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Aerobee Hi Missile, White Sands Missile Range Museum.

The Aerobee rocket family was one of the outstanding achievements of early American rocketry. It not only was a primary sounding rocket of the 1940s and 1950s; Aerobees were launched into the mid-1980s with the last flight in 1985. The early RTV-N-10 Aerobee was a 6.14m (8.06m with booster) unguided sounding rocket used for high atmospheric and cosmic radiation research in the United States in the 1940s.[1] The Aerojet designation for the first Aerobees was XASR-1 which was also the designation of its engine. The name was a contraction of Aerojet and Bumblebee, the names of the prime contractor and manufacturer of the engine and Bumblebee a Navy guided missile program.[2][3] As with its progenitor WAC Corporal the Aerobee required a large launch tower for initial guidance. The Aerobee was the first rocket fired by the US Navy at White Sands.[4] Aerobee was boosted by a 2.5KS-18000 (X103C10) solid rocket.[5] Aerobee was initially powered by the XASR-1 a version of the 21AL-2600 engine of the Nike Ajax.[6] That engine was replaced by developed versions such as the AJ10-25 and AJ10-34.[7] The Aerobee was the subject of the first comprehensive missile range safety program.[8] The US Navy designation was RTV-N-8. The US Air Force also operated Aerobees under program MX-1011 as X-8 (RTV-A-1).[9] The USAF system of fuel tank pressurization with helium instead of compressed air was adapted by the USN and the Navy Aerobee was redesignated RTV-N-10.

Research utilizing V-2 rockets after World War II produced valuable results concerning the nature of cosmic rays, the solar spectrum, and the distribution of atmospheric ozone. The limited supply and the expense of assembling and firing the V-2 rockets led to the development of a low cost sounding rocket to be utilized for scientific research.[10] That rocket, the Aerobee, was developed under the joint guidance of James Van Allen at the Applied Physics Laboratory and Rolf Sabersky at the Aerojet Corporation and was supported by the Navy Bureau of Ordnance and the Naval Office of Research and Inventions (later ONR). The Aerobee drastically reduced the cost of a single research mission.[11] Development of the Aerobee at Aerojet was the responsibility of Kenneth Mundt, Robert Young, Chan Ross, Bernie Bierman and A.L. Antonio.[12] The cost of lofting a pound of scientific payload to altitude was significantly lower than that of any competitor.[13] By the early 1950s Aerobee was the sounding rocket of choice being flown by the Navy Research Laboratory (RTV-N-8, RTV-N-10), USAF (X-8, RTV-A-1), and Army Signal Corps (XASR-SC-1 and XASR-SC-2).[14][15] Over the decades of development Aerobees were flown with many related engines including the XASR-1 (21AL-2600), 45AL-2600, AJ10-24, AJ10-25, AJ10-27, AJ10-34, AJ11-6, and AJ60-92. Later versions of the AJ10 and AJ-11 engines produced 4,000 lbs. thrust.[16] Boosters included surplus Nike M5E1 boosters and VKM-17 and VKM-20s as we'll as the original 2.5KS-18000.[17] The variety of research done with the Aerobee family included photography, biomedical research, biology, energetic particles, fields, ionospheric physics, meteorology, radio astronomy, solar physics, aeronomy, spectrometry, signals intelligence research, infrared studies, magnetometry, ultraviolet research, astronomy, mass spectrometry, as well as many other fields such as aerodynamic research and missile technology development.[18][19][20]

The prime contractor for Aerobee was Aerojet General.[21] The company began work in 1946 and test fired the first complete Aerobee from the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico on November 24, 1947. It reached an altitude of 34.7 miles (55.8 km).[22] Forty of the original XASR-1 Aerobees were fired. Aerobee then was developed into an extensive family of sounding rockets. Development of Aerobee was continuous resulting in many slight changes in engine, length, fuel capacity, equipment and capacity. The first major derivative version was the Aerobee-Hi. It featured an increase in length, fuel capacity and improved engineering design. There were two versions of the Aerobee-Hi. The Air Force Aerobee Hi, (MX-1960, XRM-84) and the slightly longer Navy Aerobee-Hi (RV-N-13, PWN-2A). Engine development continued with the AJ11-6, AJ11-18, AJ11-20, AJ11-21, and AGVL0113C/F/H/I of the Aerobee-Hi.[23][24] The Aerobe-Hi was boosted by the 2.5 KS-18000 booster.[25] The Navy Aerobee-Hi was considerably different than the Air Force Aerobee-Hi. It used the fuel pressure regulator from the Nike Ajax, a delayed start function and a pressure sealed tail cone to allow better measurement of the external upper atmosphere.[26] Aerobee-Hi and its later derivative the Aerobee 150 flights were largely but not exclusively from White Sands, Holloman AFB, Fort Churchill, Manitoba, and Wallops Island, Virginia[27]

