Titan 34D

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Titan 34D
DF-SC-83-03173 cropped.jpeg
Launch of the Titan 34D
Function Heavy carrier rocket
Manufacturer Martin Marietta
Country of origin United States
Payload to LEO 32,000 lb (14,515 kg)
Payload to
11,000 lb (5,000 kg)
Associated rockets
Family Titan
Launch history
Status Retired
Launch sites LC-40, CCAFS
Total launches 15
Successes 12
Failures 3
First flight 30 October 1982
Last flight 4 September 1989
0 stage - UA1206
Length 27.56 m (90.41 ft)
Diameter 3.05 m (10.00 ft)
Empty mass 40,827 kg
Gross mass 251,427 kg
Thrust 6,227.00 kN
Specific impulse 265 sec
Burn time 114 sec
Fuel Solid (Polybutadiene acrylonitrile)
First stage - Titan 3B-1
Length 23.99 m (78.70 ft)
Diameter 3.05 m (10.00 ft)
Empty mass 7,000 kg (15,400 lb)
Gross mass 139,935 kg (308,503 lb)
Engines 2x LR-87-11
Thrust 2,413.191 kN (542,507 lbf)
Specific impulse 302 sec
Burn time 161 sec
Fuel Dinitrogen tetroxide/Aerozine 50
Second stage - Titan 3B-2
Length 8.60 m (28.20 ft)
Diameter 3.05 m (10.00 ft)
Empty mass 2,900 kg (6,300 lb)
Gross mass 37,560 kg (82,800 lb)
Engines LR-91-11
Thrust 460.314 kN (103,483 lbf)
Specific impulse 316 sec
Burn time 230 sec
Fuel Dinitrogen tetroxide/Aerozine 50

The Titan 34D was a United States expendable launch vehicle, used to launch a number of satellites for military applications.

Service history[edit]

Derived from the Titan III, the Titan 34D featured stretched first and second stages with more powerful UA1206 solid boosters. A variety of upper stages were available, including the Inertial Upper Stage, the Transfer Orbit Stage, and the Transtage.[1] The Titan 34D made its maiden flight on 30 October 1982 with two DSCS defense communications satellites for the United States Department of Defense (DOD).

All launches were conducted from either LC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Fifteen launches were carried out, of which three failed.

The first failure was a launch of a KH-11 photoreconnaissance satellite on August 28, 1985 when the core stage suffered a propulsion system malfunction and was destroyed by Range Safety. The flight proceeded normally until core engine start at T+108 seconds. An abnormal start transient occurred and Engine 2 began experiencing thrust decay at T+112 seconds. At T+212 seconds, Engine 1 shut down, causing loss of attitude control. The onboard computer shut off Engine 2 at T+256 seconds and began a premature separation and ignition of the second stage. With the Titan now tumbling and headed back towards land, the destruct command was issued at T+272 seconds and the KH-11 crashed into the Pacific Ocean. In addition, during Stage 1's powered flight, the oxidizer tank began leaking N2O2 which was thought to have resulted in loss of lubrication to the Engine 1 turbopump and breakdown of the pinion gear. Attempts by the Navy to salvage booster debris from the ocean floor were largely unsuccessful. Investigators also complained that tracking camera coverage during the core stage burn was inadequate.

Titan 34D-7 was the first failed launch of a solid motor-equipped Titan vehicle from Vandenberg (there had been several failures from Cape Canaveral over the years) and was particularly vexing because of inadequate launch data - the Titan III's flawless West Coast launch record meant that the Air Force felt confident enough to remove several telemetry measurements from the boosters in the interest of reduced weight and complexity. There had evidently been leaks from both the fuel and oxidizer tanks and suspicion hinged on clamps that held the propellant feed lines in place. However, the clamps had not failed on any previous launches so it was not clear why they would suddenly fail now. Some members on the investigative board even proposed that the SRBs had suffered an exhaust gas leak which caused damage to the core stage. As evidence, they noted that a piece of cork insulation had broken off one SRB shortly after launch. The official cause of the failure was "Leakage of oxidizer resulting in loss of turbopump lubrication and breakdown of the pinion gear", however most of the investigative team were unsatisfied with this verdict.

As a result of 34D-7, the Air Force took measures to ensure that a repeat failure would not occur. These included reinstalling some of the deleted telemetry probes on the Titan as well as improved camera coverage - the next launch would even have aircraft flying overhead to provide additional photography.

