© J Westman 2005, 2008, 2011
Updated 31 oct-05, 21 jan-08, 28 dec-13
Was there a Nazi Space Program?
The answer is a complex one: "No" - and "Yes but..."
No, there was no officially approved Nazi space program as such, in fact we have the story - true or not - of von Braun languishing in a SS jail for allegedly using Peenemünde facilities for planning spacflight instead of weapons development. Willy Ley tells the story in "Rockets, Missiles and Men in Space"./1/ It is a somewhat questionable story, as von Braun was a Nazi party member and, furthermore, held a rather high honorary SS rank. In later biographies the arrestation is explained as a ploy by the SS to get a firm grip on the rocket development, edging out the Army. That actually happened when the SS-bully Hans Kammler took over production of the then V2, in the infamous Dora-Mittelwerk underground factory, manned by slaves. In my opinion, however, this underlines the fact that von Braun was a man oriented strongly towards his ends, and caring nothing for the means. Amoralic in fact. After the war he got himself and the core of his team moved to the United States, where he soon enough became an ardent Christian and a patriotic American. He saw to it that his team - the rocket development team of the US Army, that is, developed the first US satellite. Soon enough he was holding the highest civilian awards of the US, and when he in 1960 got his team transferred intact to the new space agency NASA, he got the responsibility for creating the Satuirn rockets for the Apollo Lunar Programme. When the US had reached the Moon and it was all over, he fell into decline and died of cancer.
On the "yes but" side, we further have the development programs for A9 with the launches of the winged A4-B, the plans for an A10, and the sketches of an A9 with a cabin and tricycle landing gear. The A10 IRBM booster was a very heavy construction, it was to be retreivable and re-usable. In an improved version the A10 would presumably be a suitable second stage for a 3-stage Satellite Launcher Rocket.
von Braun himself has, according to his official biographer Eric Bergaust, contended that the Peenemünde team contemplated an A11, which, in concatenation with somewhat improved A9:s and A10s, would have made an around half a tonne unmanned low earth orbit satellite possible. This was a part of an allegedly circulated but inofficial ten-point space programme in Peenemünde,/2/, as follows :-1. automatic onestage rockets, A-4.
Some of all this may, of course, be whitewashing after the facts of war, but it is well known that von Braun and Dornberger were genuine spaceflight buffs. Dornberger, howewer, claims in his book "V2 Der Schuss ins Weltall" /3/ , that he had to rein in the space enthusiasts rather forcefully, to keep them focussed at the job at hand, i.e. the creation of the ballistic missile as a weapons system.
Furthermore, in the "Yes" ledger, there are the concrete plans of a payload for research in the high atmosphere with A4. The payload was in an advanced stage of planning and realisation when the war drew to an end. The upper atmosphere payload would have been a self-contained unit, they even nicknamed it "The Regener Tun", after the professor Erich Wegener, who led the planning of the payload instrumentation, thus it consisted an embryo for a measuring payload to be placed in satellite orbit
In his "History of Space Flight" /4/ Werner Buedeler states, that the Instrumentation for "The Regener Tun" was planned by prof Erich Regener and dr Alfred Ehmert from the Forschungsstelle der Physik der Statosphäre, Friedrichshafen am Bodensee.
On July 8, 1942 the two scientists attended a meeting in Peenemünde with von Braun as chairman. In the protocol, the meeting states, that measurements in the upper atmosphere is of interest for both the Institute as such, and for the Peenemünde people for the development of the accuracy of the missile, as well as to solve the problems of heating. Thus the HAP (Heimat Artillerie Park, code for Heeresanstalt Peenemünde) and the Friedrichshafen institute conclude a formal program to develope an instrumentation system to make measurements at great altitudes. The instrumentation is to consist of registering apparatur for pressure, air density and temperature, an ultraviolet spectrograph and apparatus for obtaining air samples at great altitudes. Professor Regener would be free to add to the apparatuses if there would be room for it. The payload would be released from the rocket during flight, it would have a parachute and a tracking radio transmitter, and would be built for descent into the sea. The job was awarded initial financing from HAP funds, amounting to
Buedeler states, that at first the trouble with the development of tha A4 during the fall of 1942, through 1943 and the beginning of 1944, and then the worsening war situation, put off the implementation of this program. There were some practical results, i.e. the ascent and re-entry temperature measurement undertaken as part of the missile development program.
