This article includes a list of general references, but it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (October 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Atlas SLV-3
FunctionSounding rocket
Expendable launch system
ManufacturerConvair Division of
General Dynamics
Country of originUnited States
Launch history
Launch sitesCape Kennedy, LC-14
Vandenberg, SLC-3E
Total launches5
First flight1 June 1966
Last flight16 August 1968

The Atlas SLV-3, or SLV-3 Atlas was an American expendable launch system derived from the SM-65 Atlas / SM-65D Atlas missile. It was a member of the Atlas family of rockets.

The Atlas SLV-3 was a stage and a half rocket, built as a standardized replacement for earlier Atlas launch systems, which had been derived from the various Atlas missiles.[1]

Most space launcher variants of the Atlas up to 1965 were derived from the D-series Atlas ICBM with custom modifications for the needs of the particular mission. The SLV-3 would use a standardized configuration based on the Atlas D missile for all launches with the exception of different widths for the top of the rocket depending on the upper stage being flown.

The SLV-3 had thicker gauge tank walls to support the weight of upper stages as well as upgraded engines and removal of unneeded ICBM hardware such as retrorockets. Although the main engines had greater thrust, the verniers were detuned slightly in the interest of improved ISP (vacuum specific impulse).

Variants of the SLV-3 flew until 2005 when the legacy Atlas was retired from service and replaced by the Atlas V, a completely new vehicle with conventional aircraft-style construction and different engines.


The following versions of the launch system were produced:[2][3]


ATDA atop an Atlas SLV-3 launch vehicle
ATDA atop an Atlas SLV-3 launch vehicle

The standard Atlas-Agena vehicle is best known for launching the Augmented Target Docking Adapter (ATDA) in support of the Gemini 9A mission. This occurred on 1 June 1966, and was the first flight of the Atlas SLV-3 as an independent vehicle.[4] The ATDA failed because the payload shroud did not detach.

The rocket was also used for three suborbital tests of X-23 PRIME reentry vehicles. A leftover SLV-3 from the PRIME program was used to launch a collection of small scientific satellites from VAFB's SLC-3E on August 16, 1968.

Most Atlas-Agena SLV-3s were used for classified DoD payloads, especially KH-7 GAMBIT.

A Burner II upper stage could be used to increase payload.[5]

Revision A

The Mariner 7 launch by an Atlas SLV-3C.
The Mariner 7 launch by an Atlas SLV-3C.

SLV-3A was the baseline SLV-3 with extended propellant tanks for longer burn time. It was used to launch OGO-3 in 1968, all remaining launches being classified Aquacade (satellite) (Canyon/Rhyolite) SIGINT satellites. All launches took place from LC-13 at CCAS.

Revision B

SLV-3B was a one-off Atlas used to launch the first OAO satellite, which consisted of the SLV-3C Atlas with the Agena and payload enclosed in a full-width fairing.

Revision C

The Atlas SLV-3D Centaur-D1A rocket which launching Mariner 10.
The Atlas SLV-3D Centaur-D1A rocket which launching Mariner 10.

SLV-3C was the standard Atlas-Centaur booster, without the tapered forward section to accommodate the smaller Agena stage.

Atlas SLV-3D

SLV-3D had the same Atlas core as SLV-3C, with an enhanced Centaur stage.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Astronautica - Atlas
  2. ^ "Atlas Family".
  3. ^[bare URL PDF]
  4. ^ "On The Shoulders of Titans - Chap. 14". Archived from the original on March 11, 2010. Retrieved October 30, 2011.
  5. ^ Gunter's Space Page - Atlas-SLV3 Burner-2