Jun 082014

A propainfotainment film from 1963 describing the development of the Minuteman ICBM.

[youtube WmSUoVJ1im0]

Point of note: 1963 is 51 years ago. With all the advances in the last half century, America still relies on the Minuteman. Since the Minuteman was developed, we also developed the Midgetman and Peacekeeper ICBMs… and got rid of them.

Also of historic note: when the Minuteman was developed, a lot of components that, were they to be developed today, would be digital were then analog. The safe-and-arm for the solid rocket motors was essentially a heavy chunk of clockwork. The S&A simply served the purpose of making sure than an accidental electrical or mechanical discharge somewhere, if it inadvertantly set off the ordnance lines leading to the motor igniter, would not actually get to the igniter. They are simple mechanical blocks that prevent the signal from getting through unless they are properly activated.

The Minuteman S&A’s worked well enough. So, when Thiokol was developing the  solid rocket boosters for the Shuttle, they used the Minuteman S&As. And since once something is designed and fielded at NASA it almost never changes, the 1963-vintage S&As stayed with the RSRMs throughout the lifespan of the Shuttle. Last I knew, they were also in use on the five-segment boosters to be used on the “next generation” Space Launch System.” So *if* the SLS gets built (doubtful) and flies for decades (doubtful), the relatively ancient Minuteman S&As will probably fly with them throughout the SLS’s lifespan. If SLS flies in 2020 and lasts 20 years, the Minuteman S&A will have an 80 year operational life. Of course, by the time the SLS is retired, the Minuteman ICBM itself might still be in service.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
  • Anonymous

    Successful strategic weapons are never used, and I suppose that puts these missiles in that category. However, fifty years is a long time for connectors, solder joints, and the thousands of little things that add up to the big boom at the end of the flight. Does anyone really believe this system will still function? I wonder what they project as a failure rate, 30%, 60%?

  • Rick

    lots of people forget that at the end of the chain, *everything* turns analog. Too many dot com management types “thinking outside the box” and “forgetting about the box” over the last decades.

    the fun of engineering, and the difference between simulation and reality, is when analog starts and digital ends. Sound, motion, understanding – all analog at the end.

  • Paul

    B-52s flying today are often older than all of the crew flying them. Sounds like Minuteman is a similar, long-lived system.