In his "Encyclopedia Astronautica" (www.astronautics.com) Mark Wade gives a good resume of von Braun´s immediate end-of-the-war and postwar musings, during that period in El Paso "when he had time on his hands". I quote from /5/:"In the early days in Peenemuende, Von Braun's team considered using the A4 (V2) rocket then under development as the basis for multi-stage rockets. Design of the two stage A9/A10 began in 1940 and first flight would have been in 1946. Work on the A9/A10 was prohibited after 1943 when all efforts were to be spent on perfection and production of the A4 as a weapon-in-being."
A small comment here: After the war there was repeatedly raised the question why von Braun had abandoned his mentor Oberths tenets on construction of long-range rockets, i.e. the need for lightweight, pressure-stabilized integral tank-hull and a detachable warhead. The von Braun solution, with a stringe-and-frames separately skinned hull with the tanks situated as separate units inside, was vaguely defended with the need of keeping the whole missile mass together and using it as a kinetic-energy bomb adding to the destructive power of a hit. True enough, but still the doubts arise, that this was not the reason why the Peenemünders went to all the considerable trouble of stressing the whole missile for re-entry. Note, please also, how nicely the carry-thru wing spar fits in between the oxydator and fuel tanks. The agenda of the A4 included a winged re-entry all along. Thus the A-4b also could benefit from an immense amount of theoretical and wind tunnel research on supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics before the first hardware could be built in autumn of 1944.
Mark Wade continues:
"During the course of development, the vehicle evolved. The first stage, the A10, was first to have used a multi-chamber design: a cluster of 6 A4 combustion chambers feeding into a single expansion nozzle. Later a massive single chamber/single nozzle engine was planned. Test stands were built at Peenemuende for firings of the 200 tonne thrust engine."
My own conclusion is, then, that there was this dream, this hope, for a real space program, and von Braun
and Dornberger were willing and eager to further their dreams with even devious means as soon as feasible,
thus the official reason for giving wings to the A4 "to lengthen it´s range". They also prepared the goundwork for
developing a booster, the A10, and thus creating a two stage missile capable to bombard all the cities in the British
Isles with the A9, and the cities of the US seaboard with A9 + A10.
Like the Sänger Antipodal Bomber, (see Bouncing Return from Ballistic Orbit ) these plans were in the militarily sense nothing but ridiculous, but they made excellent sense as parts of the more-or-less covert space program of their progenitors. The same may be said of Dornbergers later plans for a Sängerian rocket-glider, "Bomi", and others, which finally lead to the, in the end abortive, "Dyna-Soar-X 20".
Later on, for instance, von Braun tried to use Mercury-Redstone funds to create a multi-use Redstone, as is seen by the striped part of the vehicle just beneath the Mercury capsule. That length of the missile was mostly empty! The reason for this was given as stability, in actual fact the space was intended for a parachute system to brake the missile for splash-down and thus create technology for re-use of future rocket boosters. Lack of funds stymied this part of the project. Instead of the mass of the parachute system, some 300 kg, they had to add the corresponding mass of ballast to preserve the stability of the launcher-spacecraft combination. I don´t recall where this tidbit is documented, so you have to take my word for it.
I hope this consitute some beginnings of an answer to your question.
Somehow it´s sad that the hardheaded military planners and financiers steered the development towards the
military missiles and away from genuinde research aimed at spaceflight. Today we see a resurgence of the old
dreams with Burt Rutan &Co:s decidedly un-military high-flying systems, aptly named "Spaceship-One".
Maybe Robert Heinlein, as vide "Destination Moon" or "The Man who Sold the Moon", /6/,/7/ will be right
after all, in postulating that private financing from industry, not governmental funds, will open up the path to
1. Willy Ley: "Rockets, Missiles and Men in Space", Signet/New American Library, New York 1969, p 266...67.
2. Werner Buedeler: Geschichte der Raumfahrt, 1979 Sigloch Edition, Künzelsau, Thalwil, Strassburg, Salzburg, p.264: citing biographer Eric Bergaust, who cites von Braun on the planning in Peenemünde at the closing months of the war.
3. Walther Dornberger: "Peenemünde. Die Geschichte der V-waffen" (Erweiterte Neuausgabe des Buches "V2 - Der Schuss ins Weltall"), Bechtle Verlag, Esslingen 2007.
4. Buedeler, p 265..66.
5. Mark Wade, quoted from: www.astronautix.com/lvfam/vonbraun.htm
6. "Destination Moon" , a George Pal Production, screenplay by Robert A Heinlein, Alford Van Ronkel and James O´Hanlon, 1950.
7. Robert A Heinlein: "The Man who Sold the Moon" , Signet/New American Library, New York 1951
8. Ernst Klee, Otto Merk:"The Birth of the Missile" (orig ty.-65) 1965, s. 99
9. Klee,Merk s 91