Thorad-Agena

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Thorad-Agena
Thorad Agena-D launching POPPY satellite.jpg
The last Thorad Agena SLV-2G with four Poppy spacecraft
Function Expendable launch system
Manufacturer Douglas
Country of origin United States
Size
Height SLV-2G: 32.9m (107.9 ft)
SLV-2H: 34m (111 ft)
Diameter 2.44m (8 ft)
Mass SLV-2G: 91,400kg (201,500 lb)
SLV-2H: 88,731kg (195,618 lb)
Stages 2
Launch history
Status Retired
Launch sites Vandenberg AFB, SLC-1, SLC-2E, SLC-3W
Total launches 43 (30 SLV-2G, 13 SLV-2H)
Successes 40 (28 SLV-2G, 12 SLV-2H)
Failures 2 (1 SLV-2G, 1 SLV-2H)
Partial failures 1 (SLV-2G)
First flight SLV-2G: 9 August 1966
SLV-2H: 5 June 1969
Last flight SLV-2G: 14 December 1971
SLV-2H:25 May 1972
See also: Thor-Agena

The Thorad-Agena was an American expendable launch system, derived from the Thor and Delta rockets. The first stage of the rocket was a stretched Thor variant named "Long Tank Thrust Augmented Thor". The Long Tank Thor first stage was later adopted by NASA's Delta program for its "Thrust Augmented Improved Delta", which first flew in 1968. The second stage was the Agena-D, which had already been used in conjunction with the standard configuration Thor, as the Thor-Agena. Three Castor rockets would be used as boosters. Most launches carried Corona (KeyHole) reconnaissance satellites, particularly spacecraft of the KH-4 series, however some scientific and technology development satellites were also flown, mostly towards the end of the program.

43 launches took place from 1966-72 with two complete failures and one partial.

The launch of a KH-4A photoreconnaissance satellite on May 9, 1967 malfunctioned when the Thor's first stage failed to cut off on schedule and continued burning until LOX depletion, thus putting the satellite into an incorrect orbit that seriously reduced its image quality.

The first total failure was the launch of a Nimbus weather satellite on May 5, 1968 when an improperly adjusted gyroscope in the guidance package caused the Thor to veer off its flight path. Range Safety sent the destruct command 120 seconds into launch. This mission was noteworthy because the satellite carried a pair of isotopic power generators known as SNAP (Systems For Nuclear Auxiliary Power). As the possibility of a launch failure had been considered during their design, the power generators were equipped with a very sturdy casing to prevent their radioactive contents from escaping into the environment. After the destruction of Nimbus-B's launch vehicle, Navy crews became an extensive search for the SNAP generators. On September 27, the Nimbus satellite was located in 300 feet of water near the Santa Barbara Islands with the SNAP units laying nearby. They were successfully fished out of the ocean two weeks later and their protective casings found to be intact. The fuel inside them was taken out and reused in a subsequent Nimbus launch.

The other total failure was the attempted launch of a KH-4B photoreconnaissance satellite on February 17, 1971. A pad technician mistakenly added too much lubricant to the Thor's fuel system, the result being that the excess fluid formed a frozen plug in a section of plumbing. The booster lifted and flew for 18 seconds, whereupon the LOX turbopump disintegrated. Flying debris tore up the boattail section, resulting in complete loss of thrust. The crippled rocket crashed into Bear Creek Canyon a quarter mile from the launch complex.

The Thorad-Agena was flown in two different configurations, the SLV-2G, and the SLV-2H. These differed in that the SLV-2G used Castor 1 strap-on boosters, whereas the 2H used Castor 2s.