V-2 Rockets launched Space Age seventy years ago

V-2 Rockets launched Space Age seventy years ago

Around mid-September 1944, just seventy years ago towards the fag end of World war II, Germany unleashed the so-called V2 rockets, or Vengeance Weapon Two (as it was called by Josef Goebbel’s Nazi propaganda ministry). They were targeted at London, where the residents heard the explosions of this new terrifying space weapon, weighing fifteen tons, loaded with TNT warheads weighing tons, dropping out of the sky at a terrific speed of six thousand kilometers an hour.

At that supersonic speed, it made no sound, thus silently raining damage. More than 500 V-2’s hit London killing 3000 people. The V-2 was the first ballistic missile, pioneering the use of large liquid propellant rocket engines that still forms the base for space probes to the outer planets of the solar system and moon missions. Current nuclear powered ICBM’s (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles) are an offshoot of this technology.

Prior to the V2, was V-1, first launched in mid-June 1944, carrying one ton of explosives with a 200 km range. Its low speed and lack of guidance made it unreliable but its deployment still caused six thousand deaths, destroying more than 80,000 buildings.
They were nicknamed buzz bombs or doodle bugs. The V-1 and V-2’s did a lot of psychological damage (creating trauma in the victims) and was a last ditch attempt by Germany to defeat the Allied troops.

After the First World War, as the Germans were forbidden to develop conventional weapons by the Treaty of Versailles, they developed liquid fuel rockets at the test station at Peenemünde, in the Baltic Sea.

The huge rocket center (at Peenemünde) included distinguished members like Hermann Oberth, Dornberger and Wernher Von Braun, who later spearheaded the American space programme culminating in the launch of the massive Saturn V rocket which sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon.

Peenemünde led to the German vengeance weapons which came too late to change the course of WW II. Germany had already lost the war, when it invaded Russia enabling Britain to recoup especially with the invention of radar)and Japan attacked Pearl Harbour causing the US to join the allies.

A story has it that Hitler did not quite trust Von Braun in the beginning as he had a slight trace of Jewish ancestry. Both the US and Russia developed rocket technology after WW II, with the former taking advantage of the captured German exports, especially Von Braun who played a key role in Saturn V rocket.

Thus the V2 became the first full-fledged rocket that reached the edge of space powered by liquid propellants, liquid oxygen and alcohol fuel. It had a simple guidance system using graphite jet vanes  and air vanes to control roll. The inertial guidance system was gyroscope controlled, tipping the rocket over till it was  angled at 45 degrees.

Its fins kept the nose pointing in the forward direction after it re-entered the atmosphere with an accelerometer stalling the engine at the required speed. Thus, despite the terrible circumstances the space rocket and missile era was launched just seventy years ago.

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