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Project 7969 Designs
Project 7969 Designs
Project 7969 designs. From left, top row: North American X-15B; Bell Dynasoar; Northrop Dynasoar; Republic Demi body; Avco maneuverable drag cone. Second row: Lockheed; Martin; Aeronutronics; Goodyear; McDonnell; Convair

Credit: © Mark Wade. 18,922 bytes. 640 x 273 pixels.

In the United States, the earliest manned capsule ballistic designs already exhibited the range of shapes that would be flown later. In response to the US Air Force Manned Ballistic Rocket Research System request for proposal in February 1956, Lockheed, Martin, and Aeronautics proposed a blunted warhead re-entry vehicle form like that used later for the Discoverer/KH-4/Corona film recovery capsules and Biosatellite. McDonnell proposed a shape very like the later Soyuz ‘headlight’ (but with a heat shield that extended a bit around the base). Avco, Goodyear and Convair proposed spheres, like that used for the Vostok spacecraft in Russia. Bell, North American, Republic, and Northrop all proposed winged vehicles.


Spacecraft: Project 7969.

USAF project to put a man in orbit atop an Atlas ICBM. Over a two year study period it developed into a more serious effort to prototype re-entry systems for the planned Lunex lunar base. After Sputnik it was reoriented again to 'Man In Space Soonest' to assure an American (USAF pilot) would be the first in outer space. See individual project 7969 entries for the spacecraft design of each contractor. Cancelled altogether in 1958 when NASA given responsibility for manned space program and project Mercury.


Spacecraft: Project Mer.

In April 1958 the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics presented to ARPA the results of its manned satellite study, "MER I" (for "Manned Earth Reconnaissance"). This approach called for an orbital mission in a novel vehicle - a cylinder with spherical ends. After being fired into orbit by a two-stage booster system, the ends would expand laterally along two structural, telescoping beams to make a delta-wing, inflated glider with a rigid nose section. The configuration met the principal MER I requirement: the vehicle would be controllable from booster burnout to landing on water. Fabric construction obviously implied a new departure in the design of reentry vehicles. At ARPA's direction the Bureau of Aeronautics undertook a second study (MER II), this one to be done jointly on contract by Convair, manufacturer of the Atlas, and the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation. The Convair-Goodyear study group did not make its report until December. At that time it reasserted the feasibility of the lifting pneumatic vehicle but relegated the inflation of the craft to the post-entry portion of the mission. By December, however, Project Mercury already was moving ahead steadily under NASA. Funds for a MER III phase (model studies) were not forthcoming from the Defense Department, and the intriguing MER concept became a little-known aspect of the prehistory of manned orbital flight. Project MER was by far the most ambitious of the manned space flight proposals made by the military in 1958. Its emphasis on new hardware and new techniques meant it really had little chance for approval then.


Spacecraft: Adam.

Project Adam began as a post-Sputnik joint-services project proposed by Wernher von Braun. Originally dubbed "Man Very High", the idea was to use an Army Ballistic Missile Agency Redstone rocket to boost a USAF Manhigh balloon gondola with a human occupant on a suborbital trajectory. Von Braun invited Manhigh's Simons and Kittinger to Huntsville to get the program moving, but by April 1958 interservice rivalry killed the project in the womb. So Project Adam was submitted to ARPA on 13 May 1958 by the Secretary of the Army as an Army-only proposal. In July 1958 the Director of ARPA decided that Project Adam was not necessary and would not be funded by ARPA. Shortly thereafter NASA's project Mercury consolidated all of the military man-in-space projects. The Mercury suborbital flights were the only remnant of the crash program that would have put an American in space by 1959.


Spacecraft: Aeronutronics Project 7969.

Aeronutronics's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a cone-shaped vehicle 2.1 m in diameter with a spherical tip of 30 cm radius. The man within was enclosed in a gimballed sphere and rotated to line the pilot up with accelerations. The vehicle would be launched by any one of several two-stage vehicles, including the USAF baseline Atlas Hustler. Deorbit would be accomplished by a retrorocket. The spacecraft was automatic and no pilot control functions were needed. The heat shield used graphite shingles. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the capsule would be ejected. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 300 kg per square meter. Landing precision was within a 160 x 80 km footprint. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be only be achieved six years after go-ahead.


Spacecraft: Avco Project 7969.

