Military Review

Aeroballistic antisatellite rocket Martin WS-199B Bold Orion (USA)

The fifties of the last century were a period of rapid development of strategic weapons. So, in the United States, completely new versions of missiles with nuclear warheads for land units were being worked out, fleet and air force. The latter initiated work on the WS-199 program, the result of which was to be the appearance of several missiles. One of the results of this work was the product Martin WS-199B Bold Orion - an aeroballistic missile capable of attacking ground targets and fighting satellites in low Earth orbit.

By the mid-fifties, it became clear that bombers with free-falling nuclear bombs would not be able to break through modern or promising air defense, and therefore strategic aviation new weapons required. Warheads should be placed on missiles with a sufficient range. Soon, the U.S. Air Force launched several similar projects, which, as expected, would enhance the nuclear triad.

Aeroballistic antisatellite rocket Martin WS-199B Bold Orion (USA)
The WS-199B product is under test.

In 1957, the air force launched the WS-199 program (the 199 Weapon System 199). As part of this program, several contractors were required to develop their version of a promising missile that meets the requirements. The military wanted an air-launched ballistic missile with a range of at least 1000 miles and with the possibility of carrying a special warhead. Such weapon intended to destroy ground targets located behind enemy air defense trains. To speed up the program it was proposed to use widely available components and products.

Just a few months after the start of the WS-199 program, the requirements were adjusted. In early October, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite of the Earth. Understanding the military potential of spacecraft, the US military from a certain time began to consider products of the WS-199 family as a means to destroy orbital targets with a predetermined trajectory. Thus, now new airballistic missiles should simultaneously belong to the air-to-earth and air-to-space classes.

WS-199 attracted several leading defense industry companies. So, one of the projects was to be created by Martin and Boeing with the assistance of other organizations. The project of the Martin company received the working designation WS-199B and the name Bold Orion (the astronomical term “Orion is distinct”). Developments of other companies received similar designations and "star" names.

The appearance of the WS-199B complex was formed fairly quickly. It was proposed to use a medium-sized solid-fuel rocket with a nuclear warhead and high flight-technical characteristics. Its carrier was supposed to be the Boeing B-47 Stratojet long-range bomber. Such aircraft could initially carry only bombs, and therefore needed rearmament. The appearance of the rocket, in turn, could return them to the required potential.

Initially, the Bold Orion rocket was built on a single-stage scheme. It had an elongated body of variable cross section, most of which consisted of cylindrical surfaces. A conical fairing with a rounded head was used. Next to the head part of the rocket were X-shaped swept steering wheels. In the tail there were larger trapezoidal stabilizers. The head compartment of the rocket contained control equipment and a warhead with a nuclear charge. All other volumes were given for the installation of a solid rocket engine.

Missile under the wing of the carrier B-47

The project involved the use of autopilot and a homing system built on the basis of inertial navigation. Own means of detecting targets and targeting them were not provided. It was proposed to enter the coordinates of the target through the onboard equipment of the aircraft carrier. If necessary, it was possible to use a ready-made flight program.

Most of the body was occupied by a Thiokol TX-20 solid-fuel engine, borrowed from the MGM-29 Sergeant tactical missile. This engine, with a length of 5,9 m and a diameter of just under 800 mm, created thrust 21,7 mc. Charge of solid mixed fuel burned out for 29-30 p. During this time, the rocket could reach the calculated trajectory, allowing it to hit a ground or orbital target.

In parallel with the design of the WS-199B rocket, the required modernization of its future carrier was carried out. B-47 bomber was proposed to equip an additional pylon on the starboard, as well as a set of electronics to control the missile prior to discharge. The product Bold Orion was proposed to be transported on an external sling, put on a given course and then dropped. After that, the on-board automatics and the engine were to begin work.

The widespread use of ready-made components has allowed us to develop the entire missile system in just a few months. Already in May, 1958 of the year at the air base at Cape Canaveral (pieces Florida) delivered a batch of experienced missiles WS-199B. Along with them arrived converted bomber carrier. After some ground checks, the experts from the Air Force and the development companies began flight testing.

The first launch of a new type of rocket took place on 26 on May 1958 of the year. His goal was to test the operation of the units, and therefore it did not achieve record characteristics. The rocket dropped from the aircraft rose to a height of just 8 km and flew several tens of kilometers. The launch was considered successful. The second launch took place on June 27, but ended in an accident. In both cases, the WS-199B was tested as an air-based ballistic missile intended for ground attack.

View from a different angle

Further tests continued. Now experienced missiles had to use all their capabilities and fly to the greatest possible distance. In this case, there was an increase in the height of the trajectory. Rising to an altitude of about 100 km, the WS-199B rocket could hit the target at distances up to 800-1000 km. The first launch with the receipt of such parameters took place on July 18 1958 of the year. In September, October and November, three more tests were conducted with similar results.

Of the first six launches, five were successful, but the test results did not suit the customer. The resulting range of ground targets and altitude of flight limited the real potential of the complex. For this reason, even before the completion of the first stage of testing, the development of an improved version of the WS-199B rocket started. To improve the basic characteristics, it was proposed to rework its structure and rebuild according to a two-step scheme.

The existing rocket was actually divided into two stages. The first left solid-fuel engine TX-20. He showed sufficient characteristics, but alone could not accelerate the rocket to the desired speeds and send to the desired height. As part of the second stage, it was proposed to use a solid X-248 Altair engine, designed for the third stage of the Vanguard launch vehicle. The product with the 1270 kgf pulley allowed to extend the active part of the flight and provide additional acceleration with a corresponding increase in range or altitude.

