The 6555th, Chapter III, Section 3

The 6555th's Role in the Development of Ballistic Missiles

Ballistic Missile Test Objectives

Cape Canaveral, April 1957

Ballistic missile processing was also a contractor-oriented function, but it became a major part of the 6555th's mission at the end of 1959. At that time, component testing took place in laboratories, factories and test centers in various parts of the United States. Even if an item was considered highly reliable, it received an exhaustive series of new tests to prove its mettle before it was added to a new missile's inventory of parts. Once a missile arrived at Cape Canaveral, it received a meticulous inspection and a thorough series of pre-flight tests. For almost all missiles, this included on-the-ground engine checks and static firings before launch day. Ballistic missile flight test programs advanced in much the same manner as aerodynamic missiles had in the early 1950s. On early flights, the airframe, propulsion system and autopilot were measured against established standards for structural integrity and responsiveness. After the basic elements of the missile were tested successfully, more complex items such as the guidance system, reentry vehicles, simulated warheads and fuzes were evaluated until the complete weapon system proved itself. Specific primary objectives were established for each missile flight test, and the degree of success or failure was judged by the extent to which data relative to those primary objectives were obtained. Thus, an apparent "failure" might constitute a very successful test -- depending on how well the flight met the intended primary objectives. Moreover, it was usually possible to establish the exact cause of a genuine flight failure by analyzing the data collected by range instrumentation. On the basis of this information, remedial action (including major changes at the contractor's plant) could be accomplished before the next launch. The thoroughness of the experimental test program had a direct bearing on the quality of the production line missile, and, at times, missiles were subjected to conditions beyond their designed tolerances to determine the maximum stress they could tolerate before structural failure. After its reassignment to the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division in 1959, the 6555th became keenly interested in all those aspects of Air Force ballistic missile testing at Cape Canaveral.13


The 6555th: Missile and Space Launches Through 1970
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925