Encyclopedia Astronautica
Saturn C-3



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Saturn C-3
Credit: © Mark Wade
The launch vehicle concept considered for a time as the leading contender for the Earth Orbit Rendezvous approach to an American lunar landing.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Saturn C-3 The launch vehicle concept considered for a time as the leading contender for the Earth Orbit Rendezvous approach to an American lunar landing. More...
  • Saturn C-3B American orbital launch vehicle. Final configurtion of the Saturn C-3 at the time of selection of the Saturn C-5 configuration for the Apollo program in December 1961. More...
  • Saturn C-3BN American nuclear orbital launch vehicle. Version of Saturn C-3 considered with small nuclear thermal stage in place of S-IVB oxygen/hydrogen stage. More...

Saturn C-3 Chronology


1954 October 18 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • Nuclear rocket engine proposed. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. At the suggestion of Theodore von Kármán and following a request of Gen. H. B. Thatcher, an Ad Hoc Committee of the Scientific Advisory Board met in the Pentagon to consider the application of nuclear energy to missile propulsion. In its report, the Committee "noted that there was an almost complete hiatus in the study of the nuclear rocket from 1947 following a report by North American Aviation, until a 1953 report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Because the technical problems appear so severe, and because another 6 years of no progress in this area would seem to be unfortunate," the Committee felt that a continuing study both analytical and experimental, at a modest level of effort, should be carried on.

1955 June 1 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA project begins. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. NACA Lewis Laboratory presented ARDC with results of air-breathing nuclear propulsion systems for manned applications, leading to AEC-AF Pluto project, and also initiated comparison of nuclear rocket with chemical systems for ICBM, a concept of use to Rover program.

1955 November 2 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA go-ahead. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. The Atomic Energy Commission approved, on the basis of a statement of interest by the Department of Defense, the proposed plans of the Los Alamos Scientific and the Radiation Laboratories of the University of California, for the study and development of nuclear power for rocket propulsion.

1957 March 18 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA research cut back. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. As a result of guidance from the Secretary of Defense as to desired level of effort, the Atomic Energy Commission reduced its program on nuclear rocket propulsion to a single laboratory effort, phasing out work at the University of California Radiation Laboratory and concentrating AEC development efforts at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.

1957 June 1 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA advanced concepts studied. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: Research on tungsten nuclear rocket propulsion systems initiated by NACA Lewis Laboratory, and other feasible systems for practical nuclear rocket systems, such as 1958 concept of coaxial jet gaseous reactor, followed..

1959 May 25-26 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn V. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
  • National booster program, Dyna-Soar, and Mercury discussed - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Faget; Low, George. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Mercury. The national booster program, Dyna-Soar, and Project Mercury were discussed by the Research Steering Committee. Members also presented reviews of Center programs related to manned space flight. Maxime A. Faget of STG endorsed lunar exploration as the present goal of the Committee although recognizing the end objective as manned interplanetary travel. George M. Low of NASA Headquarters recommended that the Committee:
    • Adopt the lunar landing mission as its long-range objective.
    • Investigate vehicle staging so that Saturn could be used for manned lunar landings without complete reliance on Nova.
    • Make a study of whether parachute or airport landing techniques should be emphasized.
    • Consider nuclear rocket propulsion possibilities for space flight.
    • Attach importance to research on auxiliary power plants such as hydrogen-oxygen systems.

1959 July 1 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • Kiwi-A first experimental nuclear rocket tested. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: The first experimental reactor (Kiwi-A) in the nuclear space rocket program operated successfully at full temperature and duration at Jackass Flats, Nev..

1959 December 19 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA development roles AEC/NASA. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: The Chairman, AEC, in a letter to the Administrator of NASA, proposed a flight test objective be established for the nuclear rocket program and proposed a technical program and division of agency responsibilities to achieve those objectives..

