10 Fascinating Factoids About The Apollo Program’s Saturn V Rocket
1. The Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever brought to operational status from a height, weight and payload standpoint. (In the 1980s, the Soviets designed and developed a rocket that was slightly more powerful, but it was never fully operationalized)
2. The Saturn V rocket stood 363 ft (over 35 stories tall) 33 ft in diameter, and weighed around 3,000 Tons.
The height was about 2 times that of the space shuttle.
3. The power generated by the 5 F1 engines of its first stage was in excess of 150 GW (1 GW = 1,000 MW). That’s roughly equivalent to the entire installed power generation capacity in India! Or nearly 2.5 times of the power generation capacity in Texas.
4. The fuel consumption of the first stage was a staggering 15 Tons / sec of Kerosene. The fuel pumps that fed the engines alone consumed 100s of MW of power, enough to light an entire city.
5. The total lift capacity for putting a payload in a ‘low earth orbit’ (LEO) was about 120 Tons. And the capacity for putting a payload in a lunar orbit was around 47 Tons. For comparison imagine putting an entire fully loaded Boeing 757 into a low earth orbit, or a Boeing 737 into a lunar orbit!
6. The thrust generated by each of the first stage’s F1 engine was around 7.6 Million lb ft. Again compare that with a supersonic fighter jet, F16: 23,000 lb ft and an engine of the Boeing 747: 60,000 lb ft.
7. The noise levels and vibrations/shockwaves generated during lift-off (or ‘blast-off’ as it is often and more appropriately referred to…) were so high that spectators were kept at least 3 miles away.
8. The 1st stage of the Saturn V rocket consumed kerosene and liquid oxygen. The 2nd and 3rd stages consumed liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Unlike the space shuttle, or any of the rockets in the Indian Space Program, there were no solid fuel boosters. A majority of the 3000 tons liftoff weight of the Saturn V comprised of the propellant and liquid oxygen.
9. The 1st stage could power the rocket to a height of around 42 miles and speeds of around 2.5km/sec. The 2nd stage took it to over 100 miles in height and achieved near orbital velocity. The 3rd stage was used in 2 steps: first to insert the Apollo spacecraft into an earth orbit. And then it was fired again to get it to the ‘escape velocity’ of around 11.2 km/sec, and onwards towards the moon.
10. The costing of the Saturn V program is also quite staggering. It was one of the biggest chunks of the overall Apollo Program. Across the 1960s and early 1970s, the Saturn V program cost around US $ 6.5 B – this figure adjusted for today’s prices comes at around US $ 35- 40 B !
Sources of information
Note – I am recounting the high level factoids from memory – based on readings, and visits to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. I have also referenced the NASA website (which has a treasure trove of information) and Wikipedia (which presents information from the NASA websites, in a more organized fashion) for the specific details.