Original Vintage Photographs
As the very first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile deployed in the USA, the Atlas has proved it self over the years as a viable launch vehicle for manned and unmanned missions and its decedents are still being used today.
After World War II when captured German rocket technology was imported to the US, the Atlas was one of the first launch vehicles to benefit from the new technology. Convair which was Consolidated-Vultee at that time started a study of long-rang ballistic missiles called MX-774. One of the first test rocket was the RTV-A-2 Hiroc that pioneered the new gimballed rocket nozzle to steer the vehicle and had a portable nose cone for different payloads. One of the most significant aspects that the Atlas got from the Hiroc was a very thin skin that was inflated like a balloon to reduce weight. As one could imagine the rocket was easily damaged and would fail from the slightest puncture. Convair made three Hiroc's that were launched in 1948 and each was logged as marginally successful R&D flights.
The first Convair Atlas designs were drawn up in 1953 with the following specifications: Length: 90 Ft., Width: 12 Ft., No. of Engines: 5, Thrust: 600,000 lbs. The first designs called for a lunch vehicle large enough to carry a 65 ton warhead.
A three tier build plan was agreed with deployment targeted for 1963. The first tier of the plan was to make a single-engine test rocket named "X-11" then a three-engine "X-12 and then the five-stage prototype "XB-65".
The Convair Atlas A was the first test model of Atlas ICBM and it only had two booster engines with no sustainer and a dummy warhead. The first launch of the Convair Atlas A (XSM-65A) was on 11 June 1957 . A booster malfunctioned and the missile was destroyed after lift-off by the range safety officer. After three attempts the Convair Atlas A was successfully launched on 17 December 1957 and testing concluded in June 1958 after 8 test launches.
The Atlas ballistic missile began with the US Army Air Corps request for proposal in October 1945, which led to development in the 1950ís of the Atlas, Navaho, Snark, and Matador/Mace missiles.
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