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Saturn (rocket family)

The Saturn family of rockets were developed to launch heavy payloads to Earth orbit and beyond. They were adopted as the launch vehicles for the Apollo program. The two most important members of the family were the Saturn IB and the Saturn V.

Table of contents
1 Early development
2 Silverstein Committee
3 Project Apollo

Early development

The original Saturn design originated with a concept developed by Wernher von Braun in 1957. He submitted a proposal to the United States Department of Defence, outlining a need to develop a heavy booster with thrust in the 1.5 million pound range. Such a booster would be able to place a payload of 20,000-40,000 pounds in Earth orbit, or 6,000-12,000 pounds elsewhere in the Solar System. The following year, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) approved a research and development program for a booster designated Juno V (as a continuation of the Juno series of rockets, the satellite-launching variant of the military Jupiter missile.

Two approaches were considered - using multiple engines to reach the 1.5 million pound mark, or using a single engine of far greater power than had ever been conceptualised up to that point. Both avenues were investigated by von Braunís team.

It was suggested that the most practical way to build a multi-engined booster was to cluster existing rocket stages together - a strategy that sceptics dubbed "Cluster's Last Stand" but which was quickly demonstrated to be feasible by the construction of a non-flying test stage. Von Braun had proposed a design where eight Redstone missile stages would be clustered around a single Jupiter missile stage. Each of these nine individual rockets would be fitted with an engine derived from the S-3D engine already being used on Thor and Jupiter missiles. Rocketdyne, the manufacturer of the S-3D received a contract to upgrade the engine from 150,000 lbs of thrust to 188,000 lbs. The resulting engine was designated the H-1.

At the same time, Rocketdyne designed a single engine that would meet the requirement of developing the entire thrust of the clustered approach in the one engine, and designated it the F-1.

In 1959, Von Braun suggested that the name of the booster should be changed to "Saturn", one step beyond Jupiter, and ARPA approved the change. At the same time, it decided that the military had no immediate use for such a heavy launch vehicle, and turned the project over to NASA. In the meantime, von Braunís team turned their efforts towards developing upper stages for the booster.

Silverstein Committee

A government commission, the "Saturn Vehicle Evaluation Committee" (better known as the Silverstein Committee was assembled to recommend specific directions that NASA could take with the program. The committee recommended the development of new, hydrogen-burning upper stages for the Saturn, and outlined eight different configurations for heavy-lift boosters ranging from very low-risk solutions making heavy use of existing technology to designs that relied on hardware that had not been developed yet, including the proposed new upper stage. The configurations were:

Contracts for the development of a new hydrogen-burning engine was given to Rocketdyne in 1960 and for the development of the Saturn IV stage to Douglas the same year.

Project Apollo

The challenge that President John F. Kennedy put to NASA in May 1961 to put an astronaut on the moon by the end of the decade put a sudden new urgency on the Saturn program. That year saw a flurry of activity as different means of reaching the moon were evaluated. Eventually, the Saturn C-5, (later given the name Saturn V), the most powerful of the Silverstein Committee's configurations, was selected as the most suitable for fulfilling this goal. At this point, however, all three stages existed only on paper, and it was realised that it was very likely that the actual lunar spacecraft would be developed and ready for testing long before the booster. NASA therefore decided to also continue development of the C-1 (later Saturn I) as a test vehicle, since its lower stage was based on existing technology and its upper stage was already in development.

Ultimately, the members of the Saturn family that made it to the launch pad were:

Saturn I - 10 rockets flown to evaluate the S-I and, in later flights, the S-IV stages.

Saturn IB - a refined version of the Saturn I with a more powerful first stage (designated the S-IB) and using the Saturn V's S-IVB as a second stage. These carried the first crewed Apollo flights into orbit, and later provided the boosters for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz flights.

Saturn V - the moon rocket that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. It was also used to place the Skylab space station in orbit.