the Titan-a name synonymous with space exploration and national defence.
developed as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Titan
family of launch vehicles was born in October 1955 when the U.S. Air Force
awarded a contract to the Martin Company (which evolved into Martin
Marietta and later Lockheed Martin) to build a second ICBM to supplement
the still-untested Atlas missile. The result was the Titan I-the United
States' first two-stage ICBM and first missile to be based in a hardened
silo buried deep underground.
Titan IIs served as the U.S.
Air Force's most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) until
they were withdrawn from service in 1987.
Force accepted delivery of the first Titan I in June 1958, followed by a
test program that culminated in the successful inaugural launch of the
missile from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 6, 1959. Soon after, in
May 1959, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction
Office started construction of the first Titan I underground silos at
Lowry AFB (Air Force Base), Colorado-each 160 feet (49 meters) deep and 44
feet (13 meters) in diameter, topped off with a pair of horizontal doors
on the surface that weighed 125 tons apiece. The first Titan I squadron at
Lowry AFB and its complement of nine Titan I's was placed on operational
alert in 1962.
Production of an upgraded version of the Titan I with greater range and
lifting capacity was initiated in 1958, with the Martin Company again
selected as the prime contractor. The new missile, named Titan II, used
fuels that could withstand long-duration storage in the missile's fuel
tanks, effectively creating an ICBM that could be launched almost
instantaneously by eliminating the laborious pre-launch fuelling process.
By 1965, all of the original Titan Is deployed at five different bases in
the western United States were phased out in favour of the more capable
first Titan II was launched on March 16, 1962 from Cape Canaveral. The
missile system promptly achieved all of its test program objectives and
was placed on operational status in 1963. NASA, too, was quick to
recognize the vehicle's capabilities and ordered a modified version of the
Titan II to launch its two-person Gemini spacecraft. Ten crewed Gemini
missions were launched during 1965 and 1966 from Cape Canaveral,
developing the techniques required for the upcoming Apollo Moon landing
Titan II launch of Lockheed Martin
Missiles Space DMSP satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Ca.
Eventually, more than 140 Titan II ICBMs were manufactured, deployed at
two missile squadrons located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona;
two at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas; and two at McConnell Air
Force Base, Kansas. Titan missiles armed with nuclear warheads remained on
strategic alert for 25 years until the last one was decommissioned in
1987. Fourteen of the retired Titan II ICBMs were refurbished for use as
space launch vehicles, boosting a variety of military and civilian
spacecraft into polar orbits from Vandenberg AFB, California.
August 1962, the U.S. Department of Defence announced a further
enhancement of the Titan. This new vehicle, designated the Titan III, was
specially designed as a space launch vehicle (instead of as an ICBM) and
could be flown in several different configurations, some of which included
a pair of powerful solid rockets strapped-on to the basic Titan core
Launch of the Gemini-Titan 3
Titan IIIC variation (with the twin solid rocket motors) was intended to
launch the Air Force's planned X-20 Dyna Soar piloted spacecraft as well
as a variety of heavy unpiloted military satellites. A massive complex of
launch facilities and assembly buildings was constructed at Cape Canaveral
to support the Titan III program, which was projected for up to 40
launches per year.
first Titan III vehicle (designated Titan IIIA), consisting of the core
vehicle without the strap-on solid rockets, was launched from Cape
Canaveral on September 1, 1964, followed by three additional test launches
in 1964 and 1965. A more efficient and cost effective version, the Titan
IIIB, was created by the introduction of an Agena upper stage-its first
launch occurred on June 29, 1966, from Vandenberg AFB, California.
of 59 Titan IIIBs was launched between 1966 and 1987 exclusively from
Vandenberg, all carrying classified reconnaissance spacecraft. An improved
version with a stretched core, the Titan 34B (also equipped with an Agena
upper stage), was flown 11 times between 1975 and 1987, all from
Vandenberg and again exclusively launching classified intelligence
first Titan III vehicle with the twin solid rocket motor configuration
(designated the Titan IIIC) was launched on June 18, 1965, from Cape
Canaveral, but its original payload, the X-20 Dyna Soar, had been
about 18 months earlier in December 1963. In its place, a more powerful
Titan III variation was proposed to propel the Air Force's newest human
spaceflight project, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, formally approved by
President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 25, 1965.
Designated the Titan IIIM (“M” for manned), the new launch vehicle would
be “man-rated” (that is, incorporating numerous safety features to permit
its use by humans) and powered by a pair of improved seven-segment solid
rocket motors. The Titan IIIM was never flown-the Manned Orbiting
Laboratory program was cancelled in June 1969-but the technologies
developed would be reused in later versions of the Titan.
Force continued to refine the Titan III configuration by stretching its
core vehicle, adding a variety of different upper stages and upgrading its
twin solid rocket motors. These vehicles, launched from both Cape
Canaveral and Vandenberg under the designations of Titan IIID and Titan
34D, carried a wide range of military and intelligence spacecraft into
orbit for almost a quarter-century.
Titan IV launch of second Milstar
satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fl.
also used a Titan III variation equipped with a powerful Centaur upper
stage, labelled the Titan IIIE, in the mid-1970s to launch two Helios
missions to the Sun, two Viking Mars landing expeditions as well as the
Voyager I and II spacecraft to explore the outer planets. A commercial
variation of the Titan 34D, known as Commercial Titan, was launched four
times in the early 1990s, but proved too costly for practical purposes. In
all, a total of 84 Titan III variants with strap-on solid rocket motors
were launched from 1965 to 1992.
boost the heaviest national security spacecraft into orbit-satellites so
large that they were effectively grounded after the Shuttle Challenger
exploded-the Titan IV (later designated the Titan IVA) was first launched
in 1989, incorporating the solid rocket motor designed for the Titan IIIM
of the 1960s. Flown with payload shrouds of varying dimensions and three
different upper stage configurations (Centaur, Inertial Upper Stage, or No
Upper Stage), Titan IVs are launched from both Cape Canaveral and
with more powerful and reliable solid rocket motors, the Titan IVB was
first flown in 1997, and is used exclusively to launch military and
intelligence spacecraft, although NASA did use one Titan IVB (equipped
with a Centaur upper stage) to launch the Cassini and Huygens spacecraft
to Venus in 1997. Capable of lifting more than 47,000 pounds (21,319
kilograms) into orbit, the Titan IVB is also the most costly rocket ever
constructed-some custom-built models cost more than $400 million each.
Martin delivered the last Titan IV heavy-lift launch vehicle to the U.S.
Air Force in early 2002, ending a string of missions that began in
February 1959 and a heritage dating back to the earliest days of the space
age. The final Titan IVB launches are scheduled to occur in 2003. Lockheed
Martin is phasing out the Titan IV in favour of its new Evolved Expendable
Launch Vehicle (EELV) designated as the Atlas V.
more than 40 years and 350 launches, the Titan name will soon be retired,
but its place is assured in history. Its legacy will be marked by the
discoveries of the many spacecraft launched on the “shoulders of Titans”
and the gratifying realization that it was never fired in anger.