AVCO's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a 690 kg, 2.1 m diameter sphere launched by a Titan. It was equipped with a unique stainless-steel-cloth parachute instead of the usual reaction control system and retrorockets. The chute's diameter could be controlled by compressed air bellows. This would orient the vehicle in orbit, provide deceleration for re-entry, and control drag during re-entry. The spacecraft would be boosted by the Titan booster into a 190 km orbit for a one week mission. Despite the aerodynamic control system spacecraft control was automatic and no pilot inputs were required. Maximum G-forces during re-entry were 9 g's and the radiative heat shield was of molybdenum or Inconel. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the upper stage would catapult the capsule 1 km from the launch vehicle, followed by a parachute descent to earth. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 7.3 kg per square meter. Landing precision was 'within Kansas' (650 x 300 km landing footprint). It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 30 months after a go-ahead at a cost of $ 40 million.


Spacecraft: Bell Project 7969.

Bell's preferred concept for the Air Force initial manned space project was the boost-glide vehicle they had been developing for the Dynasoar program. When pressed they considered briefly a minimum vehicle, spherical in shape, weighing about 1,400 kg. But their baseline was the Dynasoar approach - 'anything else would be a stunt'. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight of the boost-glide vehicle could be achieved five years after a go-ahead at a cost of $ 889 million.


Spacecraft: Convair Project 7969.

Convair's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project involved a large-scale manned space station. When pressed, they indicated that a minimum vehicle - a 450 kg, 1.6 m diameter sphere - could be launched by an Atlas within a year. The spacecraft would be boosted by an Atlas Hustler booster into a 270 km orbit. Deorbit would be accomplished by retrorocket. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 250 kg per square meter. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 12 months after a go-ahead.


Spacecraft: Goodyear Project 7969.

Goodyear's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a 2.1 m diameter spherical vehicle with a rearward facing tail cone and ablative surface. Flaps were deflected from the cone during re-entry for increased drag and control. The capsule would be launched by an Atlas or a Titan, plus a Vanguard upper stage into a 650 km orbit for a five day mission. Deorbit would be accomplished by a retrorocket providing a 240 m/sec braking impulse. An ablative heat shield was planned. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the capsule would be ejected. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 250 kg per square meter. Landing precision was within a 1300 km diameter footprint. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 24 months after a go-ahead at a cost of $ 100 million.


Spacecraft: Lockheed Project 7969.

Lockheed's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a 20 degree semiapex angle cone with a hemispherical tip of 30 cm radius. The pilot was in a sitting position facing rearward. The capsule would be launched by an Atlas-Hustler combination into a 480 km orbit for a 4 hour mission. Tracking would use the Minitrack System and deorbit would be accomplished by retrorocket providing a 60 m/sec braking impulse. Spacecraft attitude control was by rocket thrusters and electrically-powered motors. The spacecraft was automatic and no pilot intervention was required. Maximum G-forces during re-entry were 8 g's and either ablative or beryllium heat shields could be used. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the capsule would eject from the booster. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 500 kg per square meter. Landing precision was within a 650 x 30 km footprint. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 24 months after a go-ahead at a cost of $ 10-100 million.


Spacecraft: Martin Project 7969.

Martin's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a zero-lift vehicle launched by a Titan I with controlled flight in orbit. The spacecraft would be boosted into a 240 km orbit for a 24 hour mission. Tracking would use the Minitrack System and deorbit would be accomplished by a retrorocket producing a 150 m/sec delta-v. Spacecraft attitude control was by rocket thrusters. The spacecraft was fully automatic and the pilot was only a passenger. Maximum G-forces during re-entry were 8-15 g's and an ablative heat shield was proposed. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the capsule would be ejected. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 500 kg per square meter. Landing precision was within a 160 x 160 km footprint. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 30 months after a go-ahead.


Spacecraft: McDonnell Project 7969.

McDonnell's design for the Air Force initial manned space project was a ballistic vehicle resembling Faget's NACA proposal or the later Soviet Soyuz descent module. The capsule weighed 1,090 kg and would be launched by an Atlas with a Polaris second stage. The spacecraft would be placed into a 160 km orbit for a 90 minute, single-orbit mission. Tracking would use the Minitrack System and deorbit would be accomplished by retrorocket. Spacecraft attitude control was by rocket thrusters. The spacecraft was under automatic or ground control with the pilot only serving as a test subject. Maximum G-forces during re-entry were 8.5 g's and a beryllium heat sink shield was to be used. In case of booster failure during ascent to orbit the capsule would be pulled away from the booster by the Polaris second stage and then recovered by parachute. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 300 kg per square meter. Landing precision was within a 650 x 650 km footprint. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 24 months after a go-ahead. McDonnell, prior to being awarded the Mercury prime development contract in February 1959, spent 11 further months under a company research budget working on a manned orbital spacecraft concept.


