 14-59 and 47-59: for First Quarter CY 1959, Apr. 7, 1959.
    4. ARPA, ARPA Order 47-59, Dec. 11, 1958.
Early H-1 engine4
Launch Complex 345 4. Early H-1 Engine
5. Preliminary concept of
Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral


While the booster-vehicle program was being formulated and expanded, development work on the H-1 engine continued. The first full-power H-1 engine firing occurred in December 1958 at the Rocketdyne facility in Canoga Park, California.



Concurrently with development of the H-1 engine, studies were conducted pertaining to the feasibility of a larger single-chamber rocket engine. On January 9, 1959, Rocketdyne agreed by contract to design , develop, and test such an engine, designated as the F-1. This engine, burning LOX and RP-1, a kerosene-type fuel, would generate a very high thrust, approximately 1,500,000 pounds.

Construction of the ABMA static test stand for large boosters began January 10, 1959. Meanwhile, Army representatives of the ARPA board visited AMR to discuss selection of a site for large vehicle launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida. By February 1959, a contract had been awarded for construction of the blockhouse at the site (Launch Complex 34). A design contract was also awarded for a movable structure which would be used to assemble and service the vehicle on the launch pedestal.


On February 3 an ARPA memorandum officially renamed the large launch vehicle project Saturn. ARPA representatives presented the proposed National Vehicle Program to the President and the National Aeronautics and Space Council on March 2, 1959. Included were the proposed Saturn B and C vehicle systems.5
    5. U.S. Congress, House, Comm. on Science and Astronautics, Hearing on H. R. 9675, 86th Cong., 2nd Sess., Washington, GPO, 1960, testimony of Mr. Roy W. Johnson.
6Saturn BSaturn C7
6. Saturn B
7. Saturn C


On March 13 ABMA submitted to ARPA the results of the Saturn System Study. This study indicated that either an Atlas or a Titan could be used as the second stage of the proposed vehicle.6 During May ARPA decided that modified Titan hardware could be used for the second stage and that the third stage could use a slightly modified Centaur vehicle.
    6. MSFC, Project Saturn: Development and Funding Plan FY 1961, July 1, 1960, p. 2. Hereafter cited as MSFC, Saturn D&F Plan FY 61.


By April 28 the first production H-1 engine (H-1001) had been delivered on schedule to ABMA. ABMA's first firing test of this engine, later used in the first test booster, was performed successfully on May 26, 1959.7
    7. Eugene M. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics: An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space: 1959-1960 (Washington: NASA HHR-3, 1961), p. 109. Hereafter cited as Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1915-1960.


On July 5, 1959, construction of the Saturn blockhouse for Launch Complex 34 began at Cape Canaveral. On July 27 when the last Jupiter airframe was completed, Redstone Arsenal shops began retooling to support the Saturn project.

Late in July the Director of Defense Research and Engineering notified the Air Force and ARPA to consider common development of the Saturn second stage and the booster for the proposed Dyna Soar; requirements for these stages appeared to be similar. Until review of this , neither agency was to make a firm commitment for the redesign of existing boosters or development of new ones. ARPA then ordered cessation of the AOMC in-house and contractor work relating to the Titan second stage. An exception was made of some preliminary work not directly connected with the stage diameter.8

    8. AOMC, Semiannual Technical Summary Report on ARPA Orders 14-59 and 47-59 from 1 July-31 December 1959, Feb. 15, 1960, p. 2.
Titan and Atlas stages8

8. Vehicles using Titan and
Atlas stages
9. Atlas Centaur vehicle
(Centaur second stage)
showing a; Atlas stage,
b; second stage, c; payload,
d; electronic and guidance
package, e; liquid hydrogen
tank, f; LOX tank, and h;
RP-1 tank


Work continued on the Saturn booster stage. While studies of the proposed Saturn-Dyna Soar combination were in progress, ARPA, on August 1, authorized ABMA to proceed toward captive firing the Saturn booster early in 1960.


