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Thor-Burner rocket
Function Expendable launch system
Manufacturer Douglas
Country of origin United States
Height 23m (75 ft)
Diameter 2.44m (8 ft)
Mass 50,000kg (110,000 lb)
Stages 2-3
Launch history
Status Retired
Launch sites Vandenberg AFB, LC-4300, LE-6, SLC-10W
Total launches 24
Successes 22
Failures 2
First flight 20 May 1965
Last flight 19 February 1976

The Thor-Burner was an American expendable launch system, a member of the Thor rocket family. It consisted of a Thor missile, with one or two Burner upper stages. It was used between 1965 and 1976 to orbit a number of satellites, most commonly Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellites. Twenty-four were launched, of which two failed. Each launch cost 11.890 million 1985 US Dollars. It weighed 51,810 kg and was 24 metres tall.

Expendable launch system launch system that uses an expendable launch vehicle

An expendable launch vehicle (ELV) is a launch system or launch vehicle stage that is used only once to carry a payload into space. Historically, satellites and human spacecraft were launched mainly using expendable launchers. ELV advantages include cost savings through mass production, and a greater payload fraction.

Thor (rocket family) American rocket family

Thor was an American space launch vehicle derived from the PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Thor rocket was the first in a large family of space launch vehicles that came to be known as Delta. The last derivative of the Thor was retired in 2018, which was the first stage of the Delta II.

PGM-17 Thor first operational ballistic missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force

Thor was the first operational ballistic missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Named after the Norse god of thunder, it was deployed in the United Kingdom between 1959 and September 1963 as an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with thermonuclear warheads. Thor was 65 feet (20 m) in height and 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter. It was later augmented in the U.S. IRBM arsenal by the Jupiter.


Burner 1 and Altair

The Burner 1 stage was an Altair rocket stage as used for the third stage of some Vanguard launch vehicles, but equipped by Boeing with 3-axis control. [1]

Altair (rocket stage) Solid-fuel rocket

The Altair was a solid-fuel rocket with a fiberglass casing, initially developed for use as the third stage of Vanguard rockets. It was manufactured by Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (ABL) as the X-248. It was also sometimes called the Burner 1.

The Vanguard rocket was intended to be the first launch vehicle the United States would use to place a satellite into orbit. Instead, the Sputnik crisis caused by the surprise launch of Sputnik 1 led the U.S., after the failure of Vanguard TV3, to quickly orbit the Explorer 1 satellite using a Juno I rocket, making Vanguard I the second successful U.S. orbital launch.

Boeing Aerospace and defense manufacturer in the United States

The Boeing Company is an American multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, satellites, and missiles worldwide. The company also provides leasing and product support services. Boeing is among the largest global aircraft manufacturers; it is the fifth-largest defense contractor in the world based on 2017 revenue, and is the largest exporter in the United States by dollar value. Boeing stock is included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

This combination was used for six vehicles. The first was launched 1965-01-18 and the sixth 1966-03-30. These were early launches of classified Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellites. One of these launches failed. [2]

Defense Meteorological Satellite Program

The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) monitors meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-terrestrial physics for the United States Department of Defense. The program is managed by the Air Force Space Command with on-orbit operations provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission of the satellites was revealed in March 1973. They provide cloud cover imagery from polar orbits that are Sun-synchronous at nominal altitude of 450 nautical miles (830 km).

On February 19, 1976, the attempted launch of a DMSP satellite from Vandenberg's SLC-10W went awry when SECO occurred 5 seconds early. Although the second stage separated and fired properly, the satellite was left in an unusable orbit from which it decayed only one hour after launch. Investigation into the mishap found that the Thor had been loaded an insufficient amount of RJ-1 (a higher grade of kerosene fuel that offered enhanced performance over standard RP-1) for the mission. The amount of LOX on Thor boosters was always the same on every launch, but the amount of kerosene could vary depending on the engine, as different LR-79 engines had slightly different performance levels, and so factory acceptance data was used to determine the fuel load needed for a particular unit. The particular engine used in Thor 182 had thus been loaded with kerosene according to the data sheet provided by Rocketdyne, however the information contained a typo which led to ground crews loading too little propellant for it. However, the postflight investigation also found that, even if the correct propellant load had been carried, the mission would have still failed because the Thor did not have sufficient performance to loft the DMSP into the required orbit. As the DMSP program evolved, the satellites gradually became heavier and more complex. Program planners, aware of this, selected an LR-79 engine which had particularly high performance, but it still turned out to not be enough for the mission. The failure was thus ultimately attributed to poor mission planning. [3]

Burner 2

The Burner 2 used with the Thor-Burner was the first solid fuel upper-stage vehicle used for general space applications that had full control and guidance capability. The first Burner II flight was on 1966-09-15. [4]

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A single-stage-to-orbit vehicle reaches orbit from the surface of a body without jettisoning hardware, expending only propellants and fluids. The term usually, but not exclusively, refers to reusable vehicles. No Earth-launched SSTO launch vehicles have ever been constructed. To date, orbital launches have been performed either by multi-stage fully or partially expendable rockets, the Space Shuttle having both attributes.