Following the creation of NASA development of Aerobees became largely guided by NASA. Exceptions developed for the armed services were the Aerobee 170, aka Nike-Aerobee, which had a Nike M5E1 booster and an Aerobee 150, and the Aerobee 300 which used a 2.5KS-18000 booster, with an AJ11 powered sustainer and a second stage with a Sparrow missile motor. The Aerobee 300 was also known as the Sparrowbee. There were versions of Aerobee-Hi such as the Aerobee 150 and 150A in which case the difference was in the number of fins the 150 having three and the 150A four. The Aerobe 100 was essentially shortened Aerobee 150 with an AJ11 engine. By far the largest was the Aerobee 350 was composed of four clustered Aerobee 150s boosted by a Nike M5E1.[28][29] Though they bore the Aerobee appellation the Aerobee 75 and proposed Aerobee 90 were not actually related to the others in that they were solid propellant rockets with the 75 having a HAWK motor, the 90 was a 75 with a Sparrow second stage.[30]


The Aerobee rocket was usually composed of a solid-fuel booster and a nitric acid/aniline sustainer. The rockets could reach around 40 km (a later variant exceeded 230 km). Instrumentation usually provided constant telemetry and was recovered by parachute. The initial Aerobee could take a 68 kg payload to an altitude of 130 km.

Aerobees were usually launched from 53 m tall launch towers to provide the necessary stability until the rockets gained enough speed for their fins to be effective in controlling attitude. Launch towers were adjustable in inclination and azimuth to compensate for wind.[31] Launch towers were built at the White Sands Missile Range; Holloman AFB; Churchill Rocket Research Range]]; Wallops Flight Facility; Eglin AFB, Santa Rosa Island, Florida; and Woomera, South Australia. Aerobees were also launched from Centro de Lancamento da Barreira do Inferno (CLBI), Natal, Rio Grande N, Brazil; Kauai Test Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai; Nouadhibou, Dakhlet Nouadhibou, Mauritania; Vandenberg AFB, California; Walker's Cay, Bahamas; and aboard the research vessel USS Norton Sound.[32] Two Seabee missiles were launched from the sea off Point Magu, California. The Seabee's (Sea launched Aerobees) were launched from a position floating in water as part of Robert Truax's Sea Dragon project for Aerojet.[33] The Aerobees launched from overseas locations such as the Bahamas utilized a modified launch tower that had originally been used on the USS Norton Sound. NASA further modified that tower into the Mobile Aerobee Launch Facility (MALF) which was first used in 1966 for launches from Natal, Brazil.[34]

A total of 1,037 Aerobees (including variants) were launched from all locations with a success rate in excess of 97%.[35] The last Aerobee, a 150 MI, flew an Airglow payload at White Sands on January 17, 1985.[36] An artifact of the Aerobee programs which remains in use today is the large enclosed launch tower built for the Aerobee 350 at Launch Complex 36 at White Sands.[37]

Australian launches

An Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America regarding the Launching of Three Aerobee Rockets was established in Canberra, March 1970.[38] A similar treaty was agreed to in 1973 for 7 launches,[39] and in 1977 for 6 launches[40] for various astronomical and solar experiments conducted by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

In 1974, The US DARPA through Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory and Australia agreed to launch 3 rockets under project Hi Star South.[41]

A total of 20 Aerobee launches were made at Woomera Test Range:[42]

  • Series 150: 3 launches in May/June 1970
  • Series 170: 7 launches in November 1973 and 2 launches February 1977
  • Series 200: 3 launches in September 1974
  • Series 200A: 5 launches in February 1977

Technical data


  • Payload: 68 kg
  • Maximum flight altitude: 130 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 18 kN
  • Total Mass: 727 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.38 m
  • Total Length: 7.80 m

Aerobee 150

  • Payload: 68 kg
  • Maximum flight altitude: 270 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 18 kN
  • Total Mass: 930 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.38 m
  • Total Length: 9.30 m

Aerobee 170

  • Maximum flight altitude: 200 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 225 kN
  • Total Mass: 1,270 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.42 m
  • Total Length: 12.60 m

Aerobee 170A

  • Payload: 227 kg
  • Maximum flight altitude: 200 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 217 kN
  • Total Mass: 1,270 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.42 m
  • Total Length: 12.40 m

Aerobee 170B

  • Maximum flight altitude: 200 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 225 kN
  • Total Mass: 1,270 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.42 m
  • Total Length: 12.40 m

Aerobee 200

  • Maximum flight altitude: 250 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 225 kN
  • Total Mass: 1,600 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.42 m
  • Total Length: 12.60 m

(The 200A had similar specs)[43]

Aerobee 300 (Sparrowbee)

  • Payload: 45 kg
  • Maximum flight altitude: 300 km
  • Liftoff Thrust: 18 kN
  • Total Mass: 983 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.38 m
  • Total Length: 9.90 m

