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Bold Orion

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Bold Orion
Bold Orion on trailer with B-47 launch aircraft in background.jpg
Bold Orion, with B-47 launch aircraft
TypeAir-launched ballistic missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1958–1959
Used byUnited States Air Force
Production history
ManufacturerMartin Aircraft
No. built12
Specifications (Two-stage version)
Length37 feet (11 m)
Diameter2 feet 7 inches (0.79 m)

EngineFirst stage, Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant; 1,500 lbf (6.66 kN)
Second stage, ABL X-248 Altair; 2,800 lbf (12.45 kN)
PropellantSolid fuel
1,100 miles (1,800 km)
B-47 Stratojet

The Bold Orion missile, also known as Weapons System 199B (WS-199B), was a prototype air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) developed by Martin Aircraft during the 1950s. Developed in both one- and two-stage designs, the missile was moderately successful in testing, and helped pave the way for development of the GAM-87 Skybolt ALBM. In addition, the Bold Orion was used in early anti-satellite weapons testing, performing the first interception of a satellite by a missile.

Design and development[edit]

The Bold Orion missile was developed as part of Weapons System 199, initiated by the United States Air Force (USAF) in response to the U.S. Navy's Polaris program,[1] with funding authorised by the United States Congress in 1957.[2] The purpose of WS-199 was the development of technology that would be used in new strategic weapons for the USAF's Strategic Air Command, not to deliver operational weapons; a primary emphasis was on proving the feasibility of an air-launched ballistic missile.[2][3][4]

The designation WS-199B was assigned to the project that, under a contract awarded in 1958 to Martin Aircraft, would become the Bold Orion missile.[3] The design of Bold Orion was simple, using parts developed for other missile systems to reduce the cost and development time of the project.[3] The initial Bold Orion configuration was a single-stage vehicle, using a Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant solid-fuel rocket.[3][5] Following initial testing, the Bold Orion configuration was altered to become a two-stage vehicle, an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair upper stage being added to the missile.[3][6]

Operational history[edit]

Having been given top priority by the Air Force,[7] the first flight test of the Bold Orion missile was conducted on May 26, 1958, from a Boeing B-47 Stratojet carrier aircraft,[3][8] which launched the Bold Orion vehicle at the apex of a high-speed, high-angle climb.[3][9] The zoom climb tactic, combined with the thrust from the rocket motor of the missile itself, allowed the missile to achieve its maximum range, or, alternatively, to reach space.[9]

A twelve-flight test series of the Bold Orion vehicle was conducted;[3] however, despite suffering only one outright failure, the initial flight tests of the single-stage rocket proved less successful than hoped.[3] Authorisation was received to modify the Bold Orion to become a two-stage vehicle; in addition to the modifications improving the missile's reliability, they increased the range of Bold Orion to over 1,000 miles (1,600 km).[4][10] Four of the final six test firings were of the two-stage vehicle; these were considered completely successful, and established that the ALBM was a viable weapon.[2][3]

ASAT test[edit]

The final test launch of Bold Orion, conducted on October 13, 1959, was a test of the vehicle's capabilities in the anti-satellite role.[11][12] Launched from an altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m) from its B-47 mothership, the missile successfully intercepted the Explorer 6 satellite,[13] passing its target at a range of less than 4 miles (6.4 km) at an altitude of 156 miles (251 km).[14][3] Had the missile been fitted with a nuclear warhead, the satellite would have been destroyed.[9][15]

The Bold Orion ASAT test was the first interception of a satellite by any method, proving that anti-satellite missiles were feasible.[11][16] However this test, along with an earlier, unsuccessful test of the High Virgo missile in the anti-satellite role, had political repercussions; the Eisenhower administration sought to establish space as a neutral ground for everyone's usage, and the "indication of hostile intent" the tests were seen to give was frowned upon, with anti-satellite weapons development being curtailed shortly thereafter.[9][17]


