I know that sequential staging of rocket boosters was problematic, leading to Atlas stage-and-a-half and Russian hot staging. At what point did rocket boosters have attitude control allowing them to coast before being lit? Were there any early rocket booster stages which although they could not be relit could coast before being lit for the first time? I would include in this question solid upper kick stages as a "booster" stage for the purposes of this question. If the payload could coast, with attitude control, and then fire the kick stage, that counts for the purpose of this question. A spin stabilized rocket would also count as attitude control (if it spun up, then coasted with a fixed attitude until the next stage fired).

I'm sort of assuming that we had the ability for satellite station keeping and attitude control systems to be able to execute orbit raising maneuvers first -- but I'm trying to phrase the question in such a way that it wouldn't count as an answer to this question since that would be some kind of coast-to-apogee maneuver executed by the ultimate payload.

And I'm asking this question in the context of trying to understand what the ability of early launch vehicles to place payloads into raised orbits. Early launch vehicles should have been constrained to be unable to place satellites into orbits with a high periapsis, or to be able to coast to the equator to do a burn to eject into GTO and execute similar missions. So when did we gain that ability in the actual launch vehicles themselves?

  • $\begingroup$ On the US side, maybe Centaur? I'd have to check Taming Liquid Hydrogen. $\endgroup$
    – DylanSp
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ The Agena predated the Centaur and had 3-axis stabilization and multiple-restart capability. I've found reference to the Able having an attitude control system and restart capability, but spacelaunchreport.com/thorh2.html refers to these capabilities having been designed but never actually flown until the Thor-Delta, as the upgraded Delta upper stage. It also claims the Able-Star was the first restartable stage though. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Lamont. More PVG developments ahead? I believe your question might be muddled a bit by the conjoined nature of early payloads & their upper stage avionics. Since you're excluding Jupiter-C and Vanguard-esque upper stages, my mind turns next to the Transits. Gunther suggests that maybe the Able-Star upper stage (AJ10-104) would be your first restart in space. Was that the first coasting payload? I don't know. Is that the booster as per your requirements? Unsure. So not an answer, but maybe the start of one. space.skyrocket.de/doc_sdat/transit-1.htm $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I don't know exactly what my requirements are either. Able-Star with an AJ-10-104 with a restart in space probably does it for that. I'm guessing that Able-Star would not have coasted though after the Thor booster shut down. And yeah, wondering about ways to have coasting capability locked for early rocket flights and integrate PVG capabilities with the tech tree. $\endgroup$
    – lamont
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 21:17


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