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Boilerplate (rocketry)

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Boilerplate version of Gemini spacecraft on display at Air Force Space and Missile Museum, Cape Canaveral, Florida October 15, 2004.
Boilerplate version of Gemini spacecraft on display at Air Force Space and Missile Museum, Cape Canaveral, Florida October 15, 2004.

The term boilerplate in rocketry refers to a non-functional craft, system, or payload which is used to test various configurations and basic size, load, and handling characteristics. It is far less expensive to build multiple, full-scale, non-functional boilerplate spacecraft than it is to develop the full system (design, test, redesign, and launch). In this way, boilerplate spacecraft allow components and aspects of cutting-edge aerospace projects to be tested while detailed contracts for the final project are being negotiated. During these tests, procedures are developed in mating boilerplates to rocket boosters along with emergency access and egress, maintenance support activities, and various transportation processes.

Boilerplate spacecraft are most commonly used to test manned spacecraft; for example, in the early 1960s, NASA performed many tests of boilerplates. Such boilerplates were made for Apollo spacecraft atop Saturn I rockets, and Mercury spacecraft atop Atlas rockets (for example Big Joe 1). Space Shuttle Enterprise was used as both a ground test boilerplate spacecraft and an atmospheric flight test vehicle. The development of NASA's Project Constellation will utilise boilerplate Orion spacecraft atop Ares I rockets for initial testing.

Mercury boilerplates

Mercury boilerplates were manufactured "in-house" by Langley AFB technicians prior to McDonnell Aircraft Company building the Mercury spacecraft. The boilerplate capsules were designed and used to test spacecraft recovery systems, and escape tower and rocket motors. Formal tests were done on the test pad at Langley and at Wallops Island using the Little Joe rockets.

A summary of Mercury boilerplates can be found at A Field Guide to American Spacecraft. The term "Boilerplate" has been wrongly used since the Little Joe series of 7 boosters. There was only one "Boilerplate" capsule and it was called as such as its conical section was made of steel at the Norfolk Naval shipyard. It was used in a beach abort test, and then subsequently used in the LJ1A flight. The term was used thereafter for the "Prototype" capsules, which in their own right were nearly as complicated as the "Orbital" capsules.

Notable events

Section sources.

  • 1959 July 22 - First successful pad abort flight test with a functional escape tower attached to a Mercury Boilerplate.
  • 1959 July 28 - A Mercury Boilerplate with instruments to measure sound pressure levels and vibrations from the Little Joe test rocket and Grand Central abort rocket/escape tower.
  • 1959 September 9 - A Big Joe Atlas boilerplate Mercury (BJ-1) was successfully launched and flown from Cape Canaveral. This test flight was to determine the performance of the heat shield (greater than 100,000 °F) and heat transfer to the boilerplate, to observe flight dynamics of boilerplate during re-entry into the South Atlantic, to perform and evaluate capsule floatation and recovery system procedures, and to evaluate the entire capsule and rocket characters and system controls.
  • Mercury-Redstone BD


Gemini boilerplates

There were 7 Gemini boilerplates: BP-1, 2, 3, 3A, 4, 5, and 201.Gemini Boilerplate 3A had functional doors and had multi-uses for testing watertightness, flotation collars, and egress procedures.


Apollo boilerplates

NASA created a variety of Apollo boilerplates. A list of them can be found in Apollo Section of A Field Guide to American Spacecraft.

Launch escape system tests (LES)

Apollo boilerplates were used in the Launch Escape System (LES) for tests of the jettison tower rockets and procedures:

  • BP-6 with Pad Abort Test-1 - LES pad abort test from launch pad; with photo.
  • BP-23A with Pad Abort Test-2 - LES pad abort test of near Block-I CM; with photo.
  • BP-23 with Mission A-002 Test Flight -- LES test of canards, Oct.29-Nov.5, 1964.

BP-29 at Barringer Crater (used for flotation tests)
BP-29 at Barringer Crater (used for flotation tests)
  • BP-27 with LES-015 - Dynamic tests.

