Encyclopedia Astronautica
Atlas Able



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Atlas Able
Atlas Able - 1959-11-26
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Atlas D Able
Credit: © Thomas Kladiva - Thomas Kladiva
American orbital launch vehicle. Atlas with upper stage based on Vanguard second stage.

Six additional Able stages were delivered in parallel with the first production contract for the Thor-Able, and these were modified for use on Atlas, but this was not a good match, and only five were flown. There were problems with the main missile structure while passing through the regime of maximum dynamic pressure, and damage to the second stage during separation.

Payload: 170 kg (370 lb) to a translunar trajectory. Failures: 4. First Fail Date: 1959-11-26. Last Fail Date: 1960-12-15 in 1985 dollars. Flyaway Unit Cost $: 18.810 million.

Stage Data - Atlas Able

  • Stage 0. 1 x Atlas MA-2. Gross Mass: 3,050 kg (6,720 lb). Empty Mass: 3,050 kg (6,720 lb). Thrust (vac): 1,517.422 kN (341,130 lbf). Isp: 282 sec. Burn time: 135 sec. Isp(sl): 248 sec. Diameter: 4.90 m (16.00 ft). Span: 4.90 m (16.00 ft). Length: 0.0000 m ( ft). Propellants: Lox/Kerosene. No Engines: 2. Engine: XLR-89-5. Status: Out of Production.
  • Stage 1. 1 x Atlas Able. Gross Mass: 114,495 kg (252,418 lb). Empty Mass: 4,200 kg (9,200 lb). Thrust (vac): 363.218 kN (81,655 lbf). Isp: 309 sec. Burn time: 275 sec. Isp(sl): 215 sec. Diameter: 3.05 m (10.00 ft). Span: 4.90 m (16.00 ft). Length: 20.64 m (67.71 ft). Propellants: Lox/Kerosene. No Engines: 1. Engine: XLR-105-5. Status: Out of Production.
  • Stage 2. 1 x Able. Gross Mass: 2,268 kg (5,000 lb). Empty Mass: 816 kg (1,798 lb). Thrust (vac): 34.300 kN (7,711 lbf). Isp: 270 sec. Burn time: 115 sec. Isp(sl): 240 sec. Diameter: 0.84 m (2.75 ft). Span: 0.84 m (2.75 ft). Length: 6.57 m (21.55 ft). Propellants: Nitric acid/UDMH. No Engines: 1. Engine: AJ10-101. Status: Out of Production.
  • Stage 3. 1 x Altair 1. Gross Mass: 238 kg (524 lb). Empty Mass: 30 kg (66 lb). Thrust (vac): 12.450 kN (2,799 lbf). Isp: 256 sec. Burn time: 38 sec. Isp(sl): 233 sec. Diameter: 0.46 m (1.50 ft). Span: 0.46 m (1.50 ft). Length: 1.83 m (6.00 ft). Propellants: Solid. No Engines: 1. Engine: X-248. Status: Out of Production.

Gross mass: 120,051 kg (264,667 lb).
Payload: 170 kg (370 lb).
Height: 35.00 m (114.00 ft).
Diameter: 3.05 m (10.00 ft).
Thrust: 1,587.20 kN (356,817 lbf).
First Launch: 1959.11.26.
Last Launch: 1960.12.15.
Number: 4 .

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • Pioneer P 3 American lunar orbiter. 4 launches, 1959.11.26 (Pioneer (P 3)) to 1960.12.15 (Pioneer (P 31)). The least successful lunar spacecraft; none even achieved orbit in four attempts. More...

Associated Engines
  • AJ10-101 Aerojet Nitric acid/UDMH rocket engine. 34.3 kN. Isp=270s. Derivative of Vanguard second stage for use with Thor IRBM to produce satellite launch vehicle. First tests February 21, 1958. Flown through 1960. More...
  • X-248 Thiokol solid rocket engine. 12.4 kN. Isp=256s. Used on Atlas Able, Blue Scout 2, Caleb, Delta, Delta A, Delta B, Delta C. First flight 1959. More...
  • XLR105-5 Rocketdyne Lox/Kerosene rocket engine. 363.2 kN. Atlas D. Atlas Sustainer. Gas generator, pump-fed. Shared turbopumps for booster engines. Isp=309s. First flight 1958. More...
  • XLR89-5 Rocketdyne Lox/Kerosene rocket engine. 758.7 kN. Atlas D. Designed for booster applications. Gas generator, pump-fed. Shared turbopumps for booster engines. Isp=282s. First flight 1958. More...

See also
  • Atlas The Atlas rocket, originally developed as America's first ICBM, was the basis for most early American space exploration and was that country's most successful medium-lift commercial launch vehicle. It launched America's first astronaut into orbit; the first generations of spy satellites; the first lunar orbiters and landers; the first probes to Venus, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn; and was America's most successful commercial launcher of communications satellites. Its innovative stage-and-a-half and 'balloon tank' design provided the best dry-mass fraction of any launch vehicle ever built. It was retired in 2004 after 576 launches in a 47-year career. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Convair American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Convair, USA. More...