In September representatives of AOMC, NASA, and the Air Force presented Saturn, Nova, and Titan C systems to the Booster Evaluation Committee of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. On the basis of these presentations ARPA chose Saturn. ARPA then requested that Redstone scientists determine the Saturn configurations which could best carry NASA payloads.
Atlas Centaur vehicle9


During October 1959 consideration of Saturn vehicle configurations continued. On October 29 and 30 ABMA presented a second Saturn System Study to ARPA and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), proposing various upper-stage configurations which offered increased payload capability and growth potential. In December 1959, after evaluation of previous presentations, NASA and ARPA requested that AOMC prepare an engineering study for a three-stage Saturn configuration.

Because of its large size and weight, the Saturn booster could not be transported by air or land. Water transportation appeared most feasible, and ARPA, on October 23, 1959, authorized AOMC to proceed with engineering work for dock facilities. These would be located on the Tennessee River at the southern boundary of Redstone Arsenal. In December AOMC was further authorized to construct the facilities and to build a barge to transport the booster to Cape Canaveral.

H-1 engine checkout10
Model of blockhouse at LC3411 10. H-1 engine in alignment
11. Model of blockhouse at
Launch Complex 34


On November 18 NASA assumed technical direction of the Saturn project pending its formal transfer from ARPA. Administrative direction was retained by ARPA until March 16, 1960, when transfer of both administrative and technical direction would become effective.


On December 15 the Saturn Vehicle Evaluation Committee (the Silverstein Committee) reached a decision on Saturn upper-stage configurations. This committee, composed of representatives from NASA, ARPA, DOD, and the Air Force, recommended a long-range development program for a Saturn vehicle with upper-stage engines burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The initial vehicle, identified as C-1, was to be a stepping stone to a larger vehicle, the C-2. A building-block concept was proposed that would yield a variety of Saturn configurations, each using previously proven developments as far as possible. These recommendations were accepted by the NASA Administrator. On December 31, 1959, a ten-vehicle program was established.9
    9. MSFC, Saturn D&F Plan FY 61, p. 2.
12C-1 and earlier vehiclesProposed C-213 12. C-1 and earlier vehicles:
a. Redstone, b. Jupiter-C,
c. Mercury Redstone, d.
Jupiter, e. Juno II, and f.
Saturn C-1
13. Proposed C-2

The C-1 vehicle configuration included the S-I, the S-IV, and the S-V stages. The S-I stage would have eight H-1 engines. Fueled by LOX/RP-1, the engines clustered were expected to produce a total of 1,500,000 pounds of thrust. The S-IV stage was conceived of as a four-engine liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen fueled unit capable of producing a total of 80,000 pounds of thrust. The S-V stage would use two of the same engines as the S-IV stage and this stage would provide an additional 40,000 pounds of thrust.



The Saturn project was approved on January 18, 1960, as a program of the highest national priority (DX rating).
Booster stage (S-I)14 14. Booster stage (S-I)
15. Second stage (S-IV)


To develop the second stage of Saturn C-1, NASA sought a contractor. A bidder's conference concerning this S-IV stage was held at Huntsville, January 26 and 27, 1960. By February 29 twelve companies had submitted contract proposals.

Redstone Arsenal scientists started to work on the first stage. By 1960 the formal test program to prove out the clustered booster concept was well under way. A mockup of the Saturn booster was installed in the ABMA test stand on January 4, 1960, to check mating of the booster and stand and to test servicing methods. This mockup was removed from the test stand and the complete test booster, SA-T, was installed in its place during February 1960.

