King Of Gods: The Jupiter Missile Story

King Of Gods: The Jupiter Missile Story

Of the four “first generation” long-range U.S. ballistic missile systems – Atlas, Jupiter, Thor, and Titan – only Jupiter failed to live on, in some form, into the 21st Century. As a missile, Jupiter was shortest-lived and least-deployed.

As an orbital launch vehicle, renamed Juno II when a cluster of upper stage motors were added, it orbited only four satellites and garnered notoriety as the object of one of NASA’s first “blue ribbon” failure investigations. By the end, NASA managers, and even personnel working on the Juno II program, were relieved to shut it down.

The stubby missile was an orphan, develop by the U.S. Army for the U.S. Navy, which dropped it, and ultimately deployed by a reluctant U.S. Air Force. Jupiter struggled to win approval and was on the verge of cancelation at least once.

Its deployment was delayed, scaled back, implemented, and then suddenly withdrawn as part of a deal between Robert Kennedy and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that helped end the Cuban Missile Crises.

Though overlooked today, without Jupiter there would have been no Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), no Explorer I, no Saturn launch vehicle, and no Marshall Space Flight Center.

Without Jupiter, U.S. astronauts would not have walked on the Moon in 1969.


KING OF GODS:  The Jupiter Missile Story

For its Redstone Arsenal developers, the Jupiter intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) was an essential bridge between the V-2 based Redstone missile and the 680 tonne-force (1.5 million pound) thrust cluster-engine Saturn I. Jupiter was why ABMA was created and why the Army missile team was ready and able, when the call finally came, to orbit Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite.

Jupiter performed the first successful IRBM range test flight, launched a triplet of famous monkeys, Gordo, Able and Baker, on early suborbital test flights for NASA, and was deployed for several years at the height of the Cold War as an active missile system in Italy and Turkey.

The Turkish deployment in particular played a role in the Cuban Missile Crises when Robert Kennedy offered to withdraw the missiles – Turkey shared a border with the U.S.S.R. – in return for a Soviet withdraw of its missiles from Cuba.

Jupiter was quickly converted into an early satellite launcher named Juno II, which, despite suffering more failures than desired, succeeded in launching the first U.S. satellite to escape Earth’s gravity and orbit the sun.

Also read: The Super Heavy Fight

AM-5s.jpg (13871 bytes)Missile AM-5 Flew First Tactical Nose Cone

KING OF GODS:  The Jupiter Missile Story

When Wernher von Braun’s ABMA missile team needed to test its Jupiter nose cone ablative heat shield, it added a Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) upper stage cluster of solid rocket motors to a stretched Redstone rocket to create “Jupiter-C” (Jupiter Composite Test Vehicle).

With two upper stages, Jupiter-C flew farther and faster than any previous rocket on September 20, 1956, and successfully tested the nose cone heat shielding technique on two occasions in 1957. When the time came, a carefully stored backup Jupiter-C was quickly readied to orbit Explorer I, which it did on February 1, 1958 (GMT date).

The satellite success cemented ABMA’s reputation. The team won funding to develop a “Super Jupiter” (later named Juno V, then Saturn). Saturn development was hastened by use of Jupiter structures, propulsion, guidance, ground test systems, contractors, and personnel. Saturn’s rapid progress led to ABMA’s inclusion in the newly created NASA.

As the head of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center, Wernher von Braun was able to authoritatively tell President Kennedy, when the President asked, that a Moon landing was possible before 1970. His group superbly led development of Saturn V, the massive rocket that launched humans to the Moon.

Also read: Epsilon – Space Launch Report

IRBM Battle

KING OF GODS:  The Jupiter Missile Story

After developing the U.S. Army Redstone ballistic missile, the Army’s Guided Missile Development Division (GMDD) of the Ordnance Missile Laboratories, at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, turned its attention to longer range missiles.

Initial thought was given to improving the existing Redstone, by replacing its alcohol/LOX engine with North American Aviation Rocketdyne Division’s 54.43 tonne-force (120,000 pound) thrust alcohol/LOX engine, developed for the U.S. Air Force Navaho “pilotless bomber”, and by adding a second stage. This would be a 1,852 km (1,000 nautical mile) range missile.

jupfams.jpg (13614 bytes)Comparison of ABMA’s Redstone and Jupiter Missiles

By early 1955, prompted by shifting Pentagon planning resulting from warhead weight reduction and progress in the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development program, the Army team was proposing a missile able to propel a 907 kg (2,000 pound) warhead payload 2,778 km (1,500 nautical miles).

The missile would use Rocketdyne’s innovative 61.24 tonne-force (135,000 pound) thrust kerosene/LOX engine being developed for the second generation intercontinental-range Navaho missile. The engine was soon uprated to 68.04 tonnes-force (150,000 pounds) thrust.

Wernher von Braun presented the proposal before the Armed Services Policy Council in mid 1955. He proposed a six-year, $240 million development program that would test 50 prototype missiles.

The proposal fueled an inter-service struggle for control of the IRBM. The U.S. Air Force maneuvered to gain control of the Army’s GMDD team for its own IRBM development effort, but failed.

Finally, in September 1955, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson decided that there would be two IRBM programs, one for the U.S. Air Force and another jointly developed by the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. The Air Force IRBM would be named SM-75 (Strategic Missile) “Thor”. The Army/Navy IRBM would be SM-78, given the name “Jupiter” in April 1956. The missile was named after the largest planet in the solar system, and for the Roman god Jupiter, king of the gods.

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by Ed Kyle, Updated 7/01/2011

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