AKA: Able. Status: Retired 1965. First Launch: 1962-10-02. Last Launch: 1962-10-27. Number: 2 . Thrust: 33.80 kN (7,599 lbf). Gross mass: 2,164 kg (4,770 lb). Unfuelled mass: 694 kg (1,530 lb). Specific impulse: 271 s. Burn time: 115 s. Height: 5.36 m (17.58 ft). Diameter: 0.84 m (2.75 ft). Span: 0.84 m (2.75 ft).
Included in all this were numerous upratings and incremental changes in the thrust chambers, tanks, and complete systems. Derivative programs included Transtage and Apollo SPS, and ultimately, the Shuttle OME. Delta thrust chamber assemblies of a considerably advanced configuration were still being produced by Aerojet well into the 21st Century - a total of over 50 years of continuous activity in this family.
The associated large number of different missions, vehicles, stages, and thrust chamber assemblies, and modifications thereof, has led to a nomenclature problem, and considerable confusion as to program details, relationships, and relative timing. A major example of this is that in the early years the Air Force called the vehicles that they procured "Thor-Able" or "Thor-Ablestar," but, NASA called all their Thor-based vehicles "Delta." No matter what they were called, they were all really Vanguard second stages, either with the original or larger diameter tanks. In those days Able or Ablestar meant Air Force, and Delta meant NASA. However, several years later, the name Delta was also applied to Aerojet's ablative thrust chambers and stages, even though some were procured by the Air Force.
Continuing development of the Vanguard aluminum thrust chamber assembly resulted in selection of this system by the Air Force for use with a Thor booster that was to be used to demonstrate the Atlas guidance system, and to explore nose cone reentry problems. This was called the Able program, and it began in November 1957. Thor was basically a single stage IRBM built by Douglas Aircraft that used essentially the same thrust chamber assembly as Atlas, and reached flight status before Atlas. Space Technology Laboratories (STL), and later the Aerospace Corporation (which was formed from part of STL in 1960), acted as system manager for the Thor-Able program and its Air Force successors. The Able system included the thrust chamber assembly, valves, tanks, pressurizing system, and any additional components to make up a complete second stage. The oxidizer was changed from the WFNA used in Vanguard, to RFNA. The first few Thor-Ables were delivered before the formation of NASA.
The minor modification of the Vanguard aluminum tube thrust chamber to meet the Able requirements was accomplished in the record time of only three months. The major effort during this time was the testing of six aluminum tube thrust chambers for durations longer than the full burn time. This was done to develop confidence that the expected burn-through failure in the throat would occur at least 30% beyond the nominal duration, that it would be repeatable, and that the total impulse would be within specification limits. This was accomplished, and it provided the first opportunity for Aerojet's aluminum tube bundle engine to perform successfully in space.
Cost $ : 1.160 million.