Second stage (S-IV)15
Moving Saturn test booster17 Third stage (S-IV)16

16. Third stage (S-V)
17. Moving Saturn test booster
from assembly to test
18. Booster in test stand


During March the executive order transferring the Saturn program to NASA became effective.10 Later in the month two of Saturn's eight first stage engines passed an initial static firing test of approximately eight seconds' duration. This test was identified as number SAT-01, the first live firing of the Saturn test booster (SA-T). It occurred on March 28.11 In a second test (SAT-02), on April 6, four engines were successfully static fired for seven seconds. All eight engines of the test booster were successfully fired on April 29 in an eight-second test.12
    10. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Exec. Order 10870, Mar. 15, 1960.
    11. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1915-1960, p. 121.
    12. David S. Akens, MSFC Historian, Historical Origins of Marshall Space Flight Center, Dec. 1960, p. 63.
Meanwhile, NASA reviewed the S-IV proposals received in February. On April 26 NASA awarded Douglas Aircraft Company a contract to develop and build the second stage.
Booster in test stand18


On May 17 a second eight-engine static firing of 24 seconds' duration generated a thrust of 1.3 million pounds. The third successful eight-engine firing lasted 35 seconds.13
    13. ABMA Historical Office, History of Army Ballistic Missile Agency: 1 January-30 June 1960.
During May NASA announced that Rocketdyne had been selected to develop the high-thrust J-2 engine. This engine, of the type defined by the Silverstein Committee in December 1959, would burn liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen. It would be used in an advanced Saturn vehicle.

The first ten Saturn flight vehicles would be numbered from SA-1 to SA-10. SA-10 would be the prototype of the operational Saturn.

On May 26, 1960, assembly of the booster stage for the first Saturn flight vehicle began in Huntsville.

Booster static firing19


On July 1, 1960, the Saturn program was formally transferred to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).14 A second series of static tests had just been successfully completed on the first stage of Saturn C-1.
    14. Morton J. Stoller, Asst. Dir. for Satellite and Sounding Rocket Programs, NASA, "The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Space Flight Program," Sept. 12, 1960, pp. 4-5.
On July 26 NASA signed a supplemental agreement with Douglas Aircraft Company covering the second stage. Douglas would design, develop, and fabricate the four-engine S-IV stage.
19. Booster static firing
20. Model of J-2 engine

Model of J-2 engine20

Assembly of main LOX tank21 21. Assembly of main LOX
tank for SA-1 booster

Assembly of tanks on SA-122
22. Assembly of tanks on
SA-1 booster

Structural fabrication of SA-123
23. Structural fabrication of
SA-1 booster

Installation of engines on SA-124
24. Installation of engines
on SA-1 booster
25. Initial configuration of
the S-IV stage


Contracts were also let on August 10, 1960, with Pratt & Whitney to develop and produce LR-119 engines; the Government would furnish these engines to the contractors responsible for building the S-IV and S-V stages of the C-1 vehicle. The LR-119, an uprated LR-115 engine, was expected to generate 17,500 pounds of thrust.

On August 14, 1960, construction began on the movable service structure for Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral.

S-IV stage configuration25
On August 15 the Air Force requested NASA assistance in planning the application of Saturn to Dyna Soar. After conferring with the Air Force, MSFC agreed on October 6 to provide a preliminary study.
Construction of Launch Complex 3426 26. Construction of service
tower and pedestal
27. Unveiling bust of
General George C. Marshall
28. Dr. von Braun and
President Eisenhower


On September 8 the facilities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Huntsville, Alabama, were dedicated and designated as the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. President Eisenhower, Mrs. George C. Marshall, NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan, and many other national, state, and local dignitaries participated in the ceremony.


On October 21 NASA awarded to Convair a study contract for a second upper stage, the S-V. On October 25 NASA selected Convair, General Electric, and Martin to conduct individual feasibility studies of an advanced manned spacecraft as part of Project Apollo.15
    15. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics: 1915-1960, p. 129.
Ceremony at MSFC27

von Braun and President Eisenhower28


MSFC started a new series of static firing tests of the test booster (modified to the SA-1 flight configuration and designated SA-T1) on December 2, 1960. An eight-engine test lasting two seconds was first. The next week a test of two engines was conducted in a six-second firing. The series of booster tests was successfully concluded on December 20, 1960, by a 60-second firing of all eight engines. Fabrication of the tanks for the booster stage of the second Saturn flight vehicle (SA-2) was completed during December. Assembly of the booster began immediately.
Mr. Glennan, President Eisenhower and von Braun29

29. Mr. Glennan, President
Eisenhower, and Dr. von

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