Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship


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More than eleven years before the orbiting of Sputnik, history’s first artificial space satellite, Project RAND — then active within Douglas Aircraft Company’s Engineering Division — released its first report: Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship (SM-11827), May 2, 1946. Interest in the feasibility of space satellites had surfaced somewhat earlier in a Navy proposal for an interservice space program (March 1946). Major General Curtis E. LeMay, then Deputy Chief of the Air Staff for Research and Development, considered space operations to be an extension of air operations. He tasked Project RAND to undertake a feasibility study of its own with a three-week deadline. The resulting report arrived two days before a critical review of the subject with the Navy. The central argument turns on the feasibility of such a space vehicle from an engineering standpoint, but alongside the curves and tabulations are visionary statements, such as that by Louis Ridenour on the significance of satellites to man’s store of knowledge, and that of Francis Clauser on the possibility of man in space. But the most riveting observation, one that deserves an honored place in the Central Premonitions Registry, was made by one of the contributors, Jimmy Lipp (head of Project RAND’s Missile Division), in a follow-on paper nine months later: “Since mastery of the elements is a reliable index of material progress, the nation which first makes significant achievements in space travel will be acknowledged as the world leader in both military and scientific techniques. To visualize the impact on the world, one can imagine the consternation and admiration that would be felt here if the United States were to discover suddenly that some other nation had already put up a successful satellite.”

Table of Contents

  • Part 1

  • Chapter One


    D. Griggs

  • Chapter Two

    Significance of a Satellite Vehicle

    L. Ridenour

  • Chapter Three

    General Characteristics of a Satellite Vehicle

    F. Clauser

  • Chapter Four

    Power Plant Suitable for Satellite Vehicles

    F. Clauser, G. Peebles

  • Chapter Five

    Dynamics of Achieving Orbital Motion

    F. Clauser, P. Lagerstrom

  • Chapter Six

    Rocket Power Plants and Fuels

    G. Peebles

  • Chapter Seven

    Consideration of Structural Weight

    W. Klemperer, J. Lipp

  • Chapter Eight

    Investigation of Design Proportions

    F. Clauser, P. Lagerstrom

  • Part 2

  • Chapter Nine

    Final Establishment of Sizes and Trajectories

    F. Clauser, R. Krueger

  • Chapter Ten

    Method of Guiding Vehicle on Trajectory

    F. Clauser, E. Graham, R. Shevell, V. Sturdevant

  • Chapter Eleven

    Problems After Orbit is Established

    G. Grimminger, W. Klemperer, H. Luskin

  • Chapter Twelve

    The Problem of Descent and Landing

    H. Luskin

  • Chapter Thirteen

    Description of Vehicle

    B. Baker, E. Bradshaw, W. Klemperer

  • Chapter Fourteen

    Possibilities of a Man Carrying Vehicle

    F. Clauser

  • Chapter Fifteen

    Estimation of Tine and Cost of Project

    W. Klemperer, E. Wheaton

  • Part 3

  • Chapter Sixteen

    Research and Development Necessary for Design

    W. Klemperer, H. Liepmann

  • Chapter Seventeen


    F. Clauser

  • Appendix A

    The Upper Atmosphere

    G. Grimminger

  • Appendix B

    The Determination of the Drag Coefficient

    H. Luskin

  • Appendix C

    Lagrangian Equations

    F. Clauser

  • Appendix D

    Sample of the Detailed Trajectory Calculation

    R. Krueger

  • Appendix E

    Development of Small Perturbation Equations of Motion

    E. Graham

  • Appendix F

    Orbit Calculation

    E. Graham, V. Sturdevant

  • Appendix G

    The Meteorite-Hit Probability Formulas

    G. Grimminger, D. Wall

  • Appendix H

    Development of Stability Equations

    E. Graham

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Special memorandum series. The Special Memorandum was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1947 to 1973 that represented working papers meant to report specialized results of RAND research to appropriate audiences.

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