1959 - 1994

NASA's Unsung Hero: The Scout Launch Vehicle Program

U.S. National Archives

The Solid Controlled Orbital Utility Test, otherwise known as Scout, Launch Vehicle Program began in 1957 after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite. The launch of Sputnik ignited the Space Race, during which the United States and the Soviet Union competed to conquer the next frontier— outer space.  To gain a lead on the USSR, the United States initiated the Scout Launch Vehicle Program to produce an inexpensive, reliable, versatile, solid fuel launch vehicle for smaller payloads. Scout gave the country access to space for more than 30 years and, although small and relatively unknown outside of NASA offices, Scout was an unsung hero of the U.S. Space Program. The successful implementation of the versatile Scout launch vehicle helped to make the Space Program what it is today.

Scout Launch Vehicle Program
An image of one of the Scout scientists adjusting knobs on a motherboard at Langley Airfield Research Center in 1959. The first stage of the Scout Program began in 1957 and consisted of preliminary planning, development and design of the Scout launch vehicle at Langley. Scout, an acronym for Solid Controlled Orbital Utility Test, is a four-stage solid fuel satellite system capable of launching a 385-pound satellite into a 500-mile orbit. Named after significant stars, the four stages of the rocket were called Algol, Castor, Antares, and Altair. The goal of the Scout Project was to produce a relatively inexpensive, reliable, solid fuel vehicle that could be used to launch small satellites into orbit around Earth. Scout was the first orbital launch vehicle to be entirely composed of solid fuel stages.
Langley Field Research Center
This photograph depicts one of the Scout scientists closely examining a rocket part at Langley in 1960. LARC, otherwise known as NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, managed the Scout Launch Vehicle Program from 1957-1991.
Wallops Island Launch Site
Entrance at Wallops Island Launch Area. Although covered by a tarp, the silhouette of a Scout rocket is visible in the back of the vehicle in this photograph. Most of the testing and design work of the Scout Launch Vehicle Program was performed at Langley, and most of the launches occurred at the Wallops Island Launch Area.
1959: Development And Design Phase
A group of LTV men bracing and positioning a Scout rocket inside of a holding structure. Langley awarded LTV, a private rocket motor vendor named Ling-Temco-Vought that was based out of Dallas, Texas, the development contract for the Scout in 1959. To keep cost down, the Scout Program Office opted to use off-the-shelf hardware and existing solid rocket motors, which they purchased from LTV. This marked the beginning of a collaborative effort to produce a relatively inexpensive, reliable, solid fuel vehicle that could be used for NASA and DOD [Department of Defense] payloads.
1960: First Launch
A Scout rocket being prepared for launch at Wallops Island in 1960. The first launch of a Scout rocket vehicle occurred in July of 1960. Between the time of the first launch and March 1962, the Scout Program Office completed nine rocket launches, only six of which were executed successfully. The Scout Rocket Program aimed to develop a dependable rocket for the U.S. Space Program, and early in the program the Scout scientists set a reliability goal of 90 percent. With only six successful launches out of nine attempts, the success rate of 67 percent fell far below the desired goal of a 90 percent success rate.

Some of the dedicated scientists who worked on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program. During the Development and Design Phase of the Scout Rocket Program, much of the work on rocket parts was completed by NASA scientists at the Langley site.

A Scout scientist fixes one of the rocket parts at the Langley site in 1960.

One of the Langley scientists transports a rocket part to the launch site at Wallops Island in 1960. Sign on the front of the vehicle reads "dangerous."

Scientists and other men prepare to hoist a Scout rocket onto the launch structure at Wallops Island in 1960.

A Scout rocket is hoisted up onto the launch structure at Wallops Island in 1960.

Stunning nighttime view of a Scout rocket positioned in a launch structure at Wallops Island in 1960.

1961: Subsequent Testing During Development And Design Phase
Men load a Scout rocket part onto a transportation vehicle during the Development and Design Phase of the Scout Launch Vehicle Program in the year 1961. This photograph is significant because it provides a glimpse into NASA’s racial policies in the early 1960s. African Americans, women, and other marginalized groups were relegated to minority jobs that paid less and required less technical sophistication. Read more about the history of race relations at NASA’s Langley Airfield Research Center: http://crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/historic/Racial_Relations 

An African American man loads a Scout rocket part into the back of a truck for transport in 1961.

The entrance to Assembly Shop No. 4. This image shows a pick-up truck with Scout rocket parts loaded in the back for transport. Signs at the entrance read “No Smoking Beyond This Point,” and “EXPLOSIVES – No Smoking.”

1962: Operational Phase
A scientist uses a drill on a rocket part inside of a warehouse in 1962. The Development and Design Phase ended and Operational Phase of the Program began with the 10th launch of a Scout rocket in April 1962. Between then and September 1963, Scout executed fourteen launch attempts, only seven of which were successful. With only a 50 percent success rate, even less than that of the previous year, the Scout Rocket Program engineers recognized the need to reexamine the program. This moment marked a turning point in the history of the Scout Rocket.
1963: Recertification Program
After examining operating procedures, the Scout Rocket Program Office reconfigured the entire structure of the program in an attempt to increase reliability in September 1963. In collaboration with LTV’s office, Scout developed new procedures for quality and reliability testing of parts at the LTV Plant in Dallas. As a part of these new procedures, Scout and LTV established a configuration control board which would test the rocket parts before they were transported to Langley for launch testing.

