Saturn (rocket)

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Saturn V at the start of the Apollo 11 moon mission

The family of the Saturn rocket is one of the most powerful means of delivery of space that were ever built. They were developed for the US space agency NASA under the direction of rocket engineer Wernher von Braun as part of the Apollo program .


In the second half of 1959, various possibilities were investigated how a new, very powerful rocket could be put together. The name Saturn was already determined.

There were three principal possibilities, which were more or less based on existing rockets: Saturn A, Saturn B and Saturn C. There were eight subtypes: A-1, A-2, B-1 and C-1 to C-5 . The development team decided in favor of the C-5 variant and at the same time continued to develop the C-1 version, which was not as powerful but would be available more quickly. 1962 decided that a stronger version would be the C-1 needed, the C-1 B. 1963 deleted from the C model names and the three missiles in Saturn I, Saturn IB and Saturn V renamed.

The most famous and largest member of the family, the Saturn V, was used for the moon landings and is also one of the largest and most powerful rockets ever used. It consisted of three stages and carried the Apollo spacecraft at the top , consisting of the lunar module , service and command module and the Apollo rescue rocket (LES).

Within the Saturn rocket family, the next larger model was based on the technology developed for the previous version and replaced individual components with more powerful ones.

Saturn I

The Saturn I was the basic model that was originally only developed for test flights. To save time and development costs, their first stage (called SI) consisted in the center of a tank the diameter of a Jupiter rocket surrounded by eight tanks the diameter of Redstone rockets . Both missile types had been developed by Wernher von Braun for the US Army in previous years . The central tank was filled with oxygen, while the smaller-diameter tanks surrounding it alternated with oxygen and the type of kerosene called RP-1 (Rocket Propellant). At the bottom of the first tier there were very large stabilizing fins. The stage used eight H-1 engines.

The second stage (S-IV) was a completely new development. For the first time, the high-energy, but difficult to control fuel combination hydrogen / oxygen (LH2 / LOX) was used. As is usual with today's rockets, the two tanks were separated by a well-insulated intermediate floor. The stage used the RL-10 engine intended for the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas Centaur , because the originally intended large J-2 hydrogen / oxygen engine was still in development. Because of its enormous size compared to the Centaur, the S-IV stage used six RL-10s instead of just two as in the Centaur planned at the time.

At first, the first stage was tested in flight only with dummies of the second stage, then the entire rocket. Contrary to all expectations, all flights of the Saturn I were successful, so that there was nothing more to test on the rocket during the last test flights. The last flights were therefore used as the first test flights of the Apollo spacecraft (without service modules) and to transport the Pegasus satellites into orbit. The Apollo spacecraft was mounted above the transport space of the Pegasus satellites.

The Saturn I was able to bring a payload of up to 9 t into a low earth orbit at an altitude of 185 km and an orbit inclination of 28 ° . A transport to the moon would have allowed a maximum payload of 2.2 t.

Saturn IB

The Saturn IB was used to test either the complete Apollo spacecraft or the lunar module in orbit. Most of the test flights were carried out unmanned. Due to the insufficient payload capacity, the Apollo spacecraft with the Saturn IB could not be launched together with the lunar module.

The first stage of the Saturn IB (S-IB) was largely identical to the SI first stage of the Saturn I, but it had been shown that the very large and heavy stabilizing fins were oversized, which is why they were replaced by smaller and lighter ones to reduce the curb weight lower the level. They also used a revised and more powerful version of the H-1 engines.

The second stage (S-IVB) was a heavily modified version of the S-IV second stage of the Saturn I. It was used as the third stage of the Saturn V with additional insulation of the tanks. The diameter of the step increased from 5.58 m for the Saturn I to 6.6 m for the Saturn IB. In addition, it was much longer, so that the fuel supply increased significantly. Now the new, much more powerful J-2 hydrogen / oxygen engine was available, only one of which was used in each S-IVB stage.

After the completion of the Apollo lunar program, the Saturn IB transported astronauts three more times to the Skylab space station and launched an Apollo spacecraft with a special coupling adapter for the Apollo-Soyuz project .

Saturn v

Size comparison: Saturn V, Space Shuttle and Ares rockets (I + V + IV)

The Saturn V was the actual moon rocket. After two unmanned test flights, the rocket was declared ready for use and then always started manned , except for the last flight with the Skylab space station . Only with Apollo 9 and the launch of Skylab did it head for near-Earth orbit.

The Saturn V was designed under the direction of Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph from the Marshall Space Flight Center, together with Boeing , North American Aviation , Douglas Aircraft Company and IBM as main partner companies. Between December 1968 and December 1972, nine Saturn V rockets brought 24 astronauts to the moon.

