Sunday, May 10, 2009


This is, above all others, the sister rocket to my personal favorite; Project Farside. But in NOTS EV-1 launches, the complex but rather small rocket (again very similar) is lofted to modest altitude and velocity by a jet aircraft, rather than the very high altitude but negligible speed of a Farside launch. And obviously, the target for Farside was to attain high altitude but NOT orbit, altitudes of up to 4000 miles if possible, and for EV-1 the target was to orbit a very small satellite. But all the same, this project excites my personal interest in early rocketry and certain attempts that seem the most daring, and the least likely to succeed. This project has been classified for a long time, and it is likely that some information is still missing (perhaps forever). However one of the new rocketry books as seen in a previous post does discuss this project in decent detail; The First Space Race: Launching the World's First Satellites

"Project Pilot was the first attempt to create a air launched satellite launch vehicle. The vehicle was better known by its nickname 'NOTSNIK', a combination of NOTS and Sputnik. The NOTS-EV1 was also the first all solid orbital vehicle. It was launched by a Douglas F-4D1 Skyray airplane. After separation from the aircraft, the first pair of HOTROC motors, derived from the SUBROC anti submarine missile, were ignited. Five seconds later, the second pair was ignited. After jettisoning the first stage, the X-241 and NOTS Extruded motors put the payload into a transfer orbit, which was circularised half a orbit later by the fourth stage, which was mounted backwards in fron tof the payload. As the vehicle was designed for maximum simplicity it featured no moving parts.

4 ground launched tests were made with only one pair of live HOTROCS. The first 2 failed due to exploding motors, the other two due to structural failure.

All launches apparently failed, most due to structural failures. Some rumours exist, that the payloads of the first and third orbital launch attempt reached orbit, but this remains very doubtful as an engineer involved in the project recalls, that there were some signals picked up by ground stations, but those were most probably not from the satellite."

-From Gunther's Space Page

"Approved in early 1958, the project proceeded rapidly by relying on existing rocket motors and other components readily available. The NOTSNIK vehicle was carried aboard a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray fighter to a high altitude where its rocket motors were fired for the trip into orbit. The rocket was designed to be released while the F4D-1 was traveling at a speed of more than 450 mph (725 km/h) and in a 50° climb to a launch altitude of 41,000 ft (12,500 m). Upon release, the first of five rocket stages was ignited. Both the first and second stages included two HOTROC solid rocket motors derived from the booster used on the SUBROC anti-submarine rocket-boosted torpedo. The first stage rockets ignited three seconds after release from the parent aircraft and remained operational for just five seconds. Following a twelve second coast phase, the second stage pair of HOTROC motors ignited for another five second burn.

By the time the second stage exhausted, NOTSNIK had achieved an altitude of about 50 miles (80 km). The structure containing both the first and second stages was then jettisoned as the third stage ignited. Consisting of an ABL X-241 solid rocket, this stage burned for 36 seconds before the fourth stage motor ignited for a 5.7 second long burn. By now, the vehicle had reached a very low and extremely eccentric transfer orbit. The orbit was stabilized into a more circular orbit by the fifth and final stage consisting of a NOTS 3-inch Spherical rocket motor.

This combination of rocket stages boosted by an aircraft launch platform had the capability to place a very small payload of just 2.3 lb (1.05 kg) into an orbit of 1,400 miles (2,250 km) altitude. The payload reportedly included a small infrared camera, designed to take images of the ground or collect weather data, and a transmitter to return signals to Earth. Since this payload could potentially be used as a reconnaissance system, the entire project was classified top secret and remained unknown to the public for many years."
- From