Associated Programs
  • Pioneer The Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pioneer series were the first US probes sent towards the moon. Later Pioneers explored the heliocentric space environment and were the first spacecraft to reach the outer planets and to escape from the solar system. More...

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC14 Atlas launch complex. The complex was built for the Atlas ballistic missile program. Launch sites 11 to 14 were accepted between August 1957 and mid-April 1958. After its final Atlas missile launch, Complex 14 was converted into an Atlas /Agena launch complex, and later turned over to NASA. Complex 14 supported 32 Atlas and Atlas/Agena missions, including four manned Mercury missions and seven unmanned Gemini target vehicle launches. Complexes 11, 12 and 14 were deactivated in 1967. Complex 14 and the gantry on Complex 13 were declared national historic landmarks in April 1984. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC12 Atlas launch complex. The complex was built for the Atlas ballistic missile program. Launch sites 11 to 14 were accepted between August 1957 and mid-April 1958. Complex 12 supported its first Atlas launch on 10 January 1958, and it supported nine Ranger missions and four Mariner missions between 12 August 1961 and 15 June 1967. Complexes 11, 12 and 14 were deactivated in 1967, and Complex 13 was deactivated in April 1978. More...
  • Cape Canaveral LC13 Atlas launch complex. Originally built in 1958 for the Atlas ballistic missile program, Complex 13 supported 51 Atlas and Atlas/Agena launches from 1958 to 1978. More...

Associated Stages
  • Able Nitric acid/UDMH propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 1,884/429 kg. Thrust 34.69 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 270 seconds. Engine for Vanguard was AJ10-37; for later Able models AJ10-41 and AJ10-42. Total of 21 stages built and delivered by Aerojet. More...
  • Altair 1 Solid propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 238/30 kg. Thrust 12.45 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 256 seconds. More...
  • Atlas D Lox/Kerosene propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 113,050/2,347 kg. Thrust 363.22 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 309 seconds. More...
  • Atlas MA-2 Lox/Kerosene propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 3,050/3,050 kg. Thrust 1,517.42 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 282 seconds. More...

Atlas Able Chronology


1956 May 28 - . LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Able.
  • RAND lunar instrument carrier based on the Atlas booster - . Nation: USA. The RAND Corporation issued the first of a series of reports on the feasibility of a lunar instrument carrier, based on the use of an Atlas booster. A braking rocket would decelerate the vehicle before lunar landing, and a penetration spike on the forward point of the instrument package would help to absorb the 500 feet per second impact velocity. Instruments would then transmit information on the lunar surface to earth.

1959 November 26 - . 07:26 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC14. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Able. LV Configuration: Atlas Able 20D / Able-5. FAILURE: Payload shroud failed after 45 sec, broke away prematurely.. Failed Stage: S.
  • Pioneer (P 3) - . Payload: Pioneer P 3 / Able IVB. Mass: 168 kg (370 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Pioneer. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Pioneer P 3. Decay Date: 1959-11-26 . COSPAR: F591126A. Apogee: 1,000 km (600 mi). An intended lunar probe launched from the Atlantic Missile Range by an Atlas-Able booster disintegrated about 45 seconds later when the protective sheath covering the payload detached prematurely. The probe was sponsored by NASA, developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and launched by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division.

1960 February 15 - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC13. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Able. LV Configuration: Atlas D / Able-5. FAILURE: Vehicle exploded in static firing.. Failed Stage: 1.
  • Pioneer (P 31) - . Payload: Pioneer P 31. Nation: USA. Program: Pioneer. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Pioneer P 3. Decay Date: 1960-02-15 . COSPAR: F600215A.

1960 September 25 - . 15:13 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Able. LV Configuration: Atlas Able 80D / Able-5. FAILURE: Second stage exploded.. Failed Stage: 2.
  • Pioneer (P 30) - . Payload: Pioneer P 30 / Able VA. Mass: 175 kg (385 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Pioneer. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Pioneer P 3. Decay Date: 1960-09-25 . COSPAR: F600925A. Apogee: 1,290 km (800 mi). Summary: An attempt to launch a Pioneer satellite into lunar orbit failed when one of the upper stages of the Atlas- Able rocket malfunctioned..

1960 December 15 - . 09:10 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Able. LV Configuration: Atlas Able 91D / Able-5. FAILURE: Atlas exploded 70 seconds after liftoff.. Failed Stage: 1.
  • Pioneer (P 31) - . Payload: Pioneer P 31 / Able VB. Mass: 175 kg (385 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Pioneer. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Pioneer P 3. Decay Date: 1960-12-15 . COSPAR: F601215A. Apogee: 13 km (8 mi). Summary: The final launch in the Pioneer lunar probe program was unsuccessful; the Atlas-Able booster rocket went out of control and exploded at an altitude of 12,200 m off Cape Canaveral..

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