Aerobee 350

  • Payload: 227 kg
  • Maximum flight altitude: 270 mi (450 km)[44]
  • Liftoff Thrust: 217 kN
  • Total Mass: 3,839 kg
  • Core Diameter: 0.56 m
  • Total Length: 15.90 m
  • Span: 2.30 m

Aerobee 350 specifications[45]

Loaded weight 1305 lb (593 kg)
Thrust 48,700 lbf (217,000 N)
Duration 3.5 s
Impulse 170,000 lbf s (756,000 N s)
NAR designation T 220,000
Loaded weight less payload 6642LB (3,019 kg)
Propellant weight 4,335 lb (1,970 kg)
Payload weight 150-500 lb (68–227 kg)
Thrust 4X4100 lbf (18,000 N
Duration 52.7 s
Impulse 864,000 lbf s (3,850,000 N s)
NAR designation 4 X T 18,000

In fiction

In Men into Space, a 1960 tie-in novel by Murray Leinster for the TV series of the same name, Ed McCauley makes the first manned suborbital spaceflight in the nose-cone of an Aerobee.[46]


  1. Newell, Homer E. Jr., “Sounding Rockets,” McGraw-Hill New York, 1959, p 61
  2. Newell, p 57
  3. Kennedy, Gregory P, “The Rockets and Missiles of White Sands Proving Ground 1945-1958,” Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 2009 ISBN 978-0-7643-3251-7, p 107
  4. Newell, p 66
  5. Gunter’s Space Page,
  6. Sutton, George P, “History of Liquid Propellent Rocket Engines,” American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Reston Virginia, 2005 ISBN 1-56347-649-5, p 371-372
  7. Newell, p 70
  8. Newell, p 59
  9. Mattson, p 46
  10. Mattson, Wayne O., and Tagg, Martyn D., “We Develop Missiles not Air!,” Legacy Resource Management Program, Air Combat Command USAF, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, June 1995, p 45
  11. James Van Allen. "James Van Allen Papers". The University of Iowa Archives. Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  12. Newell, p 57
  13. DeVorkin, David H., “Science With A Vengance,” Smithsonian Institution, /Springer-Verlag New York, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1992/1993, ISBN|0-387-94137-1 p 171
  14. DeVorkin, p 174
  15. Miller, Jay, “The X-Planes X-1 to X-31,” Aerofax, Arlington, Texas, 1988 ISBN 0-517-56749-0, p 82
  16. Newell, p 70
  17. Gunter’s Space Page,
  18. Corliss, William R., “NASA SP-4401, NASA Sounding Rockets, 1958-1968,” Scientific and Technical Information Office NASA, Washington D.C., 1971, p 57
  19. Newell, p 64-69, 91-920
  20. Miller, p 82
  21. "Quick Facts". 2013-06-07. 
  22. Newell, p 66
  23. Towndsen, John w., and Slavin, Robert M., “Aerobee-Hi Development Program,” American Rocket Society, New York, March 1957 (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Reston VA,) p 264-265
  24. Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles,
  25. Newell, p 75
  26. Newell, p 79-80
  27. Aeronautics and Astronautics: An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space, 1915-1960 (Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1961), pp. 118-35
  28. Corliss, p 79
  29. "Aerobee". Retrieved 2019-02-06. 
  30. Gunter’s Space Page,
  31. Newell, p 59
  32. Gunter’s Space Page,
  33. "Seabee". Retrieved 2020-02-02. 
  34. Corliss, p 56
  35. "Aerobee". Retrieved 2020-02-02. 
  36. "Aerobee". Retrieved 2020-02-06. 
  37. Eckles, Jim, “Pocket Full Of Rockets,” FiddlebikePartnership, Las Cruces, New Mexico, 2013 ISBN 978-1-4927-7350-4, p 419
  38. "Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America regarding the Launching of Three Aerobee Rockets [1970] ATS 7". 1970-05-22. 
  39. "Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America concerning the Launching of Seven Aerobee Rockets [1973] ATS 25". 1973-09-18. 
  40. "Agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea regarding the Status of Forces of each State in the Territory of the other State, and Agreed Minute [1977] ATS 6". 1977-01-26. 
  41. "Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America concerning a Cooperative Scientific Program designated Hi Star South (1974) ATS 19". Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 19 April 2017. 
  42. "Woomera LA8". Retrieved 2019-02-05. 
  43. "Aerobee 200A". Retrieved 2019-02-05. 
  44. "Aerobee 350". Retrieved 2019-02-05. 
  45. NASA Release No: 66-221 Aerobe 350 Passes Test With Payload
  46. Leinster, Murray (1960). Men into Space. New York: Berkley Publishing. 


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  • Krebs, Gunter (2020). "Aerobee". Gunter’s Space Page. Gunter Krebs. Retrieved 2020-02-06. 
  • Mattson, Wayne O.; Tagg, Martyn D. (1995). We Develop Missiles not Air!. Legacy Resource Management Program, Air Combat Command USAF, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. 
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