|Space Launch Report
. . . Cape Canaveral LC 5/6/26A/26B
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Cape Canaveral Launch Complexes 5/6/26A/26B
The first dedicated U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) Launch Complex (LC) at Cape Canaveral included LC 5, 6 26A, and 26B. The site, viewed from the south in this U.S.Air Force photo with MR-7 standing on LC 5 in the foreground (click on photo for enlargement), played a pivotal role in U.S. missile and space development. It hosted the first successful U.S. satellite and suborbital primate and human astronaut flights, as well as the first U.S. Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) flight. The site also served as an important training ground for the same ABMA team that would move to the big Saturn Launch Complexes up the coast during the 1960s.
Here can be seen the early mobile launch concept work of Dr. Kurt H. Debus, Director of the ABMA Missile Firing Laboratory. During 1954-55, Debus oversaw development of the two pads at LC 5 and 6 to support Redstone testing. In 1956-57, Debus managed construction of adjacent LC 26, just north of LC 5 and 6. The two new LC26 pads were meant to add launch capacity for ABMA's Jupiter missile development program.
Eventually, Debus provided the Complex with three mobile service towers that moved about on an interconnecting double-track railroad plant. This design allowed the towers to move from pad to pad as needed. The flexible layout served its users well. Altogether, the four interconnected flat pads hosted 102 Redstone, Jupiter-A, Jupiter-C (Juno 1), Jupiter, Juno 2, and Mercury-Redstone launches from 1955 to 1963
Debus went on to develop nearby LC30 for the ABMA Pershing program, LC 34 and 37 for NASA's Saturn 1, and LC39, the ultimate mobile launch complex, for Saturn 5. He was named director of NASA's Launch Operations Center (later Kennedy Space Center) in 1962 and served in that position until 1974.
LC 5/6/26 was located on the south end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, about 4 km south of the Cape lighthouse, as shown of the map below. The Cape's first modest pads, LC 1-4, had been clustered about 1 km northeast of the lighthouse. LC 5/6 was the first of many far-flung launch complexes built on the Cape after 1955.
LC 9/10, the XSM-64 Navaho launch site located about 2 km northeast of LC 5/6/26, was built at about the same time as the ABMA pads on the Cape's "south side". Soon, however, construction began on four U.S. Air Force Thor pads at LC 17 and LC 18, just northeast of LC26. One of the LC 18 pads was reassigned to the U.S. Naval Research Lab Vanguard program. It was among these virtually shoulder-to-shoulder "south side" pads that the initial interservice missile and space "races" played out. Thor and Jupiter battled for first IRBM honors. Vanguard and Jupiter C raced to be first into space. The ABMA teams won both races.
After 1958, oft-photographed ICBM-row rose north of the lighthouse, and press and public attention followed. The Cape's "south side" remained busy, but, except for the two piloted Mercury Redstone flights in 1961, fell largely out of view.
Like most Cape launch sites, LC 5/6/26 was oriented to allow missiles to fly down the Atlantic Missile Range launch azimuth. As the following map shows, the pads were set on a south-southwest to north-northeast centerline.
The entire site was 2,800 feet long and 800 feet wide. At both LC 5/6 and LC 26, the 200 x 200 foot flat pads were centered 500 feet apart and 400 feet from the Complex fence line. LC 6 and LC 26B, the two center pads, were centered 1,000 feet apart.
LC 5 and 6 shared a blockhouse that was only about 300 feet from the center of each pad. The wedge-shaped blockhouse was west-northwest of the pads. A nearly identical blockhouse served LC 26, but it was further back, a full 400 feet from the pads.
When all four pads were completed in 1957, a single set of double railroad tracks allowed two A-frame mobile service towers to move along the pad centerline. Both towers approached the pads from the south. By mid-1958, an additional set of "bypass" tracks had been installed. The tracks appear as red lines in the map above.
The main bypass track pair was centered 300 feet east of the pad centerline. The bypass arrangement required installation of a new switching lead that extended slightly beyond the original fence line south-southwest of LC 5.
Sometime after mid 1958 and before 1960, a new H-frame mobile service tower was installed at LC 6. This tower supported four Jupiter IRBM launches during 1959-60. Previously, only Redstone-type vehicles had used the pad. The tower may have been installed to free up LC 5 and its A-frame tower for exclusive use by NASA's Juno-2 and Mercury-Redstone efforts. The LC 6 tower may have ridden on large pneumatic tire bogies instead of rails. A dedicated paved "gantryway" appears in photos of this LC 6 gantry, indicating that the H-frame only served LC 6. The H-Frame appears in the photo at the top of this page.
Only one of the mobile service towers remains: the LC 26 gantry that was used to service the Explorer 1 Juno 1 launch vehicle. Although the gantry now stands at LC 26B, Explorer 1 actually lifted off from nearby LC 26A. This has caused some LC 26 pad ID confusion over the years.
Click on the adjacent photo to see a detailed view of
this A-frame structure. The photo highlights the tower's heavy propulsion section,
which provided motive power and served as a counterweight for the tower. The tower's
four platforms could move up and down to provide access to the varying-sized
missiles that flew from the ABMA facility. This particular tower serviced all of the
rocket types that flew from LC 5/6/26 except Mercury-Redstone.