Aerial view of a launch area after a Scout rocket launch at Wallops Island in 1963. Although small, it is possible to see men surveying and collecting debris that was scattered around the site during launch.

Debris collected after the launch of a Scout rocket. Scout scientists studied the debris and to identify malfunctions of Scout vehicles after launch in order to help them build better, more reliable rockets.

The Success Of The Recertification Program
A Scout launch vehicle is mounted on a structure at Wallops Island in 1963. Between the beginning of the Recertification Program in 1963 and 1989, the Scout Rocket Program launched 89 vehicles, 85 of which were successful. Having exceeded the initial 90 percent goal with a 96 percent launch success rate, the scientists at the Scout Program Office were thrilled with the success of the Recertification Program.

Scout rocket vehicle mid-launch in 1963.

1964: Scout Launch Vehicles Used Around The World
Men load a Scout rocket into a U.S. aircraft. Scout rockets were tested and utilized internationally, and were flown to a variety of sites to be launched. Scout has launched 23 satellites for international space organizations including the European Space Research Organization, Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The Scout vehicles have been tested and completed a variety of missions, including orbital, probe, and re-entry. Multiple programs utilized Scout launch vehicles, such as the Navy Navigational Satellites Program, the Explorer Series Program, and the San Marco Program. 
1966: Dependable, Reliable Rockets
Two scientists work on a Scout Launch Vehicle. Total, there have been 118 Scout launches with a 96 percent success rate. Through its reliability and versatility, the Scout Launch Vehicle Program developed a launch system that has made many U.S. and international space missions and programs possible, and thus has made a significant contribution to NASA and the nation. Poster in the upper right of the photograph reads "Scout reliability goal is 100%. It's up to you." The scientists of the Scout Rocket Program worked meticulously in their mission to achieve excellence.
1984: Scout Museum Display At British Science Musem
A man with a NASA jacket over his shoulder stands next to the display rocket at the museum. The British Science Museum, in cooperation with NASA and the Scout Program Office, held an exhibit about the Scout Launch Vehicle Program in 1984. Scout was known and utilized internationally, as NASA had launched cooperative programs with many nations, including France, West Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, and Italy. 

Letter sent from the keeper of the British Science Museum to the manager of the Scout Project Office regarding the display of a Scout Satellite Launch Vehicle at an outstation of the Science Museum, at Wroughton Airfield.

Scout: The Reliable, Consistent, Performing Warhorse Of The U.S. Space Program
A truck pulls out of a warehouse with a covered Scout launch vehicle in tow. The Scout Launch Vehicle Program continued at the Langley Airfield Research Center until 1991, at which time it was transferred to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Records of the program were archived, and are now held at the National Archives at Philadelphia. In summary, Scout, although virtually unknown outside NASA circles, developed into one of the most influential pieces of technology in the history of space exploration. Tom Perry, an engineer and one of the Scout team members at Langley, observed that, "The Scout became so reliable that mission planners could take it for granted. They focused on the science of the satellite payload rather than on its transportation system.... It happens to be NASA's smallest launch vehicle and it does not receive the same level of notoriety you would with a larger system. But over the years it has proven to be a very reliable, consistent, performing warhorse." Scout made possible many feats of the U.S. Space Program.
Esprit De Corps Among The Members Of The Scout Program
Cover of a manual for the Scout Program. In a taped interview from the records of the Scout Program Office a Scout scientist stated, "The changes implemented during the Recertification Period were obviously very effective, However, there has to be more than that. There has developed a kind of esprit de corps among the people that work on the Scout Program." With a culture of teamwork and mutual respect, the scientists of the Scout Rocket Program created a launch vehicle system that set a standard for simplicity, productivity and reliability.
1994: Scout Is Archived
A note left by the Scout scientists in the last box of the Scout Office Files. The note states, "This is the final box from the LARC [Langley Airfield Research Center] & GSFC [Goddard Space Flight Center] to go to the archives. The end of a successful project and hope for a successful future for SELVS [Small Expendable Launch Vehicle Service]," and was signed by the scientists from Langley. Scout provided NASA with a unique contribution, a simple, reliable and versatile launch rocket that could be used in a variety of ways. The NASA Space Program as we know it would not exist if not for the Scout Launch Vehicle.
All images found in this exhibit can be accessed at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
Credits: Story

This exhibit was compiled and developed by Grace DiAgostino, a Pathways Student Trainee, in April 2015.

Want to learn more about the records used in this exhibit? Email us at philadelphia.archives@nara.gov

View OPA catalog entries for documents used in this exhibit here: http://research.archives.gov/description/616672

Additional resources:
http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4308/ch7.htm &
http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/factsheets/Scout.html

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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