1960 July 5 - . LV Family: Hawk; Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • House recommends a high priority manned expedition to the moon - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. The House Committee on Science and Astronautics declared: "A high priority program should be undertaken to place a manned expedition on the moon in this decade. A firm plan with this goal in view should be drawn up and submitted to the Congress by NASA. Such a plan, however, should be completely integrated with other goals, to minimize total costs. The modular concept deserves close study. Particular attention should be paid immediately to long lead-time phases of such a program." The Committee also recommended that development of the F-1 engine be expedited in expectation of the Nova launch vehicle, that there be more research on nuclear engines and less conventional engines before freezing the Nova concept, and that the Orion project be turned over to NASA. It was the view of the Committee that "NASA's 10-year program is a good program, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Furthermore the space program is not being pushed with sufficient energy."

1960 July 8 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • Kiwi-A Prime tested at full power. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: Second experimental reactor (Kiwi-A Prime) in the Project Rover nuclear rocket program was successfully tested at full power and duration at Jackass Flats, Nev..

1960 July 14-15 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
  • Space Exploration Program Council - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. The third meeting of the Space Exploration Program Council was held at NASA Headquarters. The question of a speedup of Saturn C-2 production and the possibility of using nuclear upper stages with the Saturn booster were discussed. The Office of Launch Vehicle Programs would plan a study on the merits of using nuclear propulsion for some of NASA's more sophisticated missions. If the study substantiated such a need, the amount of in-house basic research could then be determined.

1960 September 29 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • RAND Corporation to evaluate nuclear propulsion missions - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Seamans. Program: NERVA. In a memorandum to NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Robert L. King, Executive Secretary, described the action taken on certain items discussed at the July 14-15 meeting of the Space Exploration Program Council. Among these actions was the awarding of a contract to The RAND Corporation to evaluate missions for which nuclear propulsion would be desirable. Included in the study would be the determination of availability dates, cost of development, operational costs, the safety aspects of the missions, and an evaluation of research requirements.

1960 October 7 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA test facilities bidder's conference. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. AEC briefing held at the Nevada Test Site at Jackass Flats, Nev., for representatives of 26 companies for proposals to study the requirements for a National Nuclear Rocket Engine Development Facility. Existing test facilities are fully committed to the development of nuclear reactors.

1960 October 19 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • Project Rover request for bids. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: Kiwi-A No. 3 static test of nuclear rocket propulsion was successfully conducted at AEC Nevada test site, resulting in NASA-AEC call for bids for industrial development phase of Project Rover on November 1, 1960..

1961 February 2 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA Request for Proposal. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: NASA-AEC Space Nuclear Propulsion Office invited industry to submit proposals for participation in development of Nerva (nuclear engine for rocket vehicle application), a part of Project Rover initiated in 1955 by USAF-AEC..

1961 June 20 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-3.
  • Donald Heaton had been appointed Chairman of an Ad Hoc Task Group - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. Robert C. Seamans, Jr., NASA Associate Administrator, notified the Directors of Launch Vehicle Program, Space Flight Programs, Advanced Research Programs, and Life Sciences Programs that Donald H. Heaton had been appointed Chairman of an Ad Hoc Task Group. It would establish program plans and supporting resources necessary to accomplish the manned lunar landing mission by the use of rendezvous techniques, using the Saturn C-3 launch vehicle, with a target date of 1967. Guidelines and operating methods were similar to those of the Fleming Committee. Members of the Task Group would be appointed from the Offices of Launch Vehicle Programs, Space Flight Program, Advanced Research Programs, and Life Sciences Programs. The work of the Group (Heaton Committee) would be reviewed weekly. The study was completed during August.

1961 June 22 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
  • First decision on Apollo launch vehicles - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Webb. Program: Apollo. Class: Manned. Type: Manned space station. Spacecraft: Apollo Lunar Landing. Meeting with Webb/Dryden, work on Saturn C-2 stopped; preliminary design of C-3 and continuing studies of larger vehicles for landing missions requested. STG push for 4 x 6.6 m diameter solid cluster first stage rejected for safety and ground handling reasons.