Solid-propellant rocket rocket with a motor that uses solid propellants

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Titan (rocket family) rocket family

Titan is a family of United States expendable rockets used between 1959 and 2005. A total of 368 rockets of this family were launched, including all the Project Gemini manned flights of the mid-1960s. Titans were part of the US Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile fleet until 1987, and lifted other American military payloads as well as civilian agency intelligence-gathering satellites. Titans also were used to send highly successful interplanetary scientific probes throughout the Solar System.

Centaur (rocket stage) family of rocket stages which can be used as a space tug

The Centaur is a family of rocket stages. They are designed to be the upper stage of space launch vehicles and is used on the Atlas V. Centaur was the world's first high-energy upper stage, burning liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX). Centaur has enabled the launch of some of NASA's most important scientific missions during its 50-year history.

Proton (rocket family) rocket family

Proton is an expendable launch system used for both commercial and Russian government space launches. The first Proton rocket was launched in 1965. Modern versions of the launch system are still in use as of 2018, making it one of the most successful heavy boosters in the history of spaceflight. All Protons are built at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center factory in Moscow, transported to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, brought to the launch pad horizontally, and raised into vertical position for launch.

Delta (rocket family) rocket family

Delta is an American versatile family of expendable launch systems that has provided space launch capability in the United States since 1960. There have been more than 300 Delta rockets launched, with a 95% success rate. Only the Delta IV remains in use as of 2018. Delta rockets are currently manufactured and launched by the United Launch Alliance.

Solid rocket booster

Solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) are large solid propellant motors used to provide thrust in spacecraft launches from initial launch through the first ascent stage. Many launch vehicles, including the Ariane 5, GSLV MK3, Atlas V, and the NASA Space Shuttle, have used SRBs to give launch vehicles much of the thrust required to ascend from the launch pad. The Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters were the largest solid propellant motors ever built and designed for recovery and reuse.

Delta IV active expendable launch system in the Delta rocket family

Delta IV is an expendable launch system in the Delta rocket family. The rocket's main components are designed by Boeing's Defense, Space & Security division and built in the United Launch Alliance (ULA) facility in Decatur, Alabama. Final assembly is completed at the launch site by ULA. The rocket was designed to launch payloads into orbit for the United States Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and for the commercial satellite business. The Delta IV is available in five versions: Medium, Medium+ (4,2), Medium+ (5,2), Medium+ (5,4), and Heavy, to cover a range of payload size and weight. The Delta IV was primarily designed to satisfy the needs of the U.S. military.

The N1 was a super heavy-lift launch vehicle intended to deliver payloads beyond low Earth orbit, acting as the Soviet counterpart to the US Saturn V. It was designed with manned extra-orbital travel in mind. Development work started on the N1 in 1959. Its first stage is the most powerful rocket stage ever built.

Titan IIIB

Titan IIIB was the collective name for a number of derivatives of the Titan II ICBM and Titan III launch vehicle, modified by the addition of an Agena upper stage. It consisted of four separate rockets. The Titan 23B was a basic Titan II with an Agena upper stage, and the Titan 24B was the same concept, but using the slightly enlarged Titan IIIM rocket as the base. The Titan 33B was a Titan 23B with the Agena enclosed in an enlarged fairing, in order to allow larger payloads to be launched. The final member of the Titan IIIB family was the Titan 34B which was a Titan 24B with the larger fairing used on the Titan 33B.

Atlas II missile

Atlas II was a member of the Atlas family of launch vehicles, which evolved from the successful Atlas missile program of the 1950s. It was designed to launch payloads into low earth orbit, geosynchronous transfer orbit or geosynchronous orbit. Sixty-three launches of the Atlas II, IIA and IIAS models were carried out between 1991 and 2004; all sixty-three launches were successes, making the Atlas II the most reliable launch system in history. The Atlas line was continued by the Atlas III, used between 2000 and 2005, and the Atlas V which is still in use.

The Delta III rocket was an expendable launch vehicle made by Boeing. The first Delta III launch was on August 26, 1998. Of its three flights, the first two were failures, and the third, though declared successful, reached the low end of its targeted orbit range and carried only a dummy (inert) payload. The Delta III could deliver up to 8,400 pounds to geostationary transfer orbit, twice the payload of its predecessor, the Delta II. Under the 4-digit designation system from earlier Delta rockets, the Delta III is classified as the Delta 8930.

The highest specific impulse chemical rockets use liquid propellants. They can consist of a single chemical or a mix of two chemicals, called bipropellants. Bipropellants can further be divided into two categories; hypergolic propellants, which ignite when the fuel and oxidizer make contact, and non-hypergolic propellants which require an ignition source.


The Atlas-Centaur was an American expendable launch system derived from the SM-65 Atlas D missile. Launches were conducted from Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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The Burner and Burner 2 rocket stages have been used as upper stages of launch vehicles such as the Thor-Burner and Delta since 1965. The currently available Burner 2 is powered by a Star 37 solid rocket motor. Thor Altair and Thor Burner were mainly used for US military meteorological programs (DMSP), although they also launched technological satellites.

Atlas E/F

The Atlas E/F, also designated SB-1A was an American expendable launch system and sounding rocket built using parts of decommissioned SM-65 Atlas missiles. It was a member of the Atlas family of rockets.

The Star is a family of American solid-fuel rocket motors used by many space propulsion and launch vehicle stages. It is used almost exclusively as an upper stage.