Lockheed X-17 Research Rocket (video)

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Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Jan 31, 2009
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Lockheed X-17 Research Rocket


The Lockheed X-17 was a three-stage solid-fuel research rocket to test the effects of high mach atmospheric reentry. The first stage of the X-17 carried the rocket to a height of 17 miles (27 km) before burning out. The rocket would then coast on momentum to about 100 miles (160 km) before nosing down for reentry. The second stage engine would then fire before jettisoning and igniting the third and final stage. On April 24, 1957, an X-17 reached a speed of 9,000 miles per hour (14,000 km/h) at Patrick AFB.[1] Ultimately the X-17 would be travelling towards Earth at up to Mach 14.5.

The X-17 was also used as the booster for the Operation Argus series of three high-altitude nuclear tests conducted in the South Atlantic in 1958.[2]

This would make a great looking and well stabilized scale or semi-scale (due to limited body tube diameter choices) rocket. Anyone know of any source for a scale drawing or accurate profile?

Color film in great condition:


I built a 3" dia model of the X-17 in the early 90's. It was damaged on the pad after an Aerotech E15 cato. I repaired it and flew it on at AT F32(?) single use which blew the forward plug in flight and burned on "re-entry". Very scale like!

I'll see if I can dig up some pictures. Making the transitions were tricky.

I had planned on a 7.5" diameter model and drew up the plans. Never got around to it.
Operation Argus High Altitude Atmospheric Nuclear Tests (1958)

Burning the Sky: Operation Argus and the Untold Story of the Cold War Nuclear Tests in Outer Space

The summer of 1958 was a nerve-racking time. Ever since the Soviet Union proved that it possessed an operational intercontinental ballistic missile with the launch of Sputnik, the world watched anxiously as the two superpowers engaged in a game of nuclear one-upmanship. Tensions escalated between the United States and the Soviet Union over their respective nuclear weapons reserves, both sides desperate for a solution to the threat of the massive, instant destruction the one could cause on the other.

In the midst of this rising tension, Nicholas Christofilos, an eccentric Greek-American physicist, brought forth an outlandish, albeit ingenious, idea to defend the US from a Soviet attack: launching atomic bombs from the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,100 miles from Cape Town, to detonate in outer space to fry incoming Soviet ICBMs with an artificial radiation belt. Known as Project Argus, this plan is the biggest, most secret, and riskiest scientific experiment in history, and classified details of this operation have been long obscured.

In Burning the Sky, Mark Wolverton tells the unknown and controversial story of this scheme to reveal a fascinating narrative almost completely forgotten by history―one that still has powerful resonances today. Drawing from recently declassified sources, Burning the Sky chronicles Christofilos’s unconventional idea from its inception to execution―when the so-called mad scientist persuaded the military to carry out the most grandiose scientific experiment ever conceived, using the entire Earth’s atmosphere as a laboratory.

With over a decade of experience researching and writing about the sociological and political impacts of the science of the Cold War, Wolverton is the ideal authority on this risky experiment. Meticulously researched, with the pacing of a thriller and the language of science fiction, Burning the Sky will intrigue any lover of scientific or military history and will remind readers why Project Argus remains frighteningly relevant nearly sixty years later.
Operation Argus

Operation Argus was a series of United States low-yield, high-atmosphere nuclear weapons tests and missile tests secretly conducted from 27 August to 9 September 1958 over the South Atlantic Ocean. The tests were performed by the Defense Nuclear Agency.

The tests were to study the Christofilos effect, which suggested it was possible to defend against Soviet nuclear missiles by exploding a small number of bombs high over the South Pacific. This would create a disk of electrons over the United States that would fry the electronics on the Soviet warheads as they descended. It was also possible to use the effect to blind Soviet radars, meaning that any Soviet missile-based ABM system would be unable to attack the US counterstrike.

The tests demonstrated that the effect did indeed occur, but also revealed that it dissipated too rapidly to be very effective. Papers on the topic were published the next year, focussing on the events as purely scientific endeavors [which they most definitely were not. - W].

Argus was implemented rapidly after inception due to forthcoming bans on atmospheric and exoatmospheric testing in October 1958. Consequently, the tests were conducted within a mere half-year of conception (whereas "normal" testing took one to two years). Because nuclear testing during this time was bending the rules, the military borrowed International Geophysical Year equipment to cover up the nuclear tests.

Two missiles, with warheads 136–227 kg to be launched within one month of each other, originating from a single site.

The missiles were to be detonated at altitudes of 200–1,000 mi, and also at 2,000–4,000 miles. Both detonations should occur near the geomagnetic equator.

Satellites were to be placed in equatorial (up to 30°) and polar (up to 70°) orbits, with perigees of roughly 322 kilometers (200 mi) and apogees of roughly 2,900 kilometers (1,800 mi) or greater. These satellites were to be used to measure electron density over time, and include a magnetometer, as well as a means for measuring ambient radio noise. Measurements were to be taken before the shots to determine a baseline, as well as during and after the events.

Sounding rockets, fired from appropriate ground locations, were to carry the same instrumentation as the satellites, except for radio noise. Ground stations to be used to study effects on radio astronomy and radar probing as well as auroral measurements.

Originally Argus was designated Hardtack-Argus, and later Floral. For reasons of security, both names were dropped in favor of the independent name Argus.

W25 (nuclear warhead)

The W25 was a small nuclear warhead developed by the United States Air Force and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for air-defense use. It was a fission bomb with a nominal yield of 1.5 kt. Development of the weapon began in 1954 at the behest of Douglas Aircraft for use against enemy bombers.

The W25 was used for the MB-1 "Ding Dong", an unguided air-to-air rocket used by the Northrop F-89 Scorpion, F-101B, and F-106 interceptor aircraft. The MB-1 entered service in 1957, and was eventually redesignated the AIR-2 Genie. The only non-U.S. user was Canada, whose CF-101 Voodoos carried Genies until 1984 via a dual-key nuclear sharing arrangement. Limited numbers were still used for Air National Guard F-106 aircraft until December 1984.


The W25 is 17.4 inches (44 cm) in diameter and 26.6 inches (68 cm) long, with a reported weight of 218-221 pounds (98.8 - 100.2 kg).

The W25 was described as a composite pit (utilizing both uranium and plutonium), unboosted, and the first US sealed pit design. A sealed pit means that a solid metal barrier is formed around the pit or nuclear material components inside a nuclear weapon, with no openings. This protects the nuclear materials from environmental degradation and helps reduce the chances of their release in case of an accidental fire or minor explosion.
This would make a great looking and well stabilized scale or semi-scale (due to limited body tube diameter choices) rocket. Anyone know of any source for a scale drawing or accurate profile?

I don't really have any more info than has been posted here already, but I would sure be interested in seeing more. I've wanted to build a scale version for a while.

I built this pseudo-scale bird a few years ago out of an Estes Booster-55 kit. (They were blowing them out at HL a few years ago for 99 cents. I bought a ton of 'em...) Called it X-18. Real original... :rolleyes: