DF-SC-83-03173 cropped.jpeg
Launch of the Titan 34D
FunctionHeavy carrier rocket
ManufacturerMartin Marietta
Country of originUnited States
Payload to LEO
Mass14,515 kg (32,000 lb)
Payload to GTO
Mass5,000 kg (11,000 lb)
Associated rockets
Launch history
Launch sitesLC-40, CCAFS
Total launches15
First flight30 October 1982
Last flight4 September 1989
0 stage – UA1206
Height27.56 m (90.4 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Empty mass40,827 kg (90,008 lb)
Gross mass251,427 kg (554,302 lb)
Maximum thrust6,227 kN (1,400,000 lbf)
Specific impulse265 s
Burn time114 s
PropellantSolid (Polybutadiene acrylonitrile)
First stage – Titan IIIB-1
Height23.99 m (78.7 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Empty mass7,000 kg (15,400 lb)
Gross mass139,935 kg (308,504 lb)
Powered byLR-87-11
Maximum thrust2,413.191 kN (542,507 lbf)
Specific impulse302 s
Burn time161 s
PropellantN2O4 / Aerozine 50
Second stage – Titan IIIB-2
Height8.60 m (28.2 ft)
Diameter3.05 m (10.0 ft)
Empty mass2,900 kg (6,400 lb)
Gross mass37,560 kg (82,810 lb)
Powered byLR-91-11
Maximum thrust460.314 kN (103,483 lbf)
Specific impulse316 s
Burn time230 s
PropellantN2O4 / Aerozine 50

The Titan 34D was a United States expendable launch vehicle used to launch a number of satellites for military applications.

Service history

Derived from the Titan III, the Titan 34D featured Stage 1 and Stage 2 stretched with more powerful UA1206 solid motors. A variety of upper stages were available, including the Inertial Upper Stage, the Transfer Orbit Stage, and the Transtage.[1] The Titan 34D made its maiden flight in the year of 1982 on the 30th of October with two DSCS defense communications satellites for the United States Department of Defense (DOD).

All of the launches were conducted from either LC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station or SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Overall, fifteen launches were carried out, of which three failed.

1985 failure, Titan 34D-7

The first failure was a launch of a KH-11 photoreconnaissance satellite in the year 1985 on the 28th of August. The core stage suffered a propulsion system malfunction and was destroyed by Range Safety. The flight proceeded normally until the core engine starts at T+108 seconds. At T+112 seconds, an abnormal start transient occurred and Engine 2 began experiencing thrust decay. At T+212 seconds, Engine 1 shut down, causing a loss of attitude control. The onboard computer shut off Engine 2 at T+256 seconds and began a premature separation and ignition of Stage 2. With the Titan now tumbling and headed back towards land, the destruct command was issued at T+272 seconds and the KH-11 crashed into the Pacific Ocean. During Stage 1's powered flight, the oxidizer tank began leaking N2O4 which was thought to have resulted in the loss of lubrication to the Engine 1 turbopump and breakdown of the pinion gear. The attempts by the Navy to salvage booster debris from the ocean floor were largely unsuccessful. Investigators also complained that tracking camera coverage during the core stage burn was inadequate.

Titan 34D-7 was the first failed launch of a solid motor-equipped Titan vehicle from Vandenberg (there had been several failures from Cape Canaveral over the years) and was particularly vexing because of inadequate launch data. The Titan III's flawless West Coast launch record meant that the Air Force felt confident enough to remove several telemetry measurements from the boosters in the interest of reduced weight and complexity. There had evidently been leaks from both the fuel and oxidizer tanks, as well as suspicion hinged on clamps that held the propellant feed lines in place. However, the clamps had not failed on any previous launches so it was not clear why they would suddenly fail now. Some members of the investigative board even proposed that the SRBs had suffered an exhaust gas leak which caused damage to the core stage. As evidence, they noted that a piece of cork insulation had broken off one SRB shortly after launch. The official cause of the failure was "Leakage of oxidizer resulting in loss of turbopump lubrication and breakdown of the pinion gear." However, most of the members of the investigative team were unsatisfied with this verdict.

As a result of 34D-7, the Air Force took measures to ensure that a repeat failure would not occur. These included reinstalling some of the deleted telemetry probes on the Titan as well as improved camera coverage; the next launch would even have the aircraft flying overhead to provide additional photography.

1986 failure, Titan 34D-9

Titan 34D-9 was launched 18 April 1986 at Vandenberg AFB. Instead of the advanced KH-11 satellite carried on 34D-7, this booster carried the older model KH-9 in what would be the final launch of that satellite and the final launch of a film capsule photoreconnaissance satellite by the United States. Lifting off at 10:45 AM Pacific Time, the Titan catastrophically exploded just above SLC-4E, showering the launch complex as well as the adjacent SLC-4W (used for Titan IIIB launches) with debris and toxic propellant.[2][3]

The investigation indicated the right solid rocket motor rupturing starting at T+6 seconds with the resulting torque on the launch vehicle caused the left SRM to break away. This triggered its automatic destruct system, blowing Stage 1 to pieces and rupturing Stage 2's N2O4 tank. The upper stages were ejected and launched through the air until a manual destruct command was sent by the range safety officer at T+20 seconds. The KH-9 was also blown up by its internal self-destruct mechanism, which was designed to destroy the classified satellite in the event of a launch malfunction. Debris rained onto SLC-4E, badly damaging the launch complex in the process and starting numerous small fires, some of which burned for up to two days. Extracting launch personnel from the blockhouse proved difficult due to the area around the pad being filled with toxic fumes and burning debris. The casing rupture had damaged the Inadvertent Separation Destruct System (ISDS) lanyards and prevented proper destruction of the SRM, which came down largely intact onto a concrete structure near the pad, which was unoccupied at the time of launch.

The disaster drew comparisons to the Challenger shuttle accident three months earlier, which was also the victim of a solid rocket motor malfunction. However, the Titan incident was found to have a different cause, as the O-rings had not burned-through. A small air pocket between the SRM propellant and its metal motor casing allowed hot exhaust gases to burn through the casing and eventually rupture the SRM. The loss of two photoreconnaissance satellites in a row also badly hampered American efforts to acquire intelligence on Soviet activities.

The Air Force, before finding out the true cause of 34D-9's failure, was so puzzled at the loss of two Titan IIIs in a row that it believed for a time that saboteurs had been at work on Vandenberg Air Force Base, and it had base personnel comb the nearby hills for bullet casings.

Due to the classified payload, extensive efforts were made to clean up all remains of the KH-9, whose film reels were ripped apart into hundreds of small pieces and scattered around the pad area. The satellite debris was taken away for burial in an undisclosed location in the State of Nevada.

The investigation found that the manufacturer of the UA1206 motors, Chemical Systems Division of United Technologies had inadequate quality control measures. Due to the Shuttle program, demand for expendable launch vehicles (ELVs) was greatly reduced during the 1980s and manufacturers had been cutting costs, dropping technical personnel, and preparing to phase out ELVs. However, the Challenger disaster created a renewed emphasis on ELVs and would see a considerable expansion of the upcoming Titan IV program, which was originally intended for just ten launches.

The exact reason for the air pocket in the #2 SRM was never satisfactorily determined. While all the rocket segments were at least five years old (since all flight article Titan 34Ds had been manufactured and delivered by 1982 and the production line long since shut down), there had been no similar problems on other SRMs of the same age. Thanks to Titan 34D-9 (and because an SRB malfunction was a possible cause of 34D-7's failure), more stringent measures were put in place. This included the construction of the Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) High Energy X-Ray Facility at Cape Canaveral in a crash program lasting 83 days from the start of construction to first tests in which Titan SRM segments were X-rayed to find propellant voids.[4]

SLC-4E was out of commission until October 1987, after which it was the site of the remaining two Titan 34D launches without incident.


The Titan 34D had a payload capacity of 14,515 kg (32,000 lb) to low Earth orbit, and of 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to a GTO.[1]

Use with Vortex satellites

Artist's concept of Titan 34D
Artist's concept of Titan 34D

Three Vortex satellites were launched using Titan 34D vehicles between 1984 and 1989.

Date Spacecraft NSSDC ID Comments
31 January 1984 OPS 0441 1984-009A also called Vortex 4
2 September 1988 USA 31 1988-077A also called Vortex 5
10 May 1989 USA 37 1989-035A also called Vortex 6

Launch history

Main article: List of Titan launches

See also


  1. ^ a b "Titan 34D". Astronautix.com. Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on December 28, 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  2. ^ Day, Dwayne A. (15 December 2008). "Death of a monster". The Space Review.
  3. ^ Isachar, Hanan. "The Titan 34D rocket explosion at Vanderberg Air Force Base, CA". Hanan Isachar Photography.
  4. ^ "Military Space Operations" (PDF). Air Force Space Museum. Retrieved 13 December 2021.