The Saturn IB - Apollo 7   performance characteristics

During the asscent phase until orbit insertion the flight performance parameters mentioned below are relevant to be monitored in time and should not exceed upper or lower limits during flight.
  1. Downrange distance
  2. Altitude
  3. Pitch angle
  4. Angle of attack
  5. Velocity
  6. Flight path angle
  7. Aerodynamic pressure
  8. Axiale force
  9. Acceleration
  10. Thrust
On a plot board or display a real time Altitude vs. Downrange plot and a Flight path angle vs. Velocity plot are shown to be able to detect actual flight trajectory deviations from the predicted nominal flight trajectory and ascertain that these deviations do not exceed abort limits.


This picture shows the flight path of the SA-205 (Apollo 7) during ascent. The S-IB performed its task in only the first 144 seconds of the flight and was then disposed of. After a 9½ minutes ballistic flight, the S-IB stage plunged into the Atlantic Ocean about 500 km off the east coast of Florida.

This picture shows the flight characteristics of the SA-206 (Skylab 2) from lift-off to orbit insertion. The mass of the whole Saturn IB stack is expressed in payload mass. The payload mass is the combined mass of the command module and the service module which is around 14 metric tons (around 2.4 % of the launch mass).

The red curve shows a dramatically large rate of propellant consumption in the first 141 seconds of flight. At the moment of S-IB stage burn-out, the Saturn V has already lost around 69% of its launch mass.

The expression "MR shift" stands for "Mixture Ratio shift". It is referring to an automated procedure to change the ratio between the amount of fuel and amount of oxidizer which is supplied to the thrust engines of the S-IVB stage. The objective of this procedure is to optimize the performance of the S-IVB stage by depleting the propellants during flight as much as possible, to keep the mass of the launch vehicle at stage burn out as low as possible.

The blue curve representing the acceleration during flight helps us to imagine what the crew must have felt during ascent. In the first minute of the flight the acceleration was slowly building up. But the sudden drop of acceleration at S-IB stage burn-out (from over 4 G's to weightlessness within a second) must have been quite an experience. Two seconds later the astronauts were thrown back in their couches when the S-IVB stage engines ignited and the acceleration went from zero to 0.8 G almost instantly.

This picture shows a set of other flight characteristics of the SA-205 (Apollo 7) from lift-off to orbit insertion. Also is shown which abort procedures have to be used in time during ascent in case of emergencies.

Aerodynamic pressure (Q) is depending on the velocity and the air density. Q is zero when the velocity is zero at the moment of lift-off and is also zero when the air density is zero. This implies that during ascent there is a moment when Q has a maximum value. This Max. Q is attained at around 95 seconds into the flight at an altitude of 14 kilometers.

For the ascent phase from lift-off to orbit insertion, abort procedures have been devised to return the flight crew safely to Earth in case of emergency. The requirements for an abort procedure however, are much related to the velocity of the launch vehicle and its altitude.
Therefore three flight regimes have been distinguished:
- atmospheric flight;
- transitional or sub-orbital flight;
- and space flight.
There is an abort procedure for each flight regime. The objective of all these three abort procedures is to attain a quick return of the flight crew to Earth. Each procedure also requires a different mode of operation with regard to the spacecraft, to onboard software for event sequencing and guidance, to ground based stations and to Mission Control. There is however a fourth abort mode which is meant to attain a contigency orbit. This mode provides more options in selecting landing area's and, if possible, to meet some of the mission objectives.

Short description of the four abort modes:
Mode IA: From launch pad until 42 sec. after Lift-Off: LES propels CM to a safe distance from the exploding launch vehicle. The pitch control motor in the top of the LES is used to push the CM downrange, off the coast, into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mode IB: 42 sec. up to 30 km altitude: Same as Mode IA. The launch vehicle has cleared the beach after 42 seconds. After sepration from the launch vehicle a canard system in the top of the LES is used to induce a pitch tumble to put the CM in the proper attitude for parachute deployment.

Mode IC: From 30 km altitude up to 3 min. after Lift-Off: The LES is used to seprate the CM. After jettison of the LES, the CM is put in a proper reentry attitude with its RCS.

Mode II: Service Module RCS engines or SM main engine propel CM away from the launch vehicle. When the CSM is at safe distance, the CM is separated from the SM and manoeuvred into a reentry attitude.

Mode IIIA: This submode has been introduced for high lattitude ascent flight paths. Service Module Propulsuion (SPS) engine is not only used to propel the CM away from the launch vehicle, but also to fly over the cold water water in the North Atlantic and land at a predetermined point. After CM-SM separation normal entry procedures will be followed.

Mode IIIB: The SPS engine is used to slow the CSM down to land at a predetermined in the Atlantic Ocean. Upon completion of thois retrograde maneuver anormal entry procedure will follow.

Mode IV: Service Module main engine is used to separate the CSM from the launch vehicle and insert the CSM into a contingency orbit.

Apollo 7 ground track during the Boost Phase (Ascent)


This picture shows the ground track of the SA-503 (Apollo 8) during ascent.

The S-IB performed its task in only the first 2½ minutes of the flight and was then disposed of. The S-IB stage plunged into the Atlantic Ocean about 500 km off the east coast of Florida.

The S-IVB provided thrust for about 8 minutes. The S-IVB stage remained attached to the spacecraft for some time to test its manual orbital attitude control capabilities, the S-IVB was manual controlled from the spacecaft. During this exercise the performance of the S-IVB and the Instrument Unit were meticously monitored by Mission control.

S-IVB / CSM separation occured at 2 hours and 55 minutes GET (Ground Elapsed Time). After separation more extensive testing on the elaborate system of the S-IVB / IU was done by Mission Control for some three hours more.

The S-IVB was also used as a docking target for the next 29 hours after separation. All kinds of orbital maneuvering capabilities were tested, both the spacecraft, the procedures and the crew were under test.

Apollo 7 ground track during Ascent and Orbital Maneuvering


This picture shows the ground track of the SA-205 (Apollo 7) during the first six revolutions.

The Orbit of the discarded S-IVB stage decayed over a period of seven days. It impacted the Indian Ocean during its 108th revolution.

  1. Skylab Saturn IB Flight Manual
    MSFC-MAN-206, September 1972

  2. Results of the Fifth Saturn IB Launch Vehice Test Flight
    SA-205 (Apollo 7 Mission)
    Prepared by Saturn Flight Evaluation Working Group
    George C. Marshall Space Flight Center
    MPR-SAT-FE-68-4, January 25, 1969

  3. Saturn S-IVB-205 Stage Flight Evaluation Report
    Prepared by:
    Saturn S-IVB Test Planning and Evaluation Committee
    Mcdonnel Douglas Astronautics Company
    Western Division
    SM-46990, December 1968

  4. Press Kit Apollo 7
    NASA, Washington DC
    October 6, 1968

  5. Apollo 7 Mission Report
    Manned Spacecraft Center
    Houston, Texas
    MSC-PA-R-68-15, December 1968

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