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  Agena beat out Vega because of CORONA?

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Author Topic:   Agena beat out Vega because of CORONA?
Jay Gallentine
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From: Shorewood, MN, USA
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posted 07-12-2007 08:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Gallentine   Click Here to Email Jay Gallentine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi There,

There are those who say that the original Vega upper-stage for Atlas was dropped because the Air Force was already farther along on Agena - and more importantly, Agena would be needed to portage the CORONA spy satellites into orbit.

Comment?
Thanks,
Jay Gallentine

tfrielin
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posted 07-13-2007 09:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tfrielin   Click Here to Email tfrielin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I vaguely recall Vega as a teeny little upper stage and always assumed it was dropped because it had little capability to offer.

------------------
tfrielin

art540
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posted 07-13-2007 09:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Vega was a large stage with a 30,000 lb thrust engine being developed without the knowledge of the DoD Agena existence. Once Agena was revaeled Vega was cancelled. Fortunately Centaur came along to launch the heavier payloads (after major delays in development).

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-13-2007 10:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Check out the book Eye in the Sky for information on this. I know I've written about it before. I've just forgotten the details.

Agena was under development for a lot of USAF payloads: Samos, Midas, Discoverer (Corona). There was a coordinating board between NASA and DoD that was supposed to eliminate redundancy and I think it eventually killed Vega. I think that the story was that NASA was "unaware" of Agena, but I find this really hard to believe. There was nothing secret about the Agena's existence. In fact, I recently found documents at NARA in Laguna Niguel where a NASA rep was briefed on the USAF satellite plans. I'll have to check the dates, but I'm thinking it was 1958 and might even have been 1956 or 1957 (the rep was then working for NACA, NASA's predecessor). The interesting thing is that he got two briefings and the first one was about an upper stage that bears no resemblance to anything they built. This briefing was by Truax and I think he was blowing a lot of smoke and telling them about his own personal hobby-horse (to mix some metaphors). Later the rep got another briefing and it was much more like what USAF was actually doing at the time.

I think Joel Powell has written about Vega for Spaceflight.

Killing Vega ultimately made a lot of sense. NASA saved development money and could ride on the advances made by the USAF. However, I suspect that Vega was really an attempt by JPL to keep their hand in the rocket development game and they lost.

atlas5guy
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posted 07-13-2007 05:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for atlas5guy   Click Here to Email atlas5guy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Vega was a substantially larger and more powerful upper stage than the Agena.
Whether or not NASA knew of the Agena's existance or not, I believe that the space agency may have saved some development money in the short run, but in hindsight (always 20/20!) the Vega cancellation was a mistake in that it would have provided a much-needed insurance policy for NASA in the event that Centaur was delayed (which it was, from 1962 until 1966!) to launch large lunar or planetary spacecraft. Agena may have been quite adequate for the lunar missions eventually assigned to it (Ranger and Lunar Orbiter) but it was clearly lacking in performance for the early Venus and Mars probes (think of what a more capable Vega-boosted Mars probe would have discovered during the Mariner 4 mission...)
The political climate in late 1959 may have sunk Vega (ie lack of developmental funding) but there are several reasons that Vega would have been a good idea (Centaur back-up and a larger payload capacity available on an upper stage developed by NASA, not borroweed from the Air Force). If anybody is interested, I could provide copies or scans of my 2002 QUEST article about Vega off-line.

Joel Powell

DDAY
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posted 07-15-2007 11:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DDAY   Click Here to Email DDAY     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by atlas5guy:
but in hindsight (always 20/20!) the Vega cancellation was a mistake in that it would have provided a much-needed insurance policy for NASA in the event that Centaur was delayed (which it was, from 1962 until 1966!) to launch large lunar or planetary spacecraft.

[SNIP]

but there are several reasons that Vega would have been a good idea (Centaur back-up and a larger payload capacity available on an upper stage developed by NASA, not borroweed from the Air Force).


