Status: Retired 1964. First Launch: 1962-12-19. Last Launch: 1964-12-22. Number: 3 . Gross mass: 5,800 kg (12,700 lb). Height: 12.00 m (39.00 ft). Diameter: 0.79 m (2.59 ft). Apogee: 1,000 km (600 mi).
3 stage vehicle consisting of 1 x Castor + 1 x Antares + 1 x Alcor.
When the high-voltage power supplies were first turned-on, intermittent high-voltage breakdowns occurred, and the beam power supply became inoperative. Post-flight examination of the power supply indicated the high-voltage breakdowns were probably caused by pressure buildup in the primary propulsion unit due to gas vented from the spacecraft batteries. The primary propulsion unit high voltage section was not adequately vented to keep the pressure low enough. Engine thrusting was not accomplished in this test.
The first successful ballistic flight test of a cesium ion contact engine was conducted on a Scout booster launched from Vandenberg. Built by Electro-Optical Systems Corporation under an Air Force contract, the engine was the first of its kind to operate in space. The launch was designed to provide about 30 minutes of flight above an altitude of 370 km. At seven minutes into the flight the engine was operated with ion beam extraction. Full beam current of 94 mA was achieved about 10 minutes later. During the course of engine operation, an electric field strength meter was used to infer payload floating potential relative to space. Spacecraft potential was about 1000 V negative during most of the engine operation with the filament neutralizer. The absolute value of payload potential was about ten times higher than anticipated, and it was suspected that there was inadequate neutralization of the ion beam. The contact ion engine operated for 19 minutes until spacecraft reentry into the atmosphere. In addition to withstanding the environmental rigors of space flight, the ion propulsion system demonstrated electromagnetic compatibility with other spacecraft subsystems and the ability to regulate and control a desired thrust level.
In this test, an additional wire neutralizer was incorporated and was immersed in the ion beam to provide a higher probability of adequate neutralization. The contact ion engine only achieved about 20% of full-thrust before reentry into the atmosphere. The short test time was due to a very short burn of the Scout vehicle's third stage. The high voltage was applied to the engine 7 minutes into the flight when the altitude was 490 km. Engine operation ended after 4 minutes when the altitude was only 80 km.