Spacecraft: Northrop Project 7969.

Northrop's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was a boost-glide vehicle based on work done for the Dynasoar project. The delta wing vehicle would weigh 5,000 kg and have a hypersonic lift to drag ratio of 6.0. As with Dynasoar, a test aircraft approach was taken, with a slow build-up to orbital speed.


Spacecraft: Republic Project 7969.

Republic's studies for the Air Force or NACA initial manned space project started at the beginning of 1958. Their unique concept was a lifting re-entry vehicle, termed the Ferri sled. This was a 1,800 kg vehicle of triangular planform with a 75 degree leading-edge sweep. A 60 cm diameter tube ran continuously around the leading and trailing edge. This tube also served as a propellant tank for final-stage, solid-propellant rockets located in each wing tip. The man was housed in a small compartment on the top side. Aerodynamic and reaction controls would be available to the pilot, but normally he would only monitor the spacecraft systems. Deorbit would be accomplished with a modest retrofire delta V of 8 m/sec followed by varying the lift to drag of the vehicle. A heat-transfer ring in the front of the nose allowed a stabilised glide after re-entry of 5,800 kilometres per hour. An Inconel heat shield was used and the pilot would experience only low G forces during re-entry. The pilot would eject from the capsule at subsonic speed over the recovery area and parachute down to earth. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 130 kg per square meter. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 21 months after a go-ahead. The all-solid propellant launch vehicle comprised three or four stages. The four stage version consisted of a Minuteman first stage, a Polaris first stage, a Minuteman upper stage, and a Jumbo rocket fourth stage. Republic Aviation representatives briefed both USAF and NACA Headquarters personnel on their concept without much success. A similar Space General concept, the FIRST re-entry Glider, was developed extensively in the 1960's. The spacecraft would be boosted by an Atlas + Polaris booster into a 241 km orbit for a 240 hour mission.


Spacecraft: X-15B.

North American's proposal for the Air Force initial manned space project was to extend the X-15 program. The X-15B was a 'stripped' X-15A with an empty mass of 4500 kg. It would use a three-stage Navaho-derived launch vehicle to achieve a single orbit with an apogee of 120 km and a perigee of 75 km. The launch vehicle consisted of 4 x G-26 Navaho booster stages plus the X-15B's own XLR-99 engine. Due to the low perigee and aerodynamics of the X-15, no retrorocket was required, although the X-15's restartable engine could be used if necessary. Using its cross range capability of about 800 to 1,000 km, the X-15 would ditch in the Gulf of Mexico. The heat shield would consist of beryllium oxide and Rene 41 alloy. The pilot would eject and land by parachute, with the aircraft being lost. The spacecraft had a ballistic coefficient (W/CdA) of 250 kg per square meter. It was expected that a first manned orbital flight could be achieved 30 months after a go-ahead at a cost of $ 120 million.


Spacecraft: Mercury.

Mercury was America's first man-in-space project. Setting the precedent for the later Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle programs, any capsule configuration proposed by the contractors was acceptable as long as it was the one NASA's Langley facility, and in particular, Max Faget, had developed. McDonnell, at that time a renegade contractor of innovative Navy fighters that had a history of problems in service, received the contract. The capsule had to be as small as possible to match the payload capability of America's first ICBM, the Atlas, which would be used for orbital missions. The resulting design was less than a third of the weight of the Russian Vostok spacecraft, and more limited as a result. While the Vostok was capable of missions of up to a week, the Mercury's final 24 hour mission was barely completed, with virtually all of the spacecraft's systems having broken down by the end. NASA felt lucky to have astronaut Cooper back alive (although the flight demonstrated a pinpoint re-entry was possible with no electrical power, no ECS, no guidance or instruments!) and cancelled Alan Shepard's desired week-long Mercury 10 flight.


Spacecraft: Mercury Mark I. Proposed derivatives of the basic one-crew Mercury capsule for investigation of earth orbit rendezvous, lifting re-entry and land landing. Two-crew derivatives of Mercury, originally designated Mercury Mark II, are covered under 'Gemini'.

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Last update 28 March 2001.
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