S-IC level

The first stage of the Saturn V, the S-IC, was a completely new design that had nothing in common with the first stages of the Saturn I and IB except for the fuel combination used. The step had a length of 42 m and a diameter of 10 m. There were two separate tanks in the stage. Below was the tank for 810,700 liters of RP-1 (Rocket Propellant 1) , through which the oxygen lines ran straight to the engines, and above the tank for 1,311,100 liters of liquid oxygen (LOX) . The stage used five of the new also huge F-1 engines . The engines were arranged in their thrust frame like the five points on a cube, with the four outer engines being pivotable for control. In order not to let the rocket's acceleration increase too much, the middle F-1 engine was switched off prematurely during the flight. The S-IC was built by Boeing in the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans .

In the engine covers at the lower end, on which the stabilizing fins were mounted and which ensured a better air flow around the engines, were each two small solid fuel rockets. These were ignited during the stage separation and generated a total thrust of 391 kN (specification for SA-503) against the direction of flight in order to delay the stage and thus ensure a greater distance to the engines of the 2nd stage.

S-II level

The second stage (S-II) was also a new construction with a diameter of 10 m. It used the fuel combination hydrogen / oxygen and had a tank that was separated into two rooms for the two fuel components by an insulated intermediate floor. The tank for the liquid oxygen (LOX), the denser component, was at the bottom. The hydrogen tank held 1,000,000 liters and the oxygen tank 331,000 liters. The stage used five J-2 engines that were mounted in the same way as the first stage engines. The S-II was built by North American Aviation's Space Division in California . This stage was connected to the first stage S-IC via an intermediate ring also 10 m in diameter; this intermediate ring was only thrown off after the S-II engines had ignited, as it was very close to the engines and the aim was to avoid a collision with them.

The S-IC and S-II were so big that they had to be transported by sea from the south and west coast of the USA to Florida.

S-IVB level

The third stage was a slightly modified S-IVB stage, which, unmodified, was also used as the second stage of the Saturn IB. The modifications were limited to an insulation installed in the tanks so that the fuel remained liquid for several hours. This condition was necessary so that the stage could be ignited again after several orbits around the earth, as is necessary for moon flights. It held 253,200 liters of hydrogen and 92,500 liters of liquid oxygen.

The S-IVB was brought to the east coast by air with a special aircraft, the " Super Guppy ". The Instrument Unit (IU), a control system built by IBM , was located on the S-IVB, which controlled the rocket during the flight and also ensured correct entry into the lunar transfer orbit.

When Skylab took off , the Saturn V was only used with the first two stages, the converted S-IVB was the payload on this flight.

The Saturn V was initially able to transport up to 120 tons of payload into earth orbit and accelerate up to 45 tons of payload on a translunar course at a speed close to the escape speed. During the course of the program, performance was increased through various optimizations to the structure of the stages during production as well as through the systematic reduction of reserves to 133 tons in earth orbit and 50 tons on a translunar course.

Course of the moon mission

S-IC sequence

The Apollo missions began their journey to the moon from Launch Complex 39 of the John F. Kennedy Space Center . After launch, the first stage of the Saturn V burned for 2.5 minutes, bringing the rocket to an altitude of 61 km. The speed at the end of the fire was 2390 m / s. About 2000 tons of fuel were burned in these 2.5 minutes .

S-II sequence

Immediately after the first stage was thrown off, the second one ignited, shortly afterwards the ring-shaped adapter was thrown off. The S-II burned for a further 6 minutes, during which the mixing ratio was automatically controlled in order to avoid premature consumption of only one of the two components. The burnout took place at an altitude of about 185 km at a speed of 6830 m / s over the western Atlantic.

S-IVB sequence

The third stage took over the drive for another 2.5 minutes. It burned a total of 12 minutes after take-off and was not dropped during the next two and a half orbits of the earth. During this time, the spaceship was checked for functionality until the "Go" for the flight to the moon could be given.

The third stage was ignited again for more than 5 minutes for the launch from earth orbit towards the moon after its engine had cooled down and the tanks had returned to their nominal pressure. After the burnout, the spaceship was at a speed of 10.8 km / s (slightly less than the escape speed ) and on course for the moon. The exact speed depended on the flight path and was different for each mission.

The lunar module , which remained in the upper part of the third stage during the entire interim, was now pulled out of the stage after the Apollo spaceship was uncoupled and rotated 180 °.

Finally, by briefly igniting the engine, the third stage had to be brought to a different orbit than the Apollo spacecraft, so that there was no possibility of a collision afterwards . Until Apollo 12 it was put into a solar orbit, from Apollo 13 on a collision course with the moon. The impact was recorded with the seismometers set up by previous missions .