Titan 34D-9 was prepared for launch on April 18, 1986. Instead of the advanced KH-11 satellite carried on 34D-7, this booster would have the older model KH-9, in what would be the final launch of that satellite as well as the final launch of a film capsule-based photo-reconnaissance satellite by the US. One hundred and twenty people were gathered in the blockhouse on a clear, cloudless Friday morning, a rare situation for the normally foggy California coast. Liftoff took place at 10:45 AM Pacific Time. It only took a few seconds for disaster to strike as the Titan catastrophically exploded just above SLC-4E, showering the launch complex as well as the adjacent SLC-4W (used for Titan 3B launches) with debris and toxic propellant.[Other sources 1] and showering SLC4E with debris and toxic propellant.[Other sources 2]

Investigation quickly provided an anatomy of the failure. The right solid rocket motor ruptured starting at T+6 seconds and the resulting torque on the launch vehicle caused the left SRM to break away, triggering its automatic destruct system, blowing the first stage to pieces and rupturing the second stage N2O2 tank. The upper stages were ejected and launched through the air until a manual destruct command was sent by the range safety officer at T+20 seconds. The KH-9 was also blown up by its internal self-destruct mechanism, which was designed to destroy the classified satellite in the event of a launch malfunction. Debris rained onto SLC-4E, badly damaging the launch complex in the process and starting numerous small fires, some of which burned for up to two days. Extracting launch personnel from the blockhouse proved difficult due to the area around the pad being filled with toxic fumes and burning debris. The right SRB had come down largely intact onto a concrete structure near the pad which fortunately had nobody inside it at the time of launch (the casing rupture had damaged the Inadvertent Separation Destruct System [ISDS] lanyards and prevented proper destruction of the SRB).

The disaster drew unfortunate comparisons to the Challenger shuttle accident three months earlier, which was also the victim of a solid rocket motor malfunction. However, the Titan incident was found to have a rather different cause as it had not suffered O-ring burn through, but instead the culprit was a small air pocket between the SRM propellant and its metal motor casing. This allowed hot exhaust gases to burn through the casing and eventually rupture the SRM. The loss of two photoreconnaissance satellites in a row also badly hampered US efforts to acquire intelligence on Soviet activities.

The Air Force, prior to finding out the true cause of 34D-9's failure, were so befuddled at the loss of two Titan IIIs in a row that they believed for a time that saboteurs had been at work on Vandenberg Air Force Base and had base personnel comb the nearby hills for bullet casings.

Due to the classified payload, extensive efforts were made to clean up all remains of the KH-9, whose film reels were ripped apart into hundreds of small pieces and scattered around the pad era. The satellite debris was taken away for burial in an undisclosed location in Nevada.

Investigation found that the manufacturer of the UA1206 boosters, Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies, had virtually forgotten proper quality control measures. Due to the shuttle program, demand for expendable launch vehicles was greatly reduced during the 1980s and manufacturers had been cutting costs, dropping technical personnel, and preparing to phase out EVLs. However, the Challenger disaster created a renewed emphasis on ELVs and would see a considerable expansion of the upcoming Titan IV program, originally intended for just ten launches.

The exact reason for the air pocket in the #2 SRM was never satisfactorily determined. While all of the rocket segments were at least five years old (since all flight article Titan 34Ds had been manufactured and delivered by 1982 and the production line long since shut down), there had been no similar problems on other SRBs of the same age. Thanks to Titan 34D-9 (and because an SRB malfunction was a possible cause of 34D-7's failure), more stringent measures were put in place which included X-raying SRB segments on Titans to ensure proper operating condition before launch.

SLC-4E was out of commission until October 1987, after which it hosted the remaining two Titan 34D launches without incident.

Titan 34D had a payload capacity of 14,515 kg (32,000 lb) to low Earth orbit, and of 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to a GTO.[2]

Use with Vortex satellites[edit]

Artist's concept of Titan 34D

Three Vortex satellites were launched using Titan 34D vehicles between 1984 and 1989.

Date Spacecraft NSSDC ID Comments
1984-01-31 1984-009A 1984-009A also called Vortex 4
1988-09-02 USA 31 1988-077A also called Vortex 5
1989-05-10 USA 37 1989-035A also called Vortex 6

Launch history[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Titan 34D". Astronautix. Retrieved 27 February 2016. 
  2. ^ astronautix.com, Titan 34D

Other sources[edit]

  1. ^ A. Day, Dwayne (December 15, 2008). "Death of a monster". The Space Review. 
  2. ^ Isachar, Hanan. "The Titan 34D rocket explosion at Vanderberg Air Force Base, CA". Hanan Isachar Photography. 


Media related to Titan 34D at Wikimedia Commons