January 20, 2005

Little Joe II

The Little Joe II series of rockets did for Apollo what the Little Joe I did for Mercury*.

From Rockets of the World:

In order to make the flight to the moon, the Apollo spacecraft was launched atop a six million pound tank of explosive liquids called the Saturn V.

Little Joe 2 liftoff

Once again, a Launch Escape System (LES) was fitted to the nose of the capsule to move the astronauts out of harms way during the boost phase, and the Little Joe II program was designed to test the LES.

At it's most basic level, the Little Joe II consisted of a series of structural rings covered by commercially available sheets of corrugated aluminum. Four fixed fins provided guidance, with additional control surfaces added on later flights.

The first Little Joe II flight took place in August, 1963 at White Sands missile range in New Mexico.

On the final test flight, as the rocket ascended it was intentionally sent into a wicked tumble before the LES was activated. It performed flawlessly, proving the system would work under worst-case conditions.

In all, just five Little Joe II flights were made. Studies were made to extend the program to test the Apollo Lunar Module, but the idea never went beyond wind-tunnel testing (the Little Joe II/LM stack proved dynamically unstable). There was even a proposal for an orbital version.

There are some really nice photos here at the Field Guide to American Spacecraft.

If you'd like to build a flyable model rocket version of the Little Joe II, JimZ has the original Estes plans available for free online.

*I've discovered some errors in the original post. Corrections have been made and noted.

Posted by Ted at January 20, 2005 11:40 AM
Category: History Space Program

Thanks for all of the Little Joe stuff,Ted.I'm a fan of them,too.Did you see the really big one the guy had at NARAAM?Too bad it lawndarted.I got a front row to that being as I was closer than anyone else there.I was uphill about halfway between it and the fence.About 20 feet.It even broke MY heart.Not much damage though.

Posted by: Russ at January 21, 2005 08:45 PM
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