The flights of the Saturn rockets

date Type number mission comment
October 27, 1961 Saturn I SA-1 SA-1 Suborbital test for the first stage: the second stage dummy filled with water was carried along as ballast.
April 25, 1962 SA-2 SA-2 High Water I. Another suborbital test flight for the first stage: the second stage, filled with water, was detonated at an altitude of 105 km to create an artificial cloud.
November 16, 1962 SA-3 SA-3 High Water II like High Water I : artificial cloud at an altitude of 167 km
March 28, 1963 SA-4 SA-4 Another suborbital test flight for the first stage, planned shutdown of one engine to test whether the other engines work longer as planned
January 29, 1964 SA-5 SA-5 first flight of a two-stage Saturn I into orbit
May 28, 1964 SA-6 A-101 with dummy of the Apollo spaceship
September 18, 1964 SA-7 A-102 with dummy of the Apollo spaceship and escape tower
February 16, 1965 SA-9 A-103 Pegasus 1 with a dummy of the Apollo spaceship and a Pegasus satellite
May 25, 1965 SA-8 A-104 Pegasus 2
July 30, 1965 SA-10 A-105 Pegasus 3
February 26, 1966 Saturn IB SA-201 AS-201 first launch of the Saturn IB and an Apollo spacecraft, suborbital
5th July 1966 SA-203 AS-203 Test of a new instrument cluster and reignition of the second stage in orbit, without a spaceship
August 25, 1966 SA-202 AS-202 Test of multiple ignitions of the Apollo engine, suborbital
January 27, 1967 no start SA-204 planned Apollo 1 Fatal accident during tests on the launch pad, the mission was later referred to as Apollo 1
November 9, 1967 Saturn v SA-501 Apollo 4 first launch of Saturn V with an unmanned Apollo spacecraft, in orbit
January 22, 1968 Saturn IB SA-204 Apollo 5 first test flight of the lunar module (unmanned)
4th April 1968 Saturn v SA-502 Apollo 6 last unmanned test flight of a Saturn rocket with an Apollo spacecraft and a lunar module, various problems ( pogo vibrations , failure of engines, etc.)
October 11, 1968 Saturn IB SA-205 Apollo 7 first start of the Saturn IB with a manned Apollo spacecraft (without lunar module), test of rendezvous maneuvers
December 21, 1968 Saturn v SA-503 Apollo 8 first manned launch of Saturn V and the first human flight into lunar orbit
March 3, 1969 SA-504 Apollo 9 Test flight in earth orbit to test rendezvous and docking maneuvers of the Apollo spacecraft and lunar module
May 18, 1969 SA-505 Apollo 10 Test flight of the lunar module during which descent, ascent, rendezvous and docking maneuvers were rehearsed in lunar orbit
July 16, 1969 Saturn v SA-506 Apollo 11 First manned moon landing  - goal of the Apollo-Saturn program achieved
November 14, 1969 Saturn v SA-507 Apollo 12 second manned moon landing
April 11, 1970 SA-508 Apollo 13 planned third moon landing. The only unsuccessful Apollo moon mission
January 31, 1971 SA-509 Apollo 14 third manned moon landing
July 26, 1971 SA-510 Apollo 15 fourth manned moon landing, for the first time a moon car was taken
April 16, 1972 SA-511 Apollo 16 fifth manned moon landing
7th December 1972 SA-512 Apollo 17 sixth manned moon landing, so far the last human flight to the moon
May 14, 1973 SA-513 Skylab 1 last launch of Saturn V (but only with two active stages), the third stage, converted into the Skylab space station , was brought into orbit unmanned
May 25, 1973 Saturn IB SA-206 Skylab 2 first crew of the space station
July 28, 1973 SA-207 Skylab 3 second crew of the space station
November 16, 1973 SA-208 Skylab 4 third and final crew of the space station
15th July 1975 SA-210 ASTP Apollo-Soyuz project  - last launch of a Saturn rocket

The end

Last starts

The last launch of the Saturn V was on May 14, 1973, when the Skylab space station was put into orbit. The last start of a Saturn IB took place on July 15, 1975 as part of the Apollo Soyuz project .

At the end of the Apollo program, four Saturn IB rockets (SA-211 to SA-214) and two Saturn V rockets (SA-514 and SA-515) were still under construction. The operational SA-209 rocket had been used as a replacement for the Apollo Soyuz project .

Three Saturn V rockets are currently on display, but they consist of parts of different rockets, some of airworthy stages, some of test specimens. The only exhibit that consists entirely of airworthy modules has been in front of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston since 1977 . It now belongs to the National Air and Space Museum .

A Saturn IB and a Saturn V are on display in the Kennedy Space Center's visitor center . The Saturn IB is the SA-209, with a mock-up of the Apollo spacecraft (Facility Verification Vehicle) that was used until 1968 to check devices and processes. The first stage of the Saturn V is also a test copy, the second and third stages, however, come from the SA-514, which was planned for Apollo 18 .

