Polaris and Minuteman: The Solid-Propellant Breakthrough, 1955–1970

J. D. Hunley

in Preludes to U.S. Space-Launch Vehicle Technology

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780813031774
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813038551 | DOI:
Polaris and Minuteman: The Solid-Propellant Breakthrough, 1955–1970

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This chapter discusses the development of the Polaris and Minuteman missiles. By the time Polaris got under way in 1956 and Minuteman in 1958, solid-propellant rocketry had already made tremendous strides beyond the use of extruded double-base propellants in tactical missiles during World War II. But there were still enormous technical hurdles to overcome before a solid-propellant missile could hope to launch a strategic nuclear warhead far enough and with sufficient accuracy to serve effectively as a deterrent or as a retaliatory weapon in case of enemy aggression. Unmet needs included higher performance; more stable combustion; nozzle materials that would stand up to heat and to corrosive chemicals from the exhaust of longer- and hotter-burning propellants; lighter combustion chambers, to reduce the weight being launched; a small but still powerful warhead, also to reduce weight; a way to terminate combustion as soon as the desired velocity was achieved, to improve accuracy; a way to control the direction (vector) of the thrust, for steering; and a small, light, and accurate inertial guidance system.

Keywords: missile technology; ballistic missiles; missile development; rocket development; solid propellants; liquid propellants

Chapter.  16101 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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