The results of the Bold Orion project, along with those from the testing of the High Virgo missile, also developed under WS-199, provided data and knowledge that assisted the Air Force in forming the requirements for the follow-on WS-138A, which would produce the GAM-87 Skybolt missile.[3][18]

Launch history[edit]

Bold Orion on B-47 carrier aircraft
Date/Time (GMT) Rocket Launch site Outcome Remarks[19]
1958-05-26 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 8 kilometres (5.0 mi)
1958-06-27 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Failure Apogee 12 kilometres (7.5 mi)
1958-07-18 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-09-25 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-10-10 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-11-17 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-12-08 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1958-12-16 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1959-04-04 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1959-06-08 Single-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1959-06-19 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1959-10-13 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)

See also[edit]

Related development
Comparable weapons



  1. ^ Ball 1980, p.226.
  2. ^ a b c Yengst 2010, p.37.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Parsch 2005
  4. ^ a b Stares 1985, p.109.
  5. ^ Ordway and Wakeford 1960, p.30.
  6. ^ Smith 1981, p.178.
  7. ^ Missiles and Rockets, volume 5. Washington Countdown. p.9.
  8. ^ Friedman 2000, p.122.
  9. ^ a b c d Temple 2004, p.111.
  10. ^ Besserer and Besserer 1959, p.34.
  11. ^ a b Peebles 1997, p. 65.
  12. ^ Chronology 1961, p.89.
  13. ^ Bowman 1986, p.14.
  14. ^ Yenne 2005, p.67.
  15. ^ Bulkeley and Spinardi 1986, p.17.
  16. ^ Hays 2002, p.84.
  17. ^ Lewis and Lewis 1987, pp.93–95.
  18. ^ International Aeronautic Federation. Interavia volume 15, p.814.
  19. ^ Bold Orion Archived November 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Encyclopedia Astronautica. Accessed 2011-01-19.


  • 1st Session. House Committee On Science And Astronautics. U.S. Congress. 87th Congress (1961). A Chronology of Missile and Astronautic Events. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. ASIN B000M1F3O0. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Ball, Desmond (1980). Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03698-0. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Besserer, C.W.; Hazel C. Besserer (1959). Guide to the Space Age. Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice-Hall. ASIN B004BIGGO6.
  • Bowman, Robert (1986). Star Wars: A Defense Insider's Case Against the Strategic Defense Initiative. Los Angeles: Tarcher Publications. ASIN B000NQI6B6. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Bulkeley, Rip; Graham Spinardi (1986). Space Weapons: Deterrence or Delusion?. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 0-389-20640-7. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Friedman, Norman (2000). Seapower and Space: From the Dawn of the Missile Age to Net-Centric Warfare. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-004-3.
  • Hays, Peter L. (2002). United States Military Space: Into the Twenty-First Century. INSS Occasional Papers. 42. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Lewis, John S.; Ruth A. Lewis (1987). Space Resources: Breaking the Bonds of Earth. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06498-5. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Ordway, Frederick Ira; Ronald C. Wakeford (1960). International Missile and Spacecraft Guide. New York: McGraw-Hill. ASIN B000MAEGVC.
  • Parsch, Andreas (2005). "WS-199". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Peebles, Curtis (1997). High Frontier: The U.S. Air Force and the Military Space Program. Washington, D.C.: Air Force Historical Studies Office. ISBN 978-0-7881-4800-2. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Smith, Marcia S. (1981). United States Civilian Space Programs, 1958–1978; Report Prepared for the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications. 1. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. ASIN B000VA45WS.
  • Stares, Paul B. (1985). The Militarization of Space: U.S. Policy, 1945–1984. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-1810-5.
  • Temple, L. Parker, III (2004). Shades of Gray: National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. ISBN 978-1-56347-723-2. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Yengst, William (2010). Lightning Bolts: First Manuevering [sic] Reentry Vehicles. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises. ISBN 978-1-61566-547-1.
  • Yenne, Bill (2005). Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos: High-Tech (and Low-Tech) Innovations of the U.S. Military. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-2115-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]