Key Industry Partners in the Atlas Success Story

All told, there were almost 4,000 subcontracting firms associated with the Atlas program over the course of its operational life, 73 percent of which were small businesses. A few of the more well-known sub-contractors, some now defunct, others absorbed into successors; include:

AC Spark Plug Div of General Motors – fabricator of inertial reference-integrating gyroscopes and guidance systems for the Apollo spacecraft. Sold by GM in 1988, now part of Delphi Automotive Systems.

AeroJet Rocketdyne – propulsion system design, development and production; boosters and upper-stage engines for Atlas III/V and Delta IV rockets. Manufactured RL10 engines for Centaur and LR-101 Vernier rocket engines for Atlas (GD/Lockheed Martin) and Delta (Boeing) missiles and rockets.

American Bosch-Arma Corp – built inertial guidance systems for the Atlas ICBM.

American Machine & Foundry (AMF) – auxiliary power unit development; builder of Titan and Atlas launch silos and rail-car launch system for the Minuteman ICBM; now an operator of bowling centers (!)

Avco Corp – founded 1929, now a subsidiary of Textron; ablative-type nose cone (co-developed with G.E.) to contain a nuclear warhead.

Bell Aerospace Textron – builder of XLR81 rocket engine for Lockheed’s Agena upper stage; also made systems used in Projects Mercury and Apollo.

Burroughs Corp – digital computer support for Atlas program; merged with Sperry in 1986 to form Unisys.

General Dynamics – as Convair Astronautics, designed and developed the original Atlas ICBM/space booster and Centaur second-stage; sold Space Systems Div to Martin Marietta in 1994. See Lockheed Martin.

General Electric – heat sink-type nose cone developed to contain a nuclear warhead.

Lockheed Martin – formed by 1995 merger with Martin Marietta, which acquired the GD Space Systems Div in 1994; now manufacturer of Atlas V as probable final successor to Convair-designed Atlas missile family. See United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Kaiser Shipbuilding – construction and installation of massive steel flame deflector at Sycamore Canyon test site.

McDonnell Aircraft – prime contractor of the space capsules launched by the Atlas LV-3B in Project Mercury (also Gemini); merged with Douglas in 1967 to become McDonnell-Douglas.

Minneapolis Honeywell – now Honeywell International, builder of Centaur guidance system; Defense & Space business unit also manufactures communications, gyroscopes, propulsion systems, etc.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – established by the Eisenhower admin-istration in 1958 to manage the civilian space program and to develop peaceful applications of space sci-ence; long-time user of Atlas, among others, for early manned and unmanned space exploration.

Pratt & Whitney – liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) propulsion systems for Centaur second-stage booster; P&W is now a subsidiary of United Technologies.

Ramo-Woolridge – main systems integrator for the USAF ballistic missile program; became TRW in 1958; acquired in 2002 and absorbed into Northrop-Grumman Space Technology.

RCA – manufactured automated diagnostic test gear for checking out missile autopilot and guidance systems.

WD-40 – water-displacing formula used to protect Atlas’ bare metal surface from rust and corrosion. Founded in 1953 in San Diego, the Rocket Chemical Co renamed itself in 1969 after its only product and became the WD-40 Co.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) – formed in 2006 as an equal joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) to provide specialized launch services to govern-ment and other agencies using its stable of proven Atlas (Lockheed) and Delta (Boeing) families of expendable launch systems (ELS).

Western Electric – ground-based guidance and tracking system used for Project Mercury; acquired by AT&T and then Lucent and successors. No longer exists under original name. 

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter

Get Social with SDASM