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Bold Orion
Bold Orion, with B-47 launch aircraft
TypeAir-launched ballistic missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1958–1959
Used byUnited States Air Force
Production history
ManufacturerMartin Aircraft
No. built12
Specifications (Two-stage version)
Length37 feet (11 m)
Diameter31 inches (0.79 m)

EngineFirst stage, Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant; 1,500 lbf (6.66 kN)
Second stage, ABL X-248 Altair; 2,800 lbf (12.45 kN)
PropellantSolid fuel
1,100 miles (1,800 km)
B-47 Stratojet

The Bold Orion missile, also known as Weapons System 199B (WS-199B), was a prototype air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) developed by Martin Aircraft during the 1950s. Developed in both one- and two-stage designs, the missile was moderately successful in testing, and helped pave the way for development of the GAM-87 Skybolt ALBM. In addition, the Bold Orion was used in early anti-satellite weapons testing, performing the first interception of a satellite by a missile.

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Design and development

The Bold Orion missile was developed as part of Weapons System 199, initiated by the United States Air Force (USAF) in response to the U.S. Navy's Polaris program,[1] with funding authorised by the United States Congress in 1957.[2] The purpose of WS-199 was the development of technology that would be used in new strategic weapons for the USAF's Strategic Air Command, not to deliver operational weapons; a primary emphasis was on proving the feasibility of an air-launched ballistic missile.[2][3][4]

The designation WS-199B was assigned to the project that, under a contract awarded in 1958 to Martin Aircraft, would become the Bold Orion missile.[3] The design of Bold Orion was simple, using parts developed for other missile systems to reduce the cost and development time of the project.[3] The initial Bold Orion configuration was a single-stage vehicle, using a Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant solid-fuel rocket.[3][5] Following initial testing, the Bold Orion configuration was altered to become a two-stage vehicle, an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair upper stage being added to the missile.[3][6]

Operational history

Having been given top priority by the Air Force,[7] the first flight test of the Bold Orion missile was conducted on May 26, 1958, from a Boeing B-47 Stratojet carrier aircraft,[3][8] which launched the Bold Orion vehicle at the apex of a high-speed, high-angle climb.[3][9] The zoom climb tactic, combined with the thrust from the rocket motor of the missile itself, allowed the missile to achieve its maximum range, or, alternatively, to reach space.[9]

A twelve-flight test series of the Bold Orion vehicle was conducted;.[3] Despite suffering only one outright failure, the initial flight tests of the single-stage rocket proved less successful than hoped.[3] Authorisation was received to modify the Bold Orion to become a two-stage vehicle. In addition to the modifications improving the missile's reliability, they increased the range of Bold Orion to over 1,000 miles (1,600 km).[4][10] Four of the final six test firings were of the two-stage vehicle. These were considered successful, and established that the ALBM was a viable weapon.[2][3]

ASAT test

The final test launch of Bold Orion, conducted on October 13, 1959, was a test of the vehicle's capabilities in the anti-satellite role.[11][12] Piloted by Carl E Brust Jr, the missile was launched from an altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m) from its B-47 mothership, the missile successfully intercepted the Explorer 6 satellite,[13] passing its target at a range of less than 4 miles (6.4 km) at an altitude of 156 miles (251 km).[14][3] If the missile had a nuclear warhead, the satellite would have been destroyed.[9][15]

The Bold Orion ASAT test was the first interception of a satellite by any method, proving that anti-satellite missiles were feasible.[11][16] This test, along with an earlier, unsuccessful test of the High Virgo missile in the anti-satellite role, had political repercussions. The Eisenhower administration sought to establish space as a neutral ground for everyone's use, and the "indication of hostile intent" given by the tests was frowned upon, with anti-satellite weapons development being soon curtailed.[9][17]


The results of the Bold Orion project, along with those from the testing of the High Virgo missile, also developed under WS-199, provided data and knowledge that assisted the Air Force in forming the requirements for the follow-on WS-138A, which would produce the GAM-87 Skybolt missile.[3][18]

Launch history

Bold Orion on B-47 carrier aircraft
Date/Time (GMT) Rocket Launch site Outcome Remarks[19]
1958-05-26 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 8 km (5.0 mi)
1958-06-27 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Failure Apogee 12 km (7.5 mi)
1958-07-18 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1958-09-25 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1958-10-10 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1958-11-17 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1958-12-08 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 km (120 mi)
1958-12-16 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 km (120 mi)
1959-04-04 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 km (120 mi)
1959-06-08 Single-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1959-06-19 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 km (62 mi)
1959-10-13 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 km (120 mi)

AMR DZ means Atlantic Missile Range Drop Zone.