This refinement has led to some changes in the appearance of the rocket, as well as increased its dimensions. The length of the product was brought to 11 m, and the maximum diameter without taking into account the planes was now 790 mm. This was an acceptable price for a significant increase in combat performance.

At the beginning of December, 1958 of the year started preparations for the testing of a two-stage Bold Orion rocket. 8 December carrier aircraft first dropped such a product. Two more launches conducted 16 December and 4 April. In three cases, the rocket rose to an altitude of about 200 km and delivered a training warhead to a range of about 1800 km. 8 and 19 June 1959 of the year completed its two starts, but this time they used single-stage rockets. The new weapon showed its characteristics, and now it could well be used as part of strategic nuclear forces.

Bomber taking off with an experienced rocket

The nine 1958-59 test launches demonstrated the potential of the WS-199B as an aeroballistic missile. The new weapon really could solve the assigned combat missions, and in addition, thanks to it, the aging B-47 bombers could return to full service. However, by this time the customer had lost interest in the project. The main prerequisites for this were successes in other programs, including in other areas.

First of all, the competition of the air and naval forces had a negative impact on the prospects for the WS-199B Bold Orion project. While the Navy could not get workable ballistic missiles for submarines, characterized by high performance, aeroballistic weapons for aircraft could be of interest to the Pentagon. Progress and success in this area, respectively, hit the program to develop aviation weapons. In addition, "Orion distinct" was quite expensive and difficult to manufacture and operate. Claims also arose against the carrier of such weapons, which no longer fully complied with current requirements.

In the middle of 1959, the Air Force decided to abandon the WS-199B product as a means of defeating ground targets. However, the project was not closed because a new role was found for the rocket. Not long ago, the USSR and the USA began to launch artificial satellites into orbit, and in the near future, military spacecraft could appear. In this connection, a proposal was made to develop anti-satellite weapons based on the WS-199 missiles.

The study of the actual issue showed that the WS-199B Bold Orion rocket does not need any technical modifications to ensure its use against spacecraft. At the same time, it was required to update the algorithms of the on-board electronics and the preparation of specific flight programs. It should be noted that the predictability of the satellite trajectory to some extent facilitated the preparation for the launch of the interceptor missile.

October 13 The X-NUMX of the year the B-1959 carrier aircraft once again took off with the WS-47B rocket on an external sling. The rocket was dropped at an altitude of 199 km, after which it turned on the engine of the first stage and began to climb. It is curious that the launch was carried out for a real purpose: the target for the rocket was the Explorer 11 satellite launched in August of the same year. The satellite was in an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 6 km and a perigee of 41900 km. The interception was carried out during its passage through the least high part of the orbit.

Satellite Explorer 6 - training goal for Bold Orion

A few minutes after the launch, the interceptor missile reached the interception area. The imperfection of the guiding means led to the fact that it made a blunder and passed 6,4 km from the target satellite. Such a “meeting” occurred at an altitude of 251 km. Calculations showed that a missile with a standard nuclear warhead could destroy the training target, even with the blunder that took place.

The test launch of October 13 confirmed the fundamental possibility of intercepting satellites in low orbits using air-based missiles. However, further development of this idea in the framework of the WS-199B project was no longer planned. And soon, anti-satellite weapons projects were abandoned in favor of other developments. Also in this period began the promotion of ideas about the neutrality of space and the prohibition of the placement of weapons on the orbits of the Earth.

Aeroballistic rocket WS-199B Bold Orion showed quite high performance, and could also be used to solve special problems. However, the Pentagon decided not to bring it to mass production and operation in the army. It was proposed to strengthen the arsenals of the air force with the help of other weapons. Developments on the program WS-199 were soon used in the design of new missiles. In particular, based on them, a GAM-87 Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile was created.

Using the already well-known ideas and solutions, as well as ready-made components, Martin was able in the shortest possible time to create a new air-based ballistic missile compatible with serial long-range bombers. Tests of such weapons in the original role, in general, ended successfully. However, the further development of the project was prevented by a number of “external” factors related to the success of other developments. An attempt to find a rocket a new application in the field of anti-spacecraft also failed. However, the developments on the WS-199B are not lost.

In parallel with the WS-199B Bolr Orion, the American industry created a similar missile WS-199C High Virgo. The WS-199 Alpha Draco tactical missile was also designed as part of the WS-199 program. None of these samples were brought to service, however, all of them are of great interest with historical and technical point of view.

On the materials of the sites:
Photos used:
US Air Force, Wikimedia Commons
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  1. Nikolaevich I
    Nikolaevich I April 28 2018 08: 19
    No wonder it is said that "history is developing in a spiral." The historical “revolution” “went around” ... and again they started talking about anti-satellite air-to-space and surface-to-space anti-satellite interceptor missiles; about long-range air-to-surface aeroballistic missiles.
  2. Operator
    Operator April 28 2018 11: 47
    The problem of the WS-199B Bold Orion anti-satellite missile was not in it, but in the carrier aircraft - using a heavy bomber made the air launch procedure too expensive and did not allow for an optimal launch path - at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizon.

    The Russian Dagger ARC is based on the MiG-31 fighter, which provides launching of the rocket in pitch mode and also at twice the height and three times the speed than a heavy bomber.