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Bold Orion
Bold Orion, with B-47 launch aircraft
Type Air-launched ballistic missile
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1958–1959
Used by United States Air Force
Production history
Designed 1958
Manufacturer Martin Aircraft
Number built 12
Specifications (Two-stage version)
Length 37 feet (11 m)
Diameter 2 feet 7 inches (0.79 m)

Engine First stage, Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant; 1,500 lbf (6.66 kN)
Second stage, ABL X-248 Altair; 2,800 lbf (12.45 kN)
Propellant Solid fuel
1,100 miles (1,800 km)
B-47 Stratojet

The Bold Orion missile, also known as Weapons System 199B (WS-199B), was a prototype air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) developed by Martin Aircraft during the 1950s. Developed in both one- and two-stage designs, the missile was moderately successful in testing, and helped pave the way for development of the GAM-87 Skybolt ALBM. In addition, the Bold Orion was used in early anti-satellite weapons testing, performing the first interception of a satellite by a missile.

Design and development

The Bold Orion missile was developed as part of Weapons System 199, initiated by the United States Air Force (USAF) in response to the U.S. Navy's Polaris program,[1] with funding authorised by the United States Congress in 1957.[2] The purpose of WS-199 was the development of technology that would be used in new strategic weapons for the USAF's Strategic Air Command, not to deliver operational weapons; a primary emphasis was on proving the feasibility of an air-launched ballistic missile.[2][3][4]

The designation WS-199B was assigned to the project that, under a contract awarded in 1958 to Martin Aircraft, would become the Bold Orion missile.[3] The design of Bold Orion was simple, using parts developed for other missile systems to reduce the cost and development time of the project.[3] The initial Bold Orion configuration was a single-stage vehicle, using a Thiokol TX-20 Sergeant solid-fuel rocket.[3][5] Following initial testing, the Bold Orion configuration was altered to become a two-stage vehicle, an Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Altair upper stage being added to the missile.[3][6]

Operational history

Having been given top priority by the Air Force,[7] the first flight test of the Bold Orion missile was conducted on May 26, 1958, from a Boeing B-47 Stratojet carrier aircraft,[3][8] which launched the Bold Orion vehicle at the apex of a high-speed, high-angle climb.[3][9] The zoom climb tactic, combined with the thrust from the rocket motor of the missile itself, allowed the missile to achieve its maximum range, or, alternatively, to reach space.[9]

A twelve-flight test series of the Bold Orion vehicle was conducted;[3] however, despite suffering only one outright failure, the initial flight tests of the single-stage rocket proved less successful than hoped.[3] Authorisation was received to modify the Bold Orion to become a two-stage vehicle; in addition to the modifications improving the missile's reliability, they increased the range of Bold Orion to over 1,000 miles (1,600 km).[4][10] Four of the final six test firings were of the two-stage vehicle; these were considered completely successful, and established that the ALBM was a viable weapon.[2][3]

ASAT test

The final test launch of Bold Orion, conducted on October 13, 1959, was a test of the vehicle's capabilities in the anti-satellite role.[11][12] Launched from an altitude of 35,000 feet (11,000 m) from its B-47 mothership, the missile successfully intercepted the Explorer 6 satellite,[13] passing its target at a range of less than 4 miles (6.4 km) at an altitude of 156 miles (251 km).[3][14] Had the missile been fitted with a nuclear warhead, the satellite would have been destroyed.[9][15]

The Bold Orion ASAT test was the first interception of a satellite by any method, proving that anti-satellite missiles were feasible.[11][16] However this test, along with an earlier, unsuccessful test of the High Virgo missile in the anti-satellite role, had political repercussions; the Eisenhower administration sought to establish space as a neutral ground for everyone's usage, and the "indication of hostile intent" the tests were seen to give was frowned upon, with anti-satellite weapons development being curtailed shortly thereafter.[9][17]


The results of the Bold Orion project, along with those from the testing of the High Virgo missile, also developed under WS-199, provided data and knowledge that assisted the Air Force in forming the requirements for the follow-on WS-138A, which would produce the GAM-87 Skybolt missile.[3][18]

Launch history

Bold Orion on B-47 carrier aircraft

Date/Time (GMT) Rocket Launch site Outcome Remarks[19]
1958-05-26 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 8 kilometres (5.0 mi)
1958-06-27 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Failure Apogee 12 kilometres (7.5 mi)
1958-07-18 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-09-25 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-10-10 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-11-17 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1958-12-08 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1958-12-16 Two-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1959-04-04 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)
1959-06-08 Single-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1959-06-19 Single-stage Cape Canaveral Success Apogee 100 kilometres (62 mi)
1959-10-13 Two-stage AMR DZ Success Apogee 200 kilometres (120 mi)

See also

Related development
Comparable weapons



  1. Ball 1980, p.226.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Yengst 2010, p.37.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Parsch 2005
  4. 4.0 4.1 Stares 1985, p.109.
  5. Ordway and Wakeford 1960, p.30.
  6. Smith 1981, p.178.
  7. Missiles and Rockets, volume 5. Washington Countdown. p.9.
  8. Friedman 2000, p.122.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Temple 2004, p.111.
  10. Besserer and Besserer 1959, p.34.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Peebles 1997, p. 65.
  12. Chronology 1961, p.89.
  13. Bowman 1986, p.14.
  14. Yenne 2005, p.67.
  15. Bulkeley and Spinardi 1986, p.17.
  16. Hays 2002, p.84.
  17. Lewis and Lewis 1987, pp.93–95.
  18. International Aeronautic Federation. Interavia volume 15, p.814.
  19. Bold Orion Archived November 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Encyclopedia Astronautica. Accessed 2011-01-19.


Further reading

External links

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