The Naval Research Laboratory entered the realm of space soon after American forces entered Germany in 1945 and captured the huge underground factory for V-2 rocket production at Nordhausen. The Americans confiscated about one hundred rockets and shipped them to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where the Army set about studying the propulsion system. The first American-launched V-2 flew from White Sands on April 16, 1946.
Seeing the opportunities for upper atmosphere research and solar astronomy, NRL took the lead in the Navy for conducting rocket research. The V-2 Rocket Panel was formed with membership from NRL, APL (Applied Physics Laboratory), California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Michigan, and other organizations to oversee the allocation of space on V-2 rockets for high-altitude research, with NRL's Ernst Krause as the first chair. The research goals included radio and sound propagation in the atmosphere, properties of the atmosphere, cosmic rays, solar ultraviolet radiation, and various biological investigations.
NRL's V-2 experiments in 1946 and 1949 marked the beginning of a major space science program at the Lab. Within a decade, NRL had developed a base of rocket science that had formed into two distinct branches: one related to applications, including the development of scientific payloads; the other, the development of rocket technology.
This timeline highlights some milestones in NRL's space program as it developed from those post-World War II years to 2011, when NRL launched its 100th satellite and is the Navy's lead laboratory for space systems research. You can download the timeline in PDF form above or view it on our Facebook Timeline.