1961 June 23 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn I.
  • NASA / DOD agree to define support requirements - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus. Program: Apollo. NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., requested Kurt H. Debus, Director of the NASA Launch Operations Directorate, and Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis, Commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center, to make a joint analysis of all major factors regarding the launch requirements, methods, and procedures needed in support of an early manned lunar landing. The schedules and early requirements were to be considered in two phases:

    1. in line with the Fleming Report, a direct flight to the moon would be assumed, using the Saturn C-1 and C-3 launch vehicles in early support phases and liquid- or solid-fueled Nova launch vehicles for the lunar landing;
    2. as a possible alternative or parallel program, orbital rendezvous operations using Saturn C-3 and liquid-fueled Nova.
    The analysis should include recommendations on mutual NASA-DOD range responsibilities, authority, management structures, and other allied subjects. On June 30, Seamans notified Debus and Davis that the evaluation of tracking and command stations should not be included in the study. He stressed that the factors of immediate concern with regard to launch operations were those of launch site locations, land acquisition requirements, spacecraft and launch vehicle preparation facilities, vehicle launch facilities, and other facilities and requirements at the launch site. (Phase I of the Report was submitted on July 31.)

1961 June 23 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-2.
  • Saturn C-2 discontinued - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Apollo Lunar Landing. NASA announced that further engineering design work on the Saturn C-2 configuration would be discontinued and that effort instead would be redirected toward clarification of the Saturn C-3 and Nova concepts. Investigations were specifically directed toward determining capabilities of the proposed C-3 configuration in supporting the Apollo mission.

1961 July 6 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3.
  • Manned Lunar Landing Coordination Group - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun; Low, George. Program: Apollo. At NASA Headquarters, the first meeting was held of the Manned Lunar Landing Coordination Group, attended by NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Ira H. Abbott, Don R. Ostrander, Charles H. Roadman, William A. Fleming, DeMarquis D. Wyatt (part-time), and George M. Low (in place of Abe Silverstein). This Headquarters Group, appointed by Seamans, was to coordinate problems that jointly affected several NASA Offices, during the interim period while the manned space flight organization was being formed. Members of the steering group included NASA program directors, with participation by Wernher von Braun of Marshall Space Flight Center, Robert R. Gilruth of STG, and Wyatt and Abraham Hyatt of NASA Headquarters, as required. Fleming acted as Secretary of the Group. A list of decisions and actions required to implement an accelerated lunar landing program was drawn up as a tentative agenda for the next meeting:

    • Begin Nova systems integration studies and develop the general arrangement of second and third stages. The studies should include spacecraft propulsion stages and spacecraft.
    • Begin Saturn C-3 systems integration studies.
    • Begin developing Nova and C-3 first-stage specifications in preparation to letting contracts
    • Continue Launch Operations Directorate-Air Force Missile Test Center studies of Nova and C-3 launch sites at Atlantic Missile Range (AMR).
    • Take steps to bring the contractor aboard as soon as possible for Nova and C-3 launch facility and test stand designs.
    • Accelerate F-1 engine funding to provide adequate production engines for the Nova and C-3.
    • Examine the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) proposal for static test facilities for large vehicle stages with a view toward beginning detailed site examination.
    • Accelerate funding of the J-2 engine to provide acceptance test stands.
    • Determine the necessity for a one-million-pound-thrust liquid- hydrogen - liquid-oxygen engine.
    • Begin design studies on spacecraft propulsion systems and develop specifications. Define management responsibilities.
    • Begin preparations for letting the contract for a spacecraft operations facility at AMR.
    • Determine the relationships and responsibilities of MSFC and STG on guidance and control.

1961 July 31 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn V.
  • NASA-DOD report on launch sites for Apollo - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Seamans. Program: Apollo. Phase I of a joint NASA-DOD report on facilities and resources required at launch sites to support the manned lunar landing program was submitted to Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., by Kurt H. Debus, Director, Launch Operations Directorate, and Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis, Commander of the Air Force Missile Test Center. The report, requested by Seamans on June 23, was based on the use of Nova- class launch vehicles for the manned lunar landing in a direct ascent mode, with the Saturn C-3 in supporting missions. Eight launch sites were considered: Cape Canaveral (on-shore); Cape Canaveral (off- shore); Mayaguana Island (Atlantic Missile Range downrange); Cumberland Island, Ga.; Brownsville, Tex.; White Sands Missile Range, N. Mex.; Christmas Island, Pacific Ocean; and South Point, Hawaii. On the basis of minimum cost and use of existing national resources, and taking into consideration the stringent time schedule, White Sands Missile Range and Cape Canaveral (on-shore) were favored. White Sands presented serious limitations on launch azimuths because of first-stage impact hazards on populated areas.

