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NASA Apollo Saturn V, Instrument Unit,

Launch Vehicle Digital Computer Circuit Board 

This artifact was removed from a damaged LVDC that originally belonged to Charles H. Bell, a noted NASA Engineer and Space Hardware Collector.

IBM designed and constructed this circuit board with cutting edge technology for its time.

This LVDC component features a green Melamine insulated gold pin connector.

Approximate dimensions: 4.25 inches x 3 inches. 

Serial Number: 534.


Saturn Launch Vehicle Digital Computer


"The Saturn Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC) was a computer that provided the autopilot for the Saturn V rocket from launch to Earth orbit insertion. Designed and manufactured by IBM's Electronics Systems Center in Owego, N.Y., it was one of the major components of the Instrument Unit, fitted to the S-IVB stage of the Saturn V and Saturn IB rockets. The LVDC also supported pre- and post-launch checkout of the Saturn hardware. It was used in conjunction with the Launch Vehicle Data Adaptor (LVDA) which performed signal conditioning to the sensor inputs to the computer from the launch vehicle.



The LVDC was capable of executing 12190 instructions per second. For comparison, a 2012-era microprocessor can execute 4 instructions per cycle at 3 GHz, achieving 12 billion instructions per second, one million times faster.

Its master clock ran at 2.048 MHz, but operations were performed bit-serially, with 4 cycles required to process each bit, 14 bits per phase, and 3 phases per instruction, for a basic time of 168 cycles = 82 μs for a simple add. (A few instructions, such as multiply or divide, took a few times this value.)

Memory was in the form of 13-bit syllables, each with a 14th parity bit.[1] Instructions were one syllable in size, while data words were two syllables (26 bits). Main memory was random access magnetic core, in the form of 4,096-word memory modules. Up to 8 modules provided a maximum of 32,768 words of memory. Ultrasonic delay lines provided temporary storage.

For reliability, the LVDC used triple-redundant logic and a voting system. The computer included three identical logic systems. Each logic system was split into a seven-stage pipeline. At each stage in the pipeline, a voting system would take a majority vote on the results, with the most popular result being passed on to the next stage in all pipelines. This meant that, for each of the seven stages, one module in any one of the three pipelines could fail, and the LVDC would still produce the correct results. The result was an estimated reliability of 99.6% over 250 hours of operation, which was far more than the few hours required for an Apollo mission. With four memory modules, giving a total capacity of 16,384 words, the computer weighed 72.5 lb (32.9 kg), was 29.5×12.5×10.5 inches in size (74×32×27 cm) and consumed 137 watts.


LVDC instruction words were split into a 4-bit opcode field (least-significant bits) and a 9-bit operand address field (most-significant bits). This left it with sixteen possible opcode values when there were eighteen different instructions: consequently, three of the instructions used the same opcode value, and used two bits of the address value to determine which instruction was executed.

Memory was broken into 256-word "sectors". 8 bits of the address specified a word within a sector, and the 9th bit selected between the software-selectable "current sector" or a global sector called "residual memory".


The LVDC could also respond to a number of interrupts triggered by external events.


The LVDC was approximately 30 inches wide, 12.5 inches high, and 10.5 inches deep and weighed 80 pounds.[2] The chassis was made of magnesium-lithium alloy LA 141, chosen for its high stiffness, low weight, and good vibration damping characteristics.[3] The chassis was divided into a 3 x 5 matrix of cells separated by walls through which coolant was circulated to remove the 138 Watts[4] of power dissipated by the computer. Slots in the cell walls held “pages” of electronics.


The decision to cool the LVDC by circulating coolant through the walls of the computer was unique at the time and allowed the LVDC and LVDA (part-cooled using this technique) to be placed in one cold plate location due to the three dimensional packaging. The cold plates used to cool most equipment in the Instrument Unit were inefficient from a space view although versatile for the variety of equipment used. The alloy LA 141 had been used by IBM on the Gemini keyboard, read out units, and computer in small quantities and the larger frame of the LVDC was produced from the largest billets of LA 141 cast at the time and subsequently CNC machined into the frame.

A page consisted of two 2.5 x 3-inch boards back to back and a magnesium-lithium frame to conduct heat to the chassis. The 12-layer boards contained signal, power, and ground layers and connections between layers were made by plated-through holes.

Up to 35 alumina squares 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.070 inch [5] could be reflow soldered to a board. These alumina squares had conductors silk screened to the top side and resistors silk-screened to the bottom side. Semiconductor chips 0.025 x 0.025 inch, each containing either one transistor or two diodes, were reflow soldered to the top side. The complete chip was called a unit logic device.[6] Copper balls were used for contacts between the chips and the conductive patterns.[7]

- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The last seven images are references, including two photos from the NASM, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum collection of an encased and uncovered Launch Vehicle Digital Computer from the Saturn I.U., like the one that this board was removed from, as well as two Instrument Unit references, and a photo of Dr. Wernher von Braun inspecting an uncovered Saturn LVDC.


You can find in depth video references for this item on Google videos. Key words: Saturn LVDC.

The Holy Grail of Apollo Saturn V computer technology!


 Artist credit - Yuri Shwedoff:

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