V-2 Rockets

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, Launch of a V-2 rocketfor 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.

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.

Link to Time Line

Link to Careers