The V-2 rocket became the first man-made object to reach space on June 20, 1944, when it reached an altitude of 176 km. It was also the first suborbital flight of a man-made object. The V-2 rocket became the steppingstone to the bigger rockets of the 1950s and 1960s which went into space. The V-2 was a huge leap in technology.
V-2 Development begins
The development of the V-2 rocket started in the 1930s. The first successful liquid-fuel rocket was invented by the American Robert Goddard in 1926. The Treaty of Versailles restricted the development of artillery weapons for Germany. The German army was looking at other types of weapons that the Treaty did not restrict. Rockets held a great promise as a future weapon.
Wernher von Braun assisted rocket pioneer Herman Oberth in his rocket tests. Von Braun’s thesis about liquid fuel rockets was classified by the German Army until it was finally published in 1960. Von Braun and its team focused on the Aggregate (A) series of rockets. There were a lot of technical developments. von Braun and his team started with the A-1 rocket, then up to A-4, which is known as V-2.
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The A-1 rocket was not successful, with the first flight blowing up on the launching pad. Its engine was designed by Arthur Rudolph and produced 2.9 kN thrust for 16 seconds. The A-1 was 1.4 m long, had a 30 cm diameter, and weighed 150 kg. The A-1 design was thought to be unstable, hence the efforts shifted to the A-2 rocket.
A-2 had a height of 1.61 m and a diameter of 31 cm. It weighed 107 kg and produced 3 kN thrust. The propellants used were 75% alcohol and liquid oxygen. There were two launches of A-2, and they were successful. Von Braun and his team then put their efforts into building a large rocket called the A-3.
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The A-3 was 6.74 m long, 67 cm in diameter, and weighed 740 kg. Its engine produced a thrust of 14.7 kN for 45 seconds and was pressure-fed. The engine and the aerodynamic features were all redesigned in this rocket. It also featured a pioneering guidance system with three gyroscopes and two accelerometers. Four launches were made of A-3, two exploded just after launch, and in the more successful final launch, the rocket reached 800 m altitude.
After this the development of the A-5 was started before A-4, to solve the technical problems pertaining to large rockets and supersonic flight. A lot of tests of A-5 were made during 1938-39. The tests were carried out up to 1943 to perfect the aerodynamics and other technologies for the A-4. The A-5 reached an altitude of 12 km. The optimum characteristics for aerodynamical features and components like tail, fins, and rudders were found during tests.
The V-2 rockets
Various tests for A-4 were started. Second World War began with Germany invading Poland on September 1, 1939. Seeing the quick military successes in Poland, Adolf Hitler thought that rockets were unnecessary to win the war and removed them from the priority list. In 1940, a lot of tests of 25-tonne A-4 engines were made but had a lot of technical issues. The loss in the Battle of Britain made the German leadership give priority to the full-scale development of V-2, as it thought it was the only way to strike London effectively.
V-2 has a lot of technical problems
The guidance and navigation system were initially found to be very inaccurate. Many tests of the V-2 were made with the range of some missiles exceeding 200 km. The army conducted its tests and training at Blizna in Poland. On July 7, 1943, Hitler gave the V-2 program his highest priority. On August 17, 1943, the V-2 production and testing facilities at Peenemunde are bombed by Royal Air Force. This caused a lot of damage and delays and some of the prominent engineers working on the program were killed.
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Slave labor was used for the production of the V-2 rocket
Other V-2 facilities were also bombed. The decision was made to move the V-2 production facilities underground in Mittelwerk. Here the production of V-2s was made using slave labor from concentration camps. Many test launches of V-2 were conducted, with many failures.
On June 20, 1944, V-2 reached Space in a vertical test launch. V-2 went fully operational in September 1944. Even though V-2 was put into mass production, the development was still not complete. There were still a lot of problems, including logistical. There were a lot of losses during the transport of liquid oxygen.
V-2 rockets as a missile
The first allied city targeted for bombing by the V-2 was Paris, but the first attacks caused minimal damage. A lot of V-2s were fired at targets in London and other English cities, and Antwerp in the Netherlands. The stretched-out versions of the V-2 were also worked on to increase the missile’s range.
Adolf Hitler initially ordered the V-2s to be fired from bunkers, however, the invasion of the continent by the allies caused the V-2s to be launched from vehicles called Meillerwagen. Various cities in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands were targeted, with Antwerp being the highest hit. Given the extremely high speed of V-2, there were effectively no countermeasures by the allies.
Race for capturing V-2
After the war ended, there was a race between the Americans and the Soviets to capture V-2 technology and scientists. The top scientists led by Wernher von Braun decided to surrender to the Americans. The USA made Operation Paperclip in which they took hundreds of top scientists and 100 V-2s to the USA for tests. The V-2 underground production sites and facilities were inside the Soviet occupation zone.
The Americans resumed the launching of V-2 rockets from White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. The Soviets also tested V-2 and soon reverse-engineered them and built their own rockets. The Americans tested the V-2 as a weapon and also for scientific objectives.
Legacy and Impact of V-2 on History
The rockets which were derived from V-2 were used to develop missiles and space rockets during the cold war. Wernher von Braun and other V-2 experts gradually got US citizenship and contributed greatly to the American space program. Von Braun directed the building of Saturn V, the largest rocket to date, which made possible the first manned moon landings.
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