Boilerplate tests

  • BP-1 - Water impact tests
  • BP-2 - Floatation tests storage
  • BP-3 - Paracute tests
  • BP-6 - PA-1, later Parachute drop test vehicle
  • BP-9 with Mission A-105(SA-10) Test Flight, Micro Meteroid Dynamic Test; not recovered.
  • BP-12 with Mission A-001 Test Flight, now at former NASA Facility, Downey, CA
  • BP-13 with Mission A-101(SA-6) Test Flight, not recovered
  • BP-14 with environmental control system tests, Oct. 22-29, 1964,, consisted of Command Module 14, Service Module 3, Launch Escape System 14, and Saturn Launch Adapters.
  • BP-15 with Mission A-102(SA-7) Test Flight, not recovered.
  • BP-16 with Mission A-103 Test Flight, another Micro Meteriod test, not recovered.
  • BP-19A - VHF antenna, parachute drop tests;now at the Columbia Memorial Space Center (former NASA Facility, Downey, CA)
  • BP-22 with Mission A-003 Test Flight; boilerplate on display at Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
  • BP-23A - Display only
  • BP-25 Command Module (CM) - Water recovery test, at Fort Worth Museum of Transportation
  • BP-26 with Mission A-104(SA-8) Test Flight - another Micro Meterioid test.
  • BP-27 CM and Service Module with LES-16 - Stack and engine gimbal test.
  • BP-28A - Impact tests
  • BP-29 - Uprighting drop tests at Downey, CA, Oct. 30, 1964, on display at Barringer Crater, Arizona
  • BP-30 - Swing arm tests; currently on display at Kennedy Space Center's Apollo/Saturn V Center

Specific Apollo BP units


BP-1101A was used in numerous tests to develop spacecraft recovery equipment and procedures. Specifically, 1101A tested the air bags as part of the "up-righting" procedure when the Apollo lands upside down in the water. The sequence of the bags inflating caused the capsule to roll and up-right itself.

This McDonnell boilerplate is now on loan to the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver, Colorado, from the Smithsonian. BP-1101A has an external painted marking of AP.5. Examination of the interior in 2006 revealed large heavy steel ingots. After further research, a new paint scheme was applied in June 2007.

BP-1220/1228 Series

The purpose of this series design was to simulate the weight and other external physical characteristics of the Apollo command module. These prototypes were in the 9000 lb range for both laboratory water tanks and ocean tests. The experiments tested floatation collars, collar installations, and buoyancy characteristics. The Navy trained their recovery personnel for ocean collar installation and shipboard retrieval procedures. These boilerplates rarely had internal equipment. See BP-1228 Photo.

BP-1224 Photo

BP-1224 was a Component level Flammability Test Program to test for design decisions on selection and application of nonmetallic materials. Boilerplate configuration comparisons with Command Service Module 2TV-1 and 101 were performed by North American. The NASA Review Board decided on February 5, 1967, that the boilerplate configuration had determined a reasonable "worst case" configuration, after more than 1,000 tests were performed.

BP-1227 Photo
This was recovered in the Arctic and is now located in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a time capsule.

Space Shuttle OV-101 in boilerplate configuration

Enterprise on Launch Pad 39A
Enterprise on Launch Pad 39A

First in March 1978 at the Marshall Space Flight Center and then again in June 1979, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was fitted together with an external tank and 2 inert solid rocket motors in a test-bed or boilerplate configuration. The STS-1 preliminary mission test program was vibration tests in a horizontal mode at the Marshall Center, and then in a vertical launch configuration on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. In 1985, the boilerplate configuration was used to test the Air Force shuttle facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base, including a full mating on the SLC-6 launch pad.

Orion boilerplate

Section source.

Ares boosters

NASA’s future space flights to the Moon are being planned for 2015. These flights will be based upon the Orion spacecraft and its Ares booster. The Shuttles are planned to be retired in 2010. The Orion boilerplates will be used between 2008 and 2014 using the Ares I booster and the heavy-lift launches Ares V, both of which are slated to launch initially from NASA’s Pad 39B site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


The construction of the first Orion boilerplate, will be a basic mockup prototype to test the assembling sequences and launch procedures at NASA’s Langley Research Center while Lockheed aerospace engineers assemble the first rocket motors for the spacecraft’s escape tower. The first boilerplate will go to Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, California, for integration of Lockheed's avionics and NASA's developmental flight instrumentation prior to shipment to New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range for the first Orion pad abort test (PA-1) in 2009. On November 20, 2008 a complete test of the abort rockets took place in Utah. PA-1 is the first of the six test events in Orion Abort Flight Test subproject. Lockheed Martin Corp. was awarded the contract to build Orion on Aug. 31, 2006.

Other boilerplates will be used to test thermal, electromagnetic, audio, mechanical vibration conditions and research studies. These tests for the Orion spacecraft will be done at Plum Brook Station in the agency’s Ohio-based Glenn Research Center. The first boilerplate Orions will launched/tested as early as 2008.


On March 2, 2009, the LAS Pathfinder began its transfer from the Langley Research Center to the White Sands Missile Range, for first PA-1 launch tests. Pathfinder is the combination of the Orion boilerplate and the LAS module.

Post-landing Orion Recovery Test (PORT)

On March 23, 2009 a Navy-built Orion boilerplate began the PORT Tests in Navy test facilities and then sea testing near the Kennnedy Space Center.


Project Constellation

The Orion-Ares configuration is known as a part of NASA's Project Constellation. This project's plan is to send humans to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations in the solar system. Its base components will consist of the Launch Abort System, the Crew Module, the Service Module, and the Spacecraft Adapter.

See also

External links

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Published - July 2009

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