A third Saturn V (Dynamic Test Vehicle, SA-500 D) is in the US Space & Rocket Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama . The three stages of the SA-500 D were used there for test ignitions.

The whereabouts of the Saturn rockets

No. Type Purpose (planned) Whereabouts of Saturn
SA-209 Saturn IB for Skylab Rescue Mission Kennedy Space Center
SA-211 - Level 1: Alabama Welcome Center at Ardmore
SA-212 - - (2nd stage converted to Skylab)
SA-213 - - (only 1st stage built)
SA-214 - - (only 1st stage built)
SA-513 Saturn v 1st and 2nd level for Skylab 3rd stage: Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
SA-514 (for Apollo 18) 1st tier: Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
2nd and 3rd tier: Kennedy Space Center
SA-515 (for Apollo 19) 1st level: until June 2016: Michoud Assembly Facility , since then: John C. Stennis Space Center 2nd level: Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center 3rd level: National Air and Space Museum
1st stage:

Technical specifications

Type stages height diameter Max. payload Takeoff mass Start thrust commitment
Saturn I 2 57.9 m / 37.7 m 6.55 m / 5.58 m 9 t 512 , 0t 06622 kN 1961-65
Saturn IB 68.0 m / 43.0 m 6.60 m 18 t 588 , 0t 07126 kN 1966-75
Saturn v 3 110.6 m / 85.0 m 10.06 m / 6.60 m 120 t
140 t
2934.8 t 33851 kN 1967-73

Height indicated with and without the Apollo spaceship. Payload refers to the payload in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Saturn I

step Length × diameter Engines fuel Manufacturer
1 (S-IB) 24.5 m × 6.53 m 8 × H-1 RP-1 , oxygen Chrysler
2 (S-IV) 10 , 0m × 5.58 m 6 × RL-10 Hydrogen , oxygen Douglas Aircraft Company

The total height of 50 m results from additional step adapters - among other things for the parking bay, which was used by the Pegasus satellites - and the Apollo mother ship including the Apollo rescue rocket.

Saturn IB

step Length × diameter Engines fuel Manufacturer
1 (S-IB) 24.5 m × 6.53 m 8 × H-1 RP-1 , oxygen Chrysler
2 (S-IVB) 18 , 0m × 6.6 0 m 1 × J-2 Hydrogen , oxygen Douglas Aircraft Company

The total height of 68 m results from additional step adapters - among other things for the parking bay of the Lunar Module - as well as the Apollo mother ship including the Apollo rescue rocket.

Saturn v

step Length × diameter Engines fuel Manufacturer
1 (S-IC) 42 , 0  m × 10 , 0m 5 × F-1 RP-1 , oxygen North American Rockwell (NAR)
2 (S-II) 24 , 0  m × 10 , 0m 5 × J-2 Hydrogen , oxygen North American Aviation
3 (S-IVB) 17.2 m × 06.6 m 1 × J-2 Hydrogen, oxygen Douglas Aircraft Company

The total height of 110.6 m results from additional step adapters - among other things for the parking bay of the Lunar Module - as well as the Apollo mother ship including the Apollo rescue rocket.


The start of a Saturn V is said to have been the  man-made noise that could be heard furthest after the explosion of an atomic bomb . In Titusville , about 18 kilometers away , dozens of windows broke with every take-off, and plaster fell from the ceiling in the launch bunker.

44 years after the first moon landing, the founder of Amazon , Jeff Bezos , had parts of NASA rockets from the 1960s and 1970s recovered from a depth of around 4,300 meters from the Atlantic . This also included parts of two F-1 rocket engines .

In 2017, a model of the Saturn V rocket by Lego was released as part of the Ideas program .


See also


  1. Saturn I in the Encyclopedia Astronautica , accessed on September 22, 2019 (English).
  2. a b c d diagram of Saturn V
  3. Mission S-IC: NASA Saturn V moon rocket stage moving to Mississippi. June 16, 2016, accessed June 17, 2016 .
  4. ^ Steve Creech: Progress on Enabling Unprecedented Payloads for Space in the 21st Century . NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, 2010.
  5. Alternatives for Future US Space-Launch Capabilities , Congressional Budget Office, October 2016: "The Saturn V launcher was capable of lifting a payload of somewhat less than 140 mt into LEO".
  6. NASA, technical data
  8. Introducing LEGO® Ideas 21309 NASA Apollo Saturn V . ( [accessed October 5, 2017]).


  • Gene Kranz: Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Simon & Schuster, New York 2009, ISBN 978-1-4391-4881-5 .

Web links

Commons : Saturn  - album with pictures, videos and audio files