1961 July - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3.
  • Improved Mercury proposed for lunar landing - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Chamberlin. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Gemini LOR; Apollo Lunar Landing. James A. Chamberlin and James T. Rose of STG proposed adapting the improved Mercury spacecraft to a 35,000-pound payload, including a 5,000-pound "lunar lander." This payload would be launched by a Saturn C-3 in the lunar orbit rendezvous mode. The proposal was in direct competition with the Apollo proposals that favored direct landing on the moon and involved a 150,000-pound payload launched by a Nova-class vehicle with approximately 12 million pounds of thrust.

1961 August 28 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn I; Saturn V.
  • NERVA facilities contract. - . Nation: USA. Program: NERVA. Summary: NASA selected Vitro Engineering Co. for negotiation of a design contract for an engine maintenance and disassembly building, one of the facilities to be a part of the National Nuclear Rocket Development Center..

1961 August - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn V.
  • Heaton Committee recommends earth orbit rendezvous for Apollo mission - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Apollo Lunar Landing. The Ad Hoc Task Group for Study of Manned Lunar Landing by Rendezvous Techniques, Donald H. Heaton, Chairman, reported its conclusions: rendezvous offered the earliest possibility for a successful lunar landing, the proposed Saturn C-4 configuration should offer a higher probability of an earlier successful manned lunar landing than the C-3, the rendezvous technique recommended involved rendezvous and docking in earth orbit of a propulsion unit and a manned spacecraft, the cost of the total program through first lunar landing by rendezvous was significantly less than by direct ascent.

1961 August 31 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3. Launch Vehicle: Saturn C-3.
  • Chamberlain proposes lunar landing by Gemini - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Spacecraft: Gemini. Summary: Landing by Gemini using 4,000 kg wet/680 kg empty lander and Saturn C-3 booster. Landing by January 1966..

1961 September 7 - . LV Family: Saturn C-3; Saturn V.
  • Selection of Saturn first stage assembly plant - . Nation: USA. Program: Apollo. Class: Manned. Type: Manned space station. NASA announced that the government-owned Michoud Ordnance Plant near New Orleans, La., would be the site for fabrication and assembly of the Saturn C-3 first stage as well as larger vehicles. Finalists were two government-owned plants in St. Louis and New Orleans. The height of the factory roof at Michoud meant that an 8 x F-1 engined vehicle could not be built; 4 or 5 engines would have to be the maximum.

1961 November 6 - . LV Family: Nova; Saturn C-3; Saturn V; Titan.
  • Working group on large launch vehicles - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Debus; Holmes, Brainard; Rosen, Milton; Maus; Mrazek. Program: Apollo. In a memorandum to D. Brainerd Holmes, Director, Office of Manned Space Flight (OMSF), Milton W. Rosen, Director of Launch Vehicles and Propulsion, OMSF, described the organization of a working group to recommend to the Director a large launch vehicle program which would meet the requirements of manned space flight and which would have broad and continuing national utility for other NASA and DOD programs. The group would include members from the NASA Office of Launch Vehicles and Propulsion (Rosen, Chairman, Richard B. Canright, Eldon W. Hall, Elliott Mitchell, Norman Rafel, Melvyn Savage, and Adelbert O. Tischler); from the Marshall Space Flight Center (William A. Mrazek, Hans H. Maus, and James B. Bramlet); and from the NASA Office of Spacecraft and Flight Missions (John H. Disher). (David M. Hammock of MSC was later added to the group.) The principal background material to be used by the group would consist of reports of the Large Launch Vehicle Planning Group (Golovin Committee), the Fleming Committee, the Lundin Committee, the Heaton Committee, and the Debus-Davis Committee. Some of the subjects the group would be considering were:

    1. an assessment of the problems involved in orbital rendezvous,
    2. an evaluation of intermediate vehicles (Saturn C-3, C-4, and C-5),
    3. an evaluation of Nova-class vehicles,
    4. an assessment of the future course of large solid-fuel rocket motor development,
    5. an evaluation of the utility of the Titan III for NASA missions, and
    6. an evaluation of the realism of the spacecraft development program (schedules, weights, performances).
    Rosen set November 20 as a target date for a recommended program.

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