But was it really necessary? And also, was it affordable?

All of these decisions are interlinked. If Vega had been pursued, NASA would have had less money to pursue the Centaur, which could have delayed it even further. So rather than an insurance policy for Centaur, it could have actually hurt that program.

The decision makers have to make strategic choices, and they clearly viewed Agena and Vega as redundant. Was Vega sufficiently capable that it actually could have done something that needed doing, _without_ affecting the much more capable Centaur?

Jay Gallentine
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From: Shorewood, MN, USA
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posted 07-18-2007 09:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Gallentine   Click Here to Email Jay Gallentine     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hey Folks, great information. Thanks for the detail.

For what it's worth, I've also been in touch with Cargill Hall on this topic, and he asserts that the Air Force did indeed hide Agena from NASA.

Regards,
Jay Gallentine

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-19-2007 06:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Gallentine:
For what it's worth, I've also been in touch with Cargill Hall on this topic, and he asserts that the Air Force did indeed hide Agena from NASA.

Cargill's very good, and I would defer to him. However, I will have to check my notes from the Hartman collection to see what the dates were. It is entirely possible that Hartman was briefed on Agena back when it was still called the Hustler (for the engine, which came from a missile under development for the B-58 Hustler).

By the way, Jay, contact me offline. I read what you sent me and have a comment.

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-20-2007 08:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I checked my files and I found the two relevant documents. I acquired them at the NARA facility at Laguna Niguel a couple of months ago. They are in the Edwin Hartman files, in the "Secret" boxes. There are only about three boxes in that section and I don't know which specific one I obtained these from, but I believe that the folders in the boxes are sequential. Hartman was the NACA representative in southern California and he wrote both memos to the director of NACA.

The two relevant documents are a trip report to the ARDC Ballistic Missile Division in Inglewood on Feb 6, 1958, and a visit to Lockheed Missile Systems Division in Sunnyvale, on Feb 18, 1958.

The first document is rather amazing in how wrong everything is. Hartman and Max Faget (remember him?) visited ARDC and met with Commander Bob Truax (remember him too?).

Essentially this is a report about all the technology that Truax told them about. Because so little of this ever progressed at ARDC I am now starting to suspect that Truax only told the men about projects that ARDC had already abandoned and was not pursuing. In other words, he lied to them. He didn't tell them about the WS-117L reconnaissance satellite program and everything that was associated with it.

The second memo is more relevant to the question asked here. The Lockheed people were very open to the NACA representatives and told them a lot, including information on the design of the Hustler upper stage, its rocket engine, etc.

Note that this is in March 1958--even before NASA was created. So it is clear that NASA, when it was created, knew that the Agena existed. After all, Hartman's reports to the director of NACA became the property of NASA.

However, I believe that the real issue concerning Agena vs. Vega was the Agena B and its restart capability. I don't see this topic listed in the index for my book on Corona, but it is mentioned in part 2 of my article on Corona that ran in Quest in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, there are no citations for that article (I believe they were deleted due to space concerns), so I don't know where I got the data from.

That article is out of date and contains a number of inaccuracies, but it states that the issue was the restart capability for the Agena B in spring 1959. NASA initiated work on the two-stage Vega without knowing that the USAF was already developing such a capability for the Agena B.

art540
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posted 07-20-2007 01:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Did the Hartman documents have any kind of received and/or reviewed stamps or paperwork attached? Just curious about transferred documents...

So the real issue is Agena B vs Vega.

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-20-2007 01:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by art540:
Did the Hartman documents have any kind of received and/or reviewed stamps or paperwork attached? Just curious about transferred documents...
I'm not sure what you mean by this.

art540
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posted 07-20-2007 01:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In receiving departments there is a company ink stamp that allows for a date and person's signature to show that the material was received and an invoice can be paid using the packing slip as a verification. Also the actual count can be verified or modified.

My question was do government documents ger a similar process as a matter of record keeping? Could be a stamp or just initials with date. For transfers anyway...

