A three stage booster used during the Apollo project to send the Apollo Command/Service module and Lunar Module from the Earth's surface to lunar orbit.

Although the biggest rocket ever built, the Saturn V was not intended to be the last or greatest of its line; even before John F. Kennedy committed the USA to landing a man on the moon, Wernher von Braun and his team at Huntsville, Alabama envisioned a series of Saturn rockets, each building on the experience of the last, culminating in a rocket known as the Nova. Two types of Saturn rockets, the C-1 and C-2, were intended for Earth orbital operations, e.g. launching space station components and travelling to such a station.

The Nova was intended for any lunar mission. It alone would have been capable of the direct ascent approach to a lunar landing - taking off from the surface of the Earth, landing on the moon (no seperate Lunar lander required), taking off from the moon and returing to Earth with one spaceship. Not incidentally to von Braun, such a vehicle would also have made a manned Mars mission feasible.

However, the selection of Lunar Orbital Rendevous (LOR) (with its lighter payload requirements) eliminated the need for the Nova, and it died on the drawing board. Several other designs appeared and vanished on the drawing board, leaving the Saturn family with just the Saturn I, Saturn IB and Saturn V. (This is also why the S-IVB stage is so called, even though it only ever acted as a second or third stage - it was originally conceived as the fourth stage of Saturn vehicle design known as the C-3).

The success of the Saturn V owed a great deal to extensive ground testing and an insistence on using tried and tested technology whenever possible in its design and construction. Many key components and technologies were proved on Saturn I and Saturn IB flights, most notably the Instrument Unit and the S-IVB stage, both of which flew pretty much unmodified from their Saturn IB forms on the Saturn V.

Development began in ernest after the selection of LOR in 1962 by NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) under the leadership of von Braun. MSFC provided the specs and much technical assistant to the various contractors, and even produced some of the early hardware for the Saturn family.

The Saturn V flew thirteen times, including 10 manned flights, and never gave mission control cause for serious concern, with the exception of the second test flight on April 4th, 1968, when dangerous vibrations (called pogo vibrations or the pogo effect) occured due to an unexpected resonance effect. The problem was solved by making changes to fittings in the various rocket engines of the Saturn V's stages.

Starting from the top and working down, the Saturn V (including its Apollo payload) was composed of (follow the links for more detailed information on each component):

The first Saturn V flight occured on November 9th, 1967 and the last on May 14, 1973. Although 13 Saturn V's flew (including a modified version that launched Skylab), 15 were constructed as flight ready hardware. When Apollo 18 and 19 were cancelled (despite the availability of these already paid-for boosters), SA 514 and SA 515 became two of the most expensive lawn ornaments in the history of the world, left to rust away on display at the Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center. Thirty years later, conservation efforts restored these vehicles, at least cosmetically. A third Saturn V, made out of test stages, is at the MSFC.

The operational life time of the Saturn V booster on a typical Apollo mission was about six hours, from liftoff to seperation of the S-IVB on the coast to lunar orbit. Each Saturn V cost about $113 million.

The Saturn V was 110.7 meters tall and weighed 2913 metric tons fully fueled (including the Apollo spacecraft). At launch, the S-IC stage delivered 33 million newtons. The total impluse of the entire booster was a staggering 7.5 billion newton-seconds and it is unlikely that any rocket will ever be built on a similar scale again.

Saturn V launch sequence (modified from "Stages to Saturn" by Roger E. Bilstein, NASA SP-4206)

