© J Westman 2005, 2008, 2011
Updated 31 oct-05, 21 jan-08, 28 dec-13

Was there a Nazi Space Program?

On the 17. jan -05 I got an e-mail from David Olof Myhra as follows:
   "Thank you for providing the very interesting piece "The BIS Postwar Launch Vehicles" and the "Six Stages To Orbit." My question is this: Do you know whether Wernher von Braun, Walter Dornberger, and their rocketeers had a Space Program in mind at war's end? Sure, Potocnik had his Space Wheel and Oberth his Space Mirror, but were there plans for the systematic conquest of space beginning with sounding rockets, the first manned space flight like the BIS' Megaroc, and so on?"
   "David Myhra."
   Follows an extended version of my answer to David´s letter:

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.
   -2. automatic longdistance guided missiles, A-9
   -3. manned longdistande missile, A-9B
   -4. automatic twostage long-distance rocket, A-9+A-10
   -5. manned two-stage supersonic rocket plane, A-9B + A10
   -6. unmanned satellite, A-9 + A-10 + A11
   -7. manned space transporter
   -8. manned satellite station
   -9. unmanned spaceships to the Moon and planets
   -10. manned spaceships

A nice agenda, but nothing more, nothing less than , for example, the wish-list in Eugen Sängers diary from the thirties. We do not know how official this letter to Santa Claus was, bur we may conjecture, that, if it existed during the war years as a physical piece of paper, it would be well hidden from the prying eyes of the Gestapo or the SS.

Fernrakete im Schnitt

  The official picture: A4 (V2) as a missile. According to an unofficial agenda from Peenemünde this was only a first step on the road to space flight. Sketch made in Peenemünde.

   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 25 000 Reichsmark.
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.

Regener Tonne. Copyright Deutsches Museum, München
"Regener's Tun" beneath a nose-cone shroud.
© Deutsches Museum, München.

In his "Encyclopedia Astronautica" ( 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-9 skiss. Smithsonian Institution
The Glider-Missile A9. In another version the warhead was replaced with a cabin for a pilot and a nose-wheel. Note the arrangement with the guidance section placed between the tanks in conjunction with the carry-through wing spar.
© Smithsonian Istitution

"Von Braun managed to continue some development and flight tests of the A9 under the cover name of A4b (i.e. a modification of the A4, and therefore a production-related project)". Thus Mark Wade.

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.

A4-B skiss
Sketch of the A4-B. Note the guidance section in the original location.
© Smithsonian Institution

Mark Wade continues: "In late 1944 work on the A9/A10 resumed under the code name "Projekt Amerika", but no significant hardware development was possible after the last test of the A4-B in January 1945."

A-4b i januari 1945
   A4-B, launch attempt nr 3, Januari 1945. During this flight the missile swung into flight attitude after the ballistic phase, and briefly flew with hypersonic velocity, around mach 4,5. Then one of the wings broke off.
© Smithsonian Institute

   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."

A9 + A 10 according to sketch from Peenemünde 29 juni 1940
A9 + A10 according to sketch dated in Peenemünde, July 29,1940 /8/.

A4, A9, A9+A10, copyright: Mark Wade

   A4, A9, early A9+A10, A4-B and late model of A9 + A10. © Mark Wade.

   "The next stage would be the A9/A10/A11. A drawing made for the Army in Texas in 1946 illustrates the design. The A11 stage appears to use six of the A10 engines. The A10 is nested within the A11 propellant tank, as was the A9 in the A10. The A9 was winged, indicating a gliding recovery or bombing mission. To achieve orbit, either a small kick stage would be needed, or the A9 would have to be significantly lightened compared to the standard version. In any case a payload of only a few 100 kg could be orbited."

A9+A10+A11, copyright: Mark Wade
   A9 + A10 + A11, sketch attributed to von Braun in El Paso 1946.© Mark Wade

   "The full orbital vehicle would use the A12 stage, concerning which virtually no details have emerged. Assuming it would have followed the sizing of the other stages, it would have used 50 of the 200 tonne engines, and have been capable of boosting over 10 tonnes of payload into orbit."

    Thus Mark Wade.

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 space.
   Juhani Westman

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:

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

Links to other Space Sites:
Mark Wade's Encyclopedia Astronautica
Tähtitieteellinen seura   Ursa.
European Space Agency,   ESA.
National Aerodynamics and Space Administration,   NASA.
Suomen Avaruustutkimus-Seura - Sällskapet för Astronautisk Forskning i Finland, Finnish Astronautical Society   SATS - SAFF

Read more of the prehistory of Space Flight in:
Six Stages to Orbit
Bouncing Return from Ballistic Orbit

and The BIS Launch Vehicles
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