After World War II, parts of almost 100 German V-2 rockets were brought to the United States. The U.S. Army undertook the task of assembling the rockets at White Sands, New Mexico, for research and experimentation by government agencies and universities. In 1946, NRL was invited to participate in the Army's V-2 rocket program. As an established group ready to carry out upper atmospheric research, the Laboratory became the prime agency for conducting research with the V-2 program and for developing the technology to carry out the missions. Eighty experiments were performed between 1946 and 1951. As a result, new and valuable information was gained about the nature of the earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

V-2 rocket launch

V-2 rocket launch

NRL's major V-2 program accomplishments include:

  • the first direct measurement of atmospheric pressure above 18 miles;
  • the first photos of Earth from 40-, 70- and 101 miles altitude;
  • the first photos of the ultraviolet solar spectrum below 285 angstroms;
  • the first detection of solar Lyman-alpha radiation;
  • the first detection and measurement of solar X rays; and
  • the first direct measurement of the profile of ionospheric electron density versus height.

This was the birth of both space-based astronomy and the U.S. Navy's space program. When it became evident that the supply of V-2 rockets would be exhausted, NRL proceeded to develop its own rocket.