An Atlas-Able launching Pioneer P-30
ManufacturerConvair Division of General Dynamics
Country of originUnited States
Height28 m (91 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10 ft)
Payload to
Trans-lunar injection
170 kg (370 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesLC-12, 13 & 14, Cape Canaveral
Total launches3
First flight26 November 1959
Last flight15 December 1960

The Atlas-Able was an American expendable launch system derived from the SM-65 Atlas missile. It was a member of the Atlas family of rockets, and was used to launch several Pioneer spacecraft towards the Moon. Of the five Atlas-Able rockets built, two failed during static firings, and the other three failed to reach orbit.[1]

The Atlas-Able was a three-and-a-half-stage rocket, with a stage-and-a-half Atlas missile as the first stage, an Able second stage, and an Altair third stage.[2] The first Atlas-Able used an Atlas C as the first stage,[3] but this exploded during a static fire test on 24 September 1959.[4]

The remaining launches used Atlas D missiles. Launches were conducted from Launch Complexes 12 and 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. One launch was planned from Launch Complex 13; this became the second Atlas-Able to be destroyed during a static firing, and hence never launched.[1]


Launches of Atlas-Able[5]
Number Miission Orbit Launch Site Outcome
1 Pioneer P-3 TLI LC-14 Failure
The Payload fairing broke up at 45 seconds after liftoff, causing loss of the upper stage and payload.[6]
2 Pioneer P-30 TLI LC-12 Failure
A propellant feed on the second stage had a malfunction.[7]
3 Pioneer P-31 TLI LC-12 Failure
Vibration and/or debris from the Able adapter section ruptured the liquid oxygen tank of Atlas, causing an explosion.[8]


  1. ^ a b Encyclopedia Astronautica - Atlas
  2. ^ Gunter's Space Page - Atlas-D Able
  3. ^ Gunter's Space Page - Atlas-C Able
  4. ^ Space Review, The Pioneer lunar orbiters: a forgotten failure, by Andrew J. LePage, Monday, December 13, 2010
  5. ^ "Atlas-Able". Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  6. ^ "Atlas-D Able | Pioneer P-3". Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  7. ^ "Atlas-D Able | Pioneer P-30". Retrieved 2022-02-18.
  8. ^ "Atlas-D Able | Pioneer P-31". Retrieved 2022-02-18.