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-20-2007 02:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by art540:
My question was do government documents ger a similar process as a matter of record keeping? Could be a stamp or just initials with date. For transfers anyway...

It depends. Sometimes they do. But this is rare. And in the case of the documents that I am looking at, they are clearly copies of the documents that were _sent_ to the NACA director in Washington, so they are not proof that the documents were _received_ in Washington. That said, these are official records and it's pretty much certain that they all went to DC. I imagine that if you dug deeply in NACA document collections in DC, you would find at least some of these documents, proving that Hartman's reports to the NACA director were regularly received in Washington. Naturally, there would be more careful handling procedures for classified documents.

But often, when working from government archives, you have to take it as a matter of faith that the system worked and that things that were sent were received. There is no guarantee that the receiver even read them, but they rarely would be written and not get sent (unless they were marked "memo for the record" or "memo for file").

Dwayne Day
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posted 07-20-2007 02:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll also add that I've written about the Hartman collection here:
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/882/1

Hartman's records mostly cover NACA up to around 1957, with a few later materials. But they are great documents.

art540
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posted 07-20-2007 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you for your answers. I assumed that the Hartman collection was original documents but then if they were original from Washington they would no longer be the Hartman collection. Off on a tangent I went. So the original documents could be in NARA back east under a different file name. I will re-read the article from June 4 thank you.

Lou Chinal
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posted 07-20-2007 10:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi-
I just wanted to jump in here with my two cents worth. I don't know if NASA knew about the Agena but McDonnell did. I saw drawings of Mercury Atlas/Centaur and Mercury Atlas/Agena. They were both inhouse studies done by McDonnell. I think they were dated 1959.
-Lou

art540
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posted 07-21-2007 06:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Lou.

Can you explain MERCURY Atlas-Cenataur and Atlas-Agena? Were these 2 vehicles ever part of a Mercury plan? McDonnell would be aware of Agena or at least the docking adapter but in 1959?

Lou Chinal
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posted 07-22-2007 10:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
art540 contact me at Louchinal@aol.com

DDAY
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posted 07-22-2007 02:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for DDAY   Click Here to Email DDAY     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by art540:
Thank you for your answers. I assumed that the Hartman collection was original documents but then if they were original from Washington they would no longer be the Hartman collection. Off on a tangent I went. So the original documents could be in NARA back east under a different file name. I will re-read the article from June 4 thank you.

No, let me clarify: when I said "copies" I meant that these were the carbon copies of the originals. You know, the flimsies. So they count as "original" documents. Thus, the Hartman collection is a very good collection of what was sent out of the office. There's no guarantee that the office on the receiving end preserved this stuff.

As for the issue of a receiving stamp, that's a good way to confirm that something was indeed received, but it's also not always present. There's no guarantee that a document would have been stamped like that when it was received.

As for the other poster concerning NASA knowledge of the Agena, I'd just like to point out again that the issue is not the existence of the Agena itself, but the Agena B version. NASA found out about the restart capability at least a few months after it was initiated. I don't have the dates for when the Agena B was started, when Vega was started, and when Vega was canceled, but clearly NASA must have been in the dark about Agena B for some time when they went off and started working on the Vega.

art540
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posted 07-22-2007 10:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for art540   Click Here to Email art540     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Many thanks....I neglected to think of carbon copies (duh, I grew up in that era) so now I am straight on the workings of collections and distributions. I myself understand the Agena B aspect (first flight was 1-1/2 years after Vega cancellation) and being "Agena" it failed although I am not sure if it was Thor related or not on the separation. Some of my NARA photocopy requests had a notation for the date and type of image (negative, print or transparency) received from which agency at the Cape.

Lou Chinal
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posted 09-15-2007 07:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi-
Can anyone recommend a book or two on the subject of the "Centaur-Agena-Vega" programs? I'm open to suggestions.
-Lou

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