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Apollo Little Joe II

The Little Joe II was developed as a test vehicle for the Apollo spacecraft Launch Escape System (LES). Five unmanned tests took place between 1963-1966 to verify the performance of the Apollo command module parachute recovery system in the event that a mission emergency abort was required. There were no cost-effective methods for testing the LES at that time, so the requirements were laid out for the development and production of a specialized launch vehicle that could meet the objectives for catastrophic event testing prior to completion of the actual Saturn rocket.

Sam, the rhesus monkey flown aboard Little Joe II.Image Credit: NASA/MSFC archives.

The test vehicle was designed to match the diameter of the Apollo spacecraft service module and to accommodate the size of available solid propellant rocket motors. Oversized fins were also to incorporated to maintain aerodynamic stability during testing. Since this was an un-manned test vehicle, the structure of the test vehicle did not require extensive weight reduction measures as the test payload weighed approximately 80,000 lbs. and overall test vehicle weight of 220,000 lbs. What was required was a vehicle that could withstand sequential firing of four first-stage booster and three second-stage sustainer motors. Making the best use of the solid motor performance was accomplished by varying the number or sequence of the primary motors (up to seven) required to lift the vehicle high enough to perform the LES tests.

To meet the reduced test vehicle cost objectives, a simplified design and manufacturing concept was developed to limit the number of new components that would require design, testing and manufacturing as well as test vehicle assembly time. Many vehicle components and systems were incorporated into the LJII’s were off-the-self items that had proven their reliability in other space programs, which helped to greatly reduce production costs and qualification testing prior to manufacturing.

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Estes Little Joe II, cira 2004.

 Testing of the LJII was originally slated for the U.S. Air Force Eastern Test Range located at Cape Kennedy (Florida). However, due to higher priority launch schedule conflicts, testing of LJII was moved to Launch Complex 36 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Moving to this location also reduced the level of complexity (and associated costs) required for land-based vs. ocean-based recovery. The White Sands Missile Range administrative, range and technical organizations provided the facilities and technical resources required for testing and tracking of LJII.

The first test launch of a fake command module and LES took place on August 28, 1963. May 13, 1964 saw a successful launch of a simulated command module and a functional LES. A third launch on December 8, 1964 tested the effectiveness of the LES under actual launch conditions of a Saturn rocket. The May 19, 1965 test was flown to test the escape system at a high altitude, but the test was aborted due to a failure of the Little Joe II booster. The final launch, on January 20, 1966, carried the first production command module and LES. The success of this launch concluded the testing of the emergency escape system for future Apollo astronauts.

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Estes Little Joe II, cira 2004.

Estes Little Joe II

Little Joe II

First introduced in 1969, the original Little Joe II 1:45 scale model was massive in size and stood almost two feet tall. Detailed in its time, the original Little Joe II was made with light-weight rolled paper and balsa wood. Weighing in at 5.5 oz., this bad boy took a cluster of three standard engines to fly. 

Thanks to the E size engine and superior molded plastics, today’s Little Joe II is packed with all the intricate and sophisticated details you would expect to find in a high-quality scale model. The highly detailed vacuum formed body wrap, first introduced in the 1998 Estes Saturn V kit, replaced the chrome mylar plated embossed body wrap and pre-printed roll patterns. By moving to ABS plastics, which are safe, easily recycled and have a strong resistance to physical impacts, the designers were able to include much more scale details on this new version than ever before.  

An expert level build, this kit includes over 50 plastic details to create the Apollo Capsule, launch escape tower, various conduits, reaction control system nozzles, and external longerons. When each of the plastic pieces are placed with precision, this Little Joe II contains all the scale details you would expect to find on any Estes’ rocket in the Apollo series. Long time scalers will state that while this rocket is packed with new and exciting fine points, the kit itself is easier to build and paint than some of the earlier models.

Massive in size, this magnificent model still stands almost two feet tall and weighs in at 8.4 oz. Use of a E30-4 composite engine will propel this historic rocket to 800 feet (244M) in the air. 

Little Joe II
007227 - Little Joe II

Little Joe II Rocket Kit

Massive in size, this magnificent model still stands almost 2 feet tall and weighs in at 8.4 oz! Use a E30-4 composite motor to hoist this historic rocket to 800 feet (244M) in the air.

  • EXPERT  SKILL LEVEL:  The Little Joe II is perfect for model rocketeers with advanced building, finishing and model rocket launching skills.  
  • RECOMMENDED ENGINES (sold separately): E30-4 Composite motor ONLY
  • PROJECTED ALTITUDE: 800 ft. (244 m)
  • ESTIMATED ASSEMBLY TIME: 12 hours (painting and glue drying time not included)
  • LAUNCH SYSTEM: (sold separately): Porta-Pad E Launch Pad, launch controller with 30 ft (9.1 m) wire (2230 or 2240) and a 3/16 in. Maxi Rod.
  • AGES: For boys and girls ages 10+ with adult supervision for those under 12, and rocketeers of all ages.

Learn More About Other Rockets in the Moon Shot Program