The Skylab Program

Saturn V (SA-513) as used for the Skylab mission

View of the Skylab space station cluster photographed against black sky.
July 28, 1973
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague

Launch of Skylab 1
on 14 May 1973
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague

Skylab in a 500 km high orbit
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague

Cutaway View of the Skylab Orbital Workshop
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague

Saturn V - Skylab

A manned spacestation has been conceived by NASA in the early sixties, at that moment such an undertaking became feasible. It was considered as a necessary step if the USA wants to make bold progress in the areas of astronomy, earth observation, biology, spaceflight and military defense.

Space station for manned deep space travel
In order to make manned deep space travel possible, it was also found necessary to have a space station in Earth orbit to serve as a launch platform. In this concept two types of spacecraft would be needed, each type would be optimized for its task.
The craft which would provide the transportation link between Earth and the space station, had to be robust because it had to withstand strong aerodymic forces and heat during the flight throught the atmosphere. But at the same time it has to have the ability to manoeuvre in space.
The second type of craft would only be used for space travel and would not be exposed to strong aerodynamic forces and could therefore be made far less robust which would save a lot of mass.

Space station design history
After several design studies like the ones in which the use of modified Titan II stages was proposed, more ambitious plans came into view when the Saturn launch vehicles became available. It soon became evident that the much larger second stage (the S-IVB) of the Saturn IB was suitable to transform it into an orbital habitat. Skylab was the name given by NASA to this first to be built American space station. Several launches would be needed to lift the several components into orbit and to construct into one station. The three major components which had to be brought into space would be:
- the main body with its crew quarters
- the airlock module, the multiple docking adapter
- and the sun telescope arrangement including its operating centre for the astronauts.
In the original plan only Saturn IB boosters would be used to bring all the components into orbit. Astronauts would be sent up to do the construction work. After completion, the station would enter its operational phase and scientific work could start. The construction sequence would start by launching a two stage Saturn IB. The second stage (S-IVB stage) would insert itself into the desired orbit. This "wet workshop" concept meant that a spent S-IVB stage had to be relieved from its residual propellants first before construction work could start to convert the stage into an habitat. However the large lifting capacity of the Saturn V made NASA choose for the approach in which a fully constructed Skylab cluster would be launched by a two staged Saturn V.

America’s first space station was launched in may 1973 with a two staged Saturn V booster. The 90 Ton heavy Skylab was lifted into a 433 km high circulair orbit. Skylab became severly damaged during launch. A large portion of the meteorite shield was ripped off by aerodymic forces while the Saturn V launcher was making its way through the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere. Because of the structural failure of the meteorite shield, the left solar array wing became partially deployed. During staging it fell prey to the S-II stage retro rockets and was effectively blown away by their exhaust plumes.
Skylab was used until February 1974 and was kept in orbit until August 1979. The station went down into the atmosphere where most of it incenerated, however parts of Skylab fell into the desert of Australia.

Skylab 1: Launch of the workshop

Skylab 2: Skylab rescue mission

Skylab 3: Scientific mission

Skylab 4: Scientific mission

This artist's concept is a cutaway illustration of the Skylab with the Command/Service Module being docked to the Multiple Docking Adapter. In an early effort to extend the use of Apollo for further applications, NASA established the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) in August of 1965.
credit to NASA

Gallery of Saturn Launch Vehicles
Saturn IB Launch Vehicles

Saturn V Launch Vehicles

Apollo Program Launch Vehicles

Skylab program Launch Vehicles

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Launch Vehicles


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Copyright 2005 by Sander Panhuyzen
Comments and questions are welcome. All pictures and drawings contained on and through these pages are the author's, unless otherwise noted. No unauthorized reproduction without permission.