  • 0:00:00.0 Liftoff
  • 0:00:01.0 Begin tower clearance yaw maneuver
  • 0:00:09.0 End yaw maneuver
  • 0:00:11.9 Pitch and roll initiation
  • 0:01:08.6 Mach I
  • 0:01:25.1 Maximum dynamic pressure
  • 0:02:14.6 S-IC center engine cutoff
  • 0:02:42.4 Begin tilt arrest
  • 0:02:44.7 S-IC outboard engine cutoff
  • 0:02:44.9 S-II ullage rocket ignition
  • 0:02:45.1 Signal to seperation devices and S-IC retrorockets
  • 0:02:45.2 S-IC/S-II first plane seperation complete
  • 0:02:45.8 S-II engine start sequence initiated
  • 0:02:46.8 S-II ignition (start tank discharge valve opens)
  • 0:02:48.8 S-II engines at mainstage
  • 0:02:49.4 S-II ullage thrust cutoff
  • 0:03:15.1 S-II aft interstage drop (second plane seperation)
  • 0:03:20.8 LET jettison (crew action)
  • 0:02:25.4 Initiate IGM
  • 0:07:43.4 S-II center engine cutoff
  • 0:07:51.8 MR shift
  • 0:09:16.27 S-II outboard engine cutoff; Enable chi freeze
  • 0:09:16.28 Begin chi freeze
  • 0:09:17.2 S-IVB ullage ignition
  • 0:09:17.3 Signal to seperation devices and S-II retrorockets
  • 0:09:17.4 S-II/S-IVB seperation
  • 0:09:17.4 S-IVB engine start sequence, first burn
  • 0:09:20.4 S-IVB ignition (start tank discharge valve opens)
  • 0:09:22.9 S-IVB engine at mainstage
  • 0:09:25.0 S-IVB ullage thrust end
  • 0:09:25.7 End chi freeze
  • 0:09:29.1 S-IVB ullage case jettison
  • 0:11:35.2 Begin chi freeze
  • 0:11:43.0 S-IVB cutoff, first burn
  • 0:11:43.5 S-IVB APS ullage ignition
  • 0:11:53.0 Parking orbit insertion
  • 0:12:03.2 Initiate maneuver to and maintain local horizontal alignment (CSM forward, heads down)
  • 0:12:03.3 Begin orbital guidance
  • 0:12:42.2 Liquid hydrogen continuous vent open
  • 0:13:10.2 S-IVB APS ullage cutoff
  • 0:13:24.0 Begin orbital navigation
  • 2:20:59.7 Begin S-IVB restart preparations
  • 2:21:41.7 O2H2 burner (helium heater) on
  • 2:21:42.9 Liquid hydrogen continuous vent closed
  • 2:29:16.0 S-IVB APS ullage ignition
  • 2:30:29.7 Inititiate J-2 fuel lead
  • 2:30:32.7 S-IVB APS ullage cutoff
  • 2:30:37.7 S-IVB reignition (start tank discharge valve opens)
  • 2:30:40.2 S-IVB engine at mainstage
  • 2:33:55.2 MR shift (first opportunity only)
  • 2:36:33.4 S-IVB engine cutoff, second burn
  • 2:36:34.1 Liquid hydrogen continuous vent open
  • 2:36:34.3 Liquid oxygen nonpropulsive vent open
  • 2:36:37.4 Flight control coast mode on
  • 2:36:38.6 Enable SC control of LV
  • 2:36:43.4 Translunar injection
  • 2:39:04.3 Liquid oxygen nonpropulsive valve closed
  • 2:39:04.5 Liquid hydrogen continuous valve closed
  • 2:39:04.5 Initiate maneuver to and maintain local horizontal alignment (CSM forward, heads down)
  • 2:51:33.6 Liquid hydrogen nonpropulsive vent closed
  • 2:51:33.6 Initiate maneuver to and maintain TD&E attitude
  • 3:01:33.6 CSM seperation (variable)
  • 3:16:33.6 CSM/LM docking (variable)
  • 3:36:34.0 Liquid hydrogen nonpropulsive vent open
  • 3:51:33.6 Liquid hydrogen nonpropulsive vent closed
  • 3:56:33.6 SC/LV final seperation (variable)
  • 4:11:33.6 Intitate maneuver to and maintain S-IVB evasive attitude
  • 4:19:34.8 S-IVB APS ullage ignition
  • 4:20:54.8 S-IVB APS ullage cutoff
  • 4:29:13.8 Initiate manuever to and maintain liquid oxygen dump attitude
  • 4:36:13.6 Liquid hydrogen continuous vent open
  • 4:40:53.6 Start liquid oxygen dump
  • 4:41:16.8 Liquid hydrogen continuous vent closed
  • 4:41:41.6 End liquid oxygen dump
  • 4:42:53.8 Liquid oxygen nonpropulsive vent open
  • 4:42:58.6 Liquid hydrogen nonpropulsive vent open
  • 5:59:38.4 Initiate maneouver to an maintain S-IVB APS impact burn attitude
  • 6:29:33.6 S-IVB APS ullage ignition
  • 6:33:34.6 S-IVB APS ullage cutoff

Prior to 1996, a Saturn V rocket was rusting away at the Kennedy Space Center. It was part of a bus tour; the bus would drive alongside the road next to the Saturn V and you would gawk at the sheer length. As of December 1996, it has been restored to Smithsonian condition and on display inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Cape Canaveral.

It is a lawn ornament no more!

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