Atlas E/F Launch Vehicle Research and Development Capabilities 660444
WITH THE PHASE OUT of the early inventory of USAF, liquid fueled, long range Atlas ICBMs an enormous amount of equipment resources has been made available for application to the development and furtherance of advanced scientific programs. One such endeavor which actually began three years prior to the phase out of Atlas weapon systems was the USAF/BSD NIKE/Advanced Ballistic Re-Entry Systems (ABRES) program. The ABRES program test objective is to validate, through full scale testing, the theoretical investigations being conducted by governmental and various contractor laboratories toward the understanding of the re-entry physics phenomena. These basic theories once verified may then be applied to either offensive-defensive weapon system development or to the earth or other planetary re-entry technology of U. S. space craft. The Army NIKE re-entry measurement launch program, which also uses Atlas, is conducted by the AF in conjunction with the ABRES program.
Since the initiation of ABRES, numerous other scientific agencies have expressed interest in and are currently flying passenger experiments as prime payloads or as passenger experiments on those boosters having excess payload capacity available. The Atlas boosters, their cost having been long written-off, can be essentially provided for relatively low modification and launch service cost. Certain standard refurbishments have been identified to update and/or recycle components, and modification and installation of individual payload-peculiar requirements have been accomplished. Modification is performed at the Convair, San Diego factory or at the 6595th Aerospace Test Wing/Convair VAFB facilities. Delivery of the “like new” boosters ready for launch is made at any of three recently modified and updated R&D launch sites at the Vandenberge AFB.
The Atlas boosters are currently equipped with all-inertial guidance systems; radio-inertial guidance may easily be installed to replace the all-inertial system with minor hardware changes to the Atlas subsystems. Simplified fabrication and tooling techniques allow removal of thin skins and replacement of heavier tank sections for higher aerodynamic heating (lower trajectories) and/or heavier payloads (8,000- to 36,000-pound) capability.
The Atlas Series E/F boosters are currently programmed and scheduled to boost hypersonic glide vehicles with injection at altitudes of 250,000 feet at over 20,000 fps, to place various payloads into low-altitude circular orbits up to 150 n. mi., or by use of small solid motors and implementing a Hohmann transfer the entire tank with a 2,000-pound payload can be placed into a 300-n. mi. circular orbit This paper will present detailed information on the 136 Series E/F Atlas boosters' availability and launch data availability plus an overview of the ABRES/Atlas program.