See also

Related development
Comparable weapons



  1. ^ Ball 1980, p.226.
  2. ^ a b c Yengst 2010, p.37.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Parsch 2005
  4. ^ a b Stares 1985, p.109.
  5. ^ Ordway and Wakeford 1960, p.30.
  6. ^ Smith 1981, p.178.
  7. ^ Missiles and Rockets, volume 5. Washington Countdown. p.9.
  8. ^ Friedman 2000, p.122.
  9. ^ a b c d Temple 2004, p.111.
  10. ^ Besserer and Besserer 1959, p.34.
  11. ^ a b Peebles 1997, p. 65.
  12. ^ Chronology 1961, p.89.
  13. ^ Bowman 1986, p.14.
  14. ^ Yenne 2005, p.67.
  15. ^ Bulkeley and Spinardi 1986, p.17.
  16. ^ Hays 2002, p.84.
  17. ^ Lewis and Lewis 1987, pp.93–95.
  18. ^ International Aeronautic Federation. Interavia volume 15, p.814.
  19. ^ Bold Orion Archived November 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Encyclopedia Astronautica. Accessed 2011-01-19.


  • 1st Session. House Committee On Science And Astronautics. U.S. Congress. 87th Congress (1961). A Chronology of Missile and Astronautic Events. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. ASIN B000M1F3O0. Retrieved 2011-01-19.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • Ball, Desmond (1980). Politics and Force Levels: The Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 226. ISBN 978-0-520-03698-7. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Besserer, C.W.; Hazel C. Besserer (1959). Guide to the Space Age. Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice-Hall. ASIN B004BIGGO6.
  • Bowman, Robert (1986). Star Wars: A Defense Insider's Case Against the Strategic Defense Initiative. Los Angeles: Tarcher Publications. ISBN 978-0-87477-390-3. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  • Bulkeley, Rip; Graham Spinardi (1986). Space Weapons: Deterrence or Delusion?. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-389-20640-8.
  • Friedman, Norman (2000). Seapower and Space: From the Dawn of the Missile Age to Net-Centric Warfare. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-004-3.
  • Hays, Peter L. (2002). United States Military Space: Into the Twenty-First Century. INSS Occasional Papers. Vol. 42. Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press. ISBN 978-1-4289-6124-1.
  • Lewis, John S.; Ruth A. Lewis (1987). Space Resources: Breaking the Bonds of Earth. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-06498-9.
  • Ordway, Frederick Ira; Ronald C. Wakeford (1960). International Missile and Spacecraft Guide. New York: McGraw-Hill. ASIN B000MAEGVC.
  • Parsch, Andreas (2005). "WS-199". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Peebles, Curtis (1997). High Frontier: The U.S. Air Force and the Military Space Program. Washington, D.C.: Air Force Historical Studies Office. ISBN 978-0-7881-4800-2. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Smith, Marcia S. (1981). United States Civilian Space Programs, 1958–1978; Report Prepared for the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. ASIN B000VA45WS.
  • Stares, Paul B. (1985). The Militarization of Space: U.S. Policy, 1945–1984. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-1810-5.
  • Temple, L. Parker III (2004). Shades of Gray: National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance. Reston, VA: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. ISBN 978-1-56347-723-2. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  • Yengst, William (2010). Lightning Bolts: First Manuevering [sic] Reentry Vehicles. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises. ISBN 978-1-61566-547-1.
  • Yenne, Bill (2005). Secret Gadgets and Strange Gizmos: High-Tech (and Low-Tech) Innovations of the U.S. Military. St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press. ISBN 978-0-7603-2115-7.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 12 May 2024, at 19:40
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