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  Space Cover 45: V-2, Is That You?

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Author Topic:   Space Cover 45: V-2, Is That You?

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 02-21-2010 09:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 45 (February 22, 2010)

Space Cover #45, V-2, Is That You?

While a little outside the normal stream of space cover collecting, this week's Space Cover of the Week, is a Ham radio QSL card mailed to an amateur radio operator at call sign W8RM, September 25, 1947, Fort Clinton, Ohio. On the front of the QSL card confirming the Ham radio transmission are three Ham radio operators, standing in front of an American captured V-2 rocket on the rocket's Meilerwagen. But, the story continues, because the card is cancelled on the date of the first Aerobee rocket test firing at White Sands Proving Ground, September 25, 1947, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, as seen on the reverse side of the card.

Physicist James Van Allen was a member of the scientific team that tested captured V-2 rockets after WWII at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. He determined that the V-2 rocket was too heavy and complex for the upper atmosphere research tests he wanted to conduct and realized that a different rocket soon would have to replace the operational V-2 rockets undergoing test. Van Allen of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab was also supervisor of the High Altitude Research Group, and directed operation of the University's Bumblebee series of early sounding rockets.

Visiting Dr. Rolf Sabersky at Aerojet Company in 1946 to determine rocket engine capability, Van Allen conceived of a new sounding rocket with an Aerojet booster rocket and a Bumblebee solid fuel rocket second stage, proposing the name Aerobee. The new rocket, the Aerobee, would be capable of launching a 68 kg or 150 pound payload to a 130 km or 80.7 mile space altitude. Requesting U.S. Navy support for the research rocket, Van Allen was successful in pressing the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Ordnance to place an initial order for 20 of the new Aerobee rockets.

Aerobee rockets were planned to be launched from 100-foot launch towers to provide the rocket with necessary stability until it had enough velocity for its rocket fins to be effective to control its movement. The rocket launches were made from ground, aircraft, and ship sites. The varied and dispersed sites ranged from the Artic Circle to Australia and South Africa. The rockets were launched in those areas in which scientific data needed to be collected. Data on astronomy, magnetic fields, radiation fields, and other areas of scientific interest dictated specific locations for best data collection. Van Allen's use of the Aerobee also resulted in the spectacular discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts circling the Earth. In this period of discovery, Aerobee launches were made from rocket launch sites at Wallops Island, Virginia; White Sands Proving Ground and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Fort Churchill, Canada; Walker Cay, Bahamas; and Woomera, Australia.

Van Allen's group also experimented with high altitude photography to study meteorological phenomena and Earth cloud patterns. From this early work, weather satellites were conceived. The first details of the Earth's atmosphere with variations in temperatures and pressures, variations in atmospheric layers, atmospheric density, and turbulence, were derived using the sounding rockets. A remarkable 51% of these sounding rockets were Aerobees. An Aerobee rocket was also the first launch vehicle to carry monkeys Patricia and Mike and passenger mice Mildred and Albert, into space, May 22, 1952, at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, and then return them safely to Earth.

The Aerobee rocket further was used to capture photos of star fields in selected spectral ranges, including the first wide-angle ultraviolet photo of star fields and for recording variations in star temperatures while in flight. A similar updated methodology would later be used many years later on NASA's Apollo flights. The Aerobee's low cost and overall 97% rocket reliability permitted scientists to collect significant amounts of data easily and cost effectively ten years before space satellites could be used effectively.

The cover shown is somewhat ironic in that it pictures a captured V-2 rocket with three engineers proudly displaying it. But, the real story is that the versatile sounding rocket that would replace the V-2 rocket as a scientific launch vehicle, the Aerobee, would have its first test firing on this date, September 25, 1947, at White Sands Proving Ground, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, and commemorated on this pedestrian QSL card.

Steve Durst, The Space Unit

Steve Procter

Posts: 971
From: Leeds, Yorkshire, UK
Registered: Oct 2000

posted 02-21-2010 09:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Steve Procter   Click Here to Email Steve Procter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just out of curiosity I looked to see if the three callsigns were current on the QRZ ham radio database. Sadly none were, whether this means they have passed away, are no longer hams, or just not listed I can't say.

The QSL card recipient W8RM is listed as active and still living in Ohio. He's 91 years of age, he would have been 28 at the time of the contact!


Posts: 1239
From: Washington, DC, USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 02-21-2010 11:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great history on the Aerobee, Steve!

I remember my first Estes rocket when I was a kid was their Aerobee model!


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 02-22-2010 06:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Steve, thank you for your reply and comments all the way from the UK. Am a fan of Ham radio and used to use the MARS system on the U.S. Navy ship I was on in the Pacific to call back to the United States way before the advent of satellite secure voice radio. Appreciate your checking out the call signs for the guys involved in making this QSL card. I thought the card might be thought provoking and would generate a little discussion with the V-2 rocket as a backdrop. Many thanks!

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