"Stage 0: 1 x F-6A. Gross Mass: 10,474 kg (23,091 lb). Empty Mass: 6,869 kg (15,143 lb). Motor: 1 x J57-8. Thrust (vac): 71.137 kN (15,992 lbf). Isp: 2,770 sec. Burn time: 3,600 sec. Length: 13.93 m (45.70 ft). Diameter: 4.05 m (13.28 ft). Propellants: Air/Kerosene.
Stage 1: 2 x Project Pilot-1. Gross Mass: 100 kg (220 lb). Empty Mass: 27 kg (59 lb). Motor: 1 x HOTROC. Thrust (vac): 63.200 kN (14,208 lbf). Burn time: 4.90 sec. Length: 1.80 m (5.90 ft). Diameter: 0.30 m (0.98 ft). Propellants: Solid.
Stage 2: 2 x Project Pilot-1. Gross Mass: 100 kg (220 lb). Empty Mass: 27 kg (59 lb). Motor: 1 x HOTROC. Thrust (vac): 63.200 kN (14,208 lbf). Burn time: 4.90 sec. Length: 1.80 m (5.90 ft). Diameter: 0.30 m (0.98 ft). Propellants: Solid.
Stage 3: 1 x Project Pilot 1-3. Gross Mass: 200 kg (440 lb). Empty Mass: 25 kg (55 lb). Motor: 1 x X-241. Thrust (vac): 12.100 kN (2,720 lbf). Burn time: 36 sec. Length: 1.50 m (4.90 ft). Diameter: 0.46 m (1.50 ft). Propellants: Solid.
Stage 4: 1 x Project Pilot 1-4. Gross Mass: 10 kg (22 lb). Empty Mass: 3.00 kg (6.60 lb). Motor: 1 x NOTS 8. Thrust (vac): 5.100 kN (1,147 lbf). Burn time: 5.70 sec. Length: 0.50 m (1.64 ft). Diameter: 0.20 m (0.65 ft). Propellants: Solid.
Stage 5: 1 x Project Pilot 1-5. Empty Mass: 1.00 kg (2.20 lb). Motor: 1 x NOTS 3SM. Thrust (vac): 700 N (150 lbf). Burn time: 1.00 sec. Length: 0.10 m (0.32 ft). Diameter: 0.0800 m (0.2620 ft). Propellants: Solid.

Project Pilot Chronology

1958 July 4 - China Lake G-2. Project Pilot-1 FAILURE: Failure. Test mission Agency: USN. Apogee: 0 km ( mi).
1958 July 18 - China Lake G-2. Project Pilot-1 FAILURE: Failure. Test mission Agency: USN. Apogee: 0 km ( mi).
1958 July 25 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 1 FAILURE: Radio contact lost; possibly reached orbit. Pilot 1 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 12 km (7 mi).
1958 August 12 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 2 FAILURE: Vehicle exploded at ignition. Pilot 2 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 12 km (7 mi).
1958 August 16 - China Lake G-2. Project Pilot-1 FAILURE: Failure. Test mission Agency: USN. Apogee: 0 km ( mi).
1958 August 17 - China Lake G-2. Project Pilot-1 FAILURE: Failure. Test mission Agency: USN. Apogee: 0 km ( mi).
1958 August 22 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 3 FAILURE: Radio contact lost; possibly reached orbit. Pilot 3 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 0 km ( mi).
1958 August 25 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 4 FAILURE: Vehicle exploded after 0.75sec. Pilot 4 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 12 km (7 mi).
1958 August 26 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 5 FAILURE: Stage failed to ignite, vehicle fell into Pacific. Pilot 5 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 12 km (7 mi).
1958 August 28 - Santa Barbara Channel DZ -. Project Pilot 6 FAILURE: One first stage motor failed to ignite, causing structural failure. Pilot 6 Spacecraft: Pilot. Agency: USN. Apogee: 12 km (7 mi)."

- From Encyclopedia Astronautica

It is fascinating to see that many of these launches were at China Lake, your typical ultra secret desert test range, but also at the Santa Barbara Channel "Drop Zone" which is a rocket range.  A fellow researcher with whom I have worked remembered his post doc. work in the area, and how from time to time rocket launches would zoom past downrange.

