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Saturn V (rocket)

Saturn V

Saturn V launching Apollo 15.
Stages2 or 3
1 - S-ICEngines5 * F-1
Thrust33,400,000 N
(7,500,000 lbs)
(later 33,900,000 N)
Burn time~165 sec
2 - S-IIEngines5 * J-2
Thrust 5,000,000 N
(1,125,000 lbs)
(later 5,100,000 N)
Burn time~380 sec
3 - S-IVBEngines1 * J-2
Thrust890,000 N
(200,000 lbs)
(later 1,000,000 N)
Burn time~475 sec
(usually 2 burns)
Two stage version
Payload to LEO75,000 kg
Three stage version
Payload to LEO118,000 kg
Payload to TLI47,000 kg

The Saturn V (popularly known as the Moon Rocket) is a multistage liquid-fuel expendable rocket used by NASA's Apollo and Skylab programs. It was the ultimate design of the Saturn family of rockets designed under the direction of Wernher von Braun.

In 1961, when President Kennedy announced that America would try to get to the moon by the end of the decade, there was nothing in the United States arsenal (or in fact anywhere in the world) that could launch a manned spacecraft to the moon in one piece. The Saturn I was in development but had not flown and would require several launches to place in orbit all the components of the manned launch spacecraft.

In was announced on January 10, 1962 that NASA would build the Saturn V, though at that stage it was called the Saturn C-5. It would use the F-1 and J-2 rocket engines for propulsion and be designed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

It was decided early on to attempt to use as much technology from the Saturn I program as possible. As such the S-IVB third stage of the Saturn V was based on the S-IV second stage of the Saturn I. The Instrument Unit that controlled the Saturn V was also based on that carried by the Saturn I.

Over 110 m high and 10 m in diameter, with a total mass of 3,038,500 kg and a payload capacity of 118,000 kg to LEO, the Saturn V is the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, although the Soviet Energiya heavy-lift booster was designed to orbit 120-150 tons, but was never flown at this capacity.

Saturn V is composed of three-stages:

Saturn V is the vehicle that carried the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Launched from Launch Complex 39 at the John F. Kennedy Space Center the first stage would burn for 2.5 minutes lifting the rocket to 61 km and accelerated to a speed of 8600 km/h. In the process it has used 2 million kg of propellant.

The second stage now takes over burning for 6 minutes and reaching a speed of 24,600 km/h. The rocket is now at 185 km and nearly at orbital velocity. The thrid stage now burns for a further 2.5 minutes. It is about 12 minutes after launch. The third stage is kept attached while the spacecraft orbits the Earth two and a half times during which the spacecraft and rocket are checked out to make sure everything is in working order.

Then the third stage is reignited at Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) to send the spacecraft to the moon. It burns for over 5 minutes so that it reaches 39,400 km/h or over 10 km/s. A couple of hours after TLI, the Apollo Command Service Module (CSM) separates from the third stage turns 180 degrees and docks with the Lunar Module (LM) which rides below the CSM during launch. The CSM and LM then separate from the third stage.

The final act for the Saturn V rocket now is to be targeted away from the CSM and LM. At the moment it is on the same trajectory as the spacecraft and could present a hazard later in the mission. So the remaining propellant in its tanks in vented out of the engine. It can then be targeted either into a solar orbit or as in the case of the third stages from Apollo 13 onwards directed to impact the moon. These impacts were detected by seismometers left on the moon by previous missions and used to probe the inside of the moon.

Apart from manned lunar flights the Saturn V was used to launch the Skylab space station in earth orbit. Skylab was a modified third stage of a Saturn V and as such for its last flight, the rocket flew with only two stages.

The Space Shuttle was initially conceived of as a cargo transport to be used in concert with the Saturn V. The Shuttle would handle Space Station logistics, while Saturn V would launch components. Lack of funding for a second Saturn V production run killed this plan and left the US without a heavy-lift booster for the next 30 years (and counting).

There were also plans for a larger rocket called Nova that would have featured eight F-1 engines in its first stage allowing it to launch a manned spacecraft on a direct ascent flight to the moon. Other plans for the Saturn V called for using a Centaur as an upper stage or adding strapon boosters. These enhancements would have increased its ability to send large unmanned spacecraft to the outer planets or manned spacecraft to Mars.

Saturn V Vehicles and Launches

Serial NumberMissionLaunch DateNotes
SA-501Apollo 4 November 9, 1967 First test flight
SA-502Apollo 6 April 4, 1968 Second test flight
SA-503Apollo 8 December 12, 1968First manned flight
SA-504Apollo 9 March 3, 1969
SA-505Apollo 10May 18, 1969
SA-506Apollo 11July 16, 1969
SA-507Apollo 12November 14, 1969
SA-508Apollo 13April 11, 1970
SA-509Apollo 14January 31, 1971
SA-510Apollo 15July 26, 1971
SA-511Apollo 16April 16, 1972
SA-512Apollo 17December 6, 1972
SA-513Skylab 1 May 14, 1973 Two-stage Skylab version

Currently there are three Saturn Vs on display:

Of these three only the one of the Johnson Space Center is made up of stages meant to be launched. Also the US Space & Rocket Center is a full scale model of the Saturn V. At the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana is the first stage from SA-515

Suggested Reading

''Launch of the last Saturn V rocket carrying the Skylab space station