Planning started for the Vanguard program in 1955. Both the launch vehicle and the satellite were to be named Vanguard, the only time that has happened in the U.S. space program. There were several "marks" of the satellite varying in size from 20 inches down to 6 inches in diameter with varying instrumentation on board and the first was slated to go up during the International Geophysical Year of 1958. The Martin Company developed the rocket and the Naval Research Laboratory developed the satellite.
Beaten to the punch by the Soviet Union in 1957 when they launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, a mad scramble began to catch up. Due to development problems with the launch vehicle, (who doesn't remember that spectacular launch pad explosion of Vanguard 1?), the U.S.A. launched it's first satellite, Explorer, in January1958 on a modified army Redstone, the Jupiter C. There were five Vanguard satellites launched, the first in orbit in March of 1958, but only three were successful, one of which was in one of the highest orbits ever attained. All three, although now dead, are still in orbit and are the oldest artificial satellites.
Consisting of 28 parts and one decal sheet, the model is molded in light grey and clear rather soft styrene plastic. The outer shell consists of two solid grey parts forming the center and two clear parts for the top and bottom domes. In reality, these were no transparent, but this is designed to be an educational kit, so they are clear so you can see inside. The "guts" consists of the central instrument package and its surrounding bracing. It makes the inside look rather empty, but in that day and age, there were no printed circuit boards so everything was done with old fashioned wire and switches which, according to most photos I found, took up most of the space. The stand has one grey disc supported by three clear legs and looks appropriately futuristic. Due to the age of the molds there are a lot of mold seams to clean up, but no sink marks and very little flash. The clear parts are very clear as well.
The kit does not represent any one Vanguard in configuration. Rather, it looks more like some of the early engineering drawings.
The instruction sheet is the same as it was when the kit was first released, which means not very clear. Some parts fly into vague locations or have twisting symbols telling you to rotate the part somehow. The locator pin on the bottom dome for the main instrument unit does not exist. You can see where it was on the original mold, but it's not there any more. Finally, step seven gives the location of the many of the exterior decals in two drawings, but it is not explained what the orientation of the drawings are, so a careful examination is necessary to make sure you get things in the right place.
The reverse side of the instructions is a rather extensive rundown on the Vanguard project. However, when describing the configuration of the satellite which is the subject of the model it refers you to the right for more detail, Unfortunately, I don't speak or read French, which is what the entire second, or right, side of the page is written in.
The most challenging part of this build was going to be all the metallic finishes. The central instrument package is to be painted seven different colors, which while it would differentiate the different instruments, would look more like a stick of rock candy than a scientific instrument. I did it in several different metallics to make it look more businesslike'. There is a ring part that surrounds the central core that supports the unit's framework. This ring's locators fit very tightly and I was afraid that I would damage the metallic finishes, so I cut the part at one of the locations of an antenna. This allowed me to expand the part just enough to slip over the central core and into place without damaging the instrument package's finish. When completed, it looks more like the dematerialization circuit from a Tardis than a real scientific instrument, but, in fact, it is pretty accurate in appearance..
The two central outer shell halves don't fit well, being out of round with each other, and don't have any locators to hold them in place. If you try to cement these together as they are, you're in for a tedious modeling session to make sure they are mated correctly, still round and have minimized the seam. In addition, if you use the indicated order of assembly, you have to trap the antennae between the two halves as you glue them together. This would make cleaning up that seam awkward, and since it was to be a natural metal finish, any scratch would show. I taped the halves together and tested whether the antennae could be added after assembly, and they fit in easily, so I chose to add them later to make filling/fixing the central seam easier. I also added eight small flanges from strip stock to the edge of one half to locate the other half and hold it in place. Eliminating the seam was then much easier as the two halves were correctly aligned.
I experimented with the natural metal finish on the exterior. After primering, I first painted it with Valspar rattlecan Brushed Nickel metallic. This gave a nice even aluminum like finish, but I wanted it to look more realistic, so I polished it with SNJ aluminum polishing powder, which produced a rather convincing natural metal finish.
There are a lot of decals for this little kit. Fortunately, they are well done and went down easily. Almost all are 'educational' and identify the various instruments and sensors. The large "Project Vanguard" and "Naval Research Laboratory" decals were not on the real thing and are again, educational. When completed it makes for an impressive desk model of a real satellite.
I want to thank IPMS/USA for the chance to take on this project and Round 2 Models for supplying the kit for review.