Why did EV-1 and Farside have such poor sucsess rates?  Well first of all, most rockets fail early on in development, unless heroic efforts are put into testing programs before flight.  Solid rocket motors generally work just fine... but when combined in 4 or 5 or 6 stage rockets, Farside having 10 motors total for example, all bets are off.  Given time, there is no reason to think that these projects could not have worked out.  They were very complex, and that complexity may have made them unsuitable for future use.  Frankly they both have limited capabilities; each could only orbit or loft 2 - 5 lbs at a time.  Compare this to other rockets in the works at the time: The Redstone, The Thor, Project Vanguard, and the incredible Atlas.  Each would prove far more capable in time, offering one or several orders of magnitude improvement.

I would argue that these kinds of rockets that are complex, low cost, and all solid probably have more to offer for the modern amatuer community than for the professional community.

In any event, I just love the little J-700 5th stage motor for this project.  1 sec burn time, spherical.  Looks like an all stainless steel nozzle also.


DTH Rocket said...

You're right, this could have serious implication for amateur rocket scientists. Although I have one question about stabilization. Did this rocket use some other method than its own fins to keep it flying straight? Because I heard that past three stages the stability of a rocket gets pretty tricky.


R2K said...

Good question:

This rocket had two parallel cluster stages (interesting choice, probably to increase burn time to gain altitude, reducing drag and reducing later coasting periods), and during this portion of flight the rocket was aerodynamically stable, as a result of the large fins. After being dropped from a jet at several hundred mph (despite also being in fairly rarefied air above 30,000 feet), the rocket with fins would have been on rails. It would have taken quite a force to make it spin out at that point.

However these fins were also canted, resulting in what one would expect to be a rapid spin rate. Just how fast? I have yet to find out, but probably the target would be at least a few RPS, 600 RPM would probably have been an appropriate amount for such a ballistic flight schedule. Yo-Yo despin systems could be used later to reduce the satellite spin rates (something I want to post about later and discuss further).

But one should note that, despite using spin stabilization, the upper stages would have probably been aerodynamically stable; they were conical in shape. The final stages fit in a nice little cone with a blunt nose. However, at the operating altitudes, these upper stages would have no air to keep them stable.'

(Even Mach 15 at 50 miles probably doesn't provide much dynamic pressure.)

Anonymous said...

one of my favorite projects also...great writeup

Monroe said...

Hey! I have some of this lost information and a letter to the president about the success of 2 missions. The third stage had an optical horizon sensor that fired the rocket at a 12 degree angle. The first stage was fired at a 70 degree angle. The main problem was the mercury batteries that were used and a harmonic resonance in the airframe. We have more information we will release to our blogger friend when we finalize our N-Prize mission based on this design coming up very soon!

Team Prometheus

R2K said...

Thanks for the Update Monroe. A simple optical horizon sensor as used in this project could possibly be replaced by a common hobby technology: magnetometer boards that can probably detect angle of attack over the bubble.

If you don't mind a wild orbit, or one likely to decay quickly, you don't need to be all that accurate in your launch accuracy. I think a big dumb rocket will make a few orbits (with some luck and maybe several tries) with only +/- 5 degrees error. Correct me if wrong, however. Going for higher altitude would help here.

I would suggest picking one single angle for most of the flight. Is there any reason why 40 degrees could not be used for orbit?

In any event, we have better batteries today!

Monroe said...

Yes, We have better everything! Except people willing to try! Anyway we want to use the same angles Howard used and just prove he could do it beacuse that will add to the mission. Besides that it's all already worked out. We just intend to do it a little better. Don't worry we will get plenty of orbits for the N-Prize.

R2K said...

Meh who cares about the N prize anymore! Being the first to orbit is bigger than anything else.

PS: your blog seems to have a template or code problem, it wont load for me.

Monroe said...

Right it dosent work with firefox dont know why. Might as well grab the prize! We will make orbit first anyway and go for the prize secondary.


R2K said...

I have google chrome,

all I can see it HTML code.