The "Inauguration" of the Rocket Station Florida

by Willy Ley, G.f.W. (Gesellschaft für Weltraumforschung, Society for Space Research), written in 1950...

About two years ago somebody at the rocket test field White Sands in New Mexico told me: "You know, its becoming a bit small here. When the new models are ready, we will hardly be able to move." Considering the fact that this conversation was taking place at a site which extends 200 km in north-southern and more than 60 km in east-western direction, this remark almost sounded like a joke. Considering the other fact, that in White Sand you could not even fire a V2 rocket to its largest reach, it was a totally qualified remark. And it was already thought about where to find a larger test field.

About that time, the Australians did announce to ground a rocket test field in South Australia. It is now in Woomera, not far away from the city of Pimba, north of Adelaide. From Woomera one has a firing range of more than 4300 km in north-western direction, with the uninhabited Christmas Island as a target point. It was also announced, that this station would also be available for American tests, if desired. In America, they were thankful for this friendly statement, but the practical value of the offer was quite small. Some scientists were joking one evening in New York while imaging it practically: "Well, the rocket engine will be built in New Jersey, the instrumentation in Baltimore and the rocket itself in Santa Monica in California. This all will be coordinated from Washington, and then we have one committee which has the connection with the Navy to transport the whole thing, and another committee for the international relationships with England and the Australian government. In the case that something wents wrong, only the Navy has to be appointed to bring the rocket back to California etc. etc."

The officials obviously had a similar discussion, because soon later the foundation of a rocket station in Florida was decided, with the Atlantic Ocean as a firing range. The place which they selected was situated on the peninsula Florida at the Banana River, not far from the city Cocoa. Geographically, it is the Cape Canaveral. When you draw a line from Cape Canaveral in south-eastern direction, this line intersects all islands of the Bahamas, except the farest from the mainland located island, San Salvador. Behind the islands on the same line lie about 7500 km of open ocean. The Bahamas belong to England, but the international complications were only to get the permission to erect observation stations on the islands.

Probably at this moment these observation stations are just written on paper, but the rocket station at Cape Canaveral was recently so to speak "inaugurated" by two successful tests, just properly for a rocket station.

The rockets were of the type "Bumper", consisting of a V2 as the lower stage and a WAC-Corporal as upper stage. The first rocket of this type became famous when its upper stage reached a top height of about 400 km on February 24th, 1949. "Bumper" no. 7 and 8 were intended for becoming the first rockets to be fired from Cape Canaveral. At the same time, something totally new should be tested. In White Sands the highest possible heights were aimed. In Florida, not the farest possible reaches were aimed (for this rocket combination that would be about 800 km at an elevation angle of 45°), but one was preparing a "flat path shot" almost a horizontal flight. In this way one wanted to do measurements which were not possible to do in a wind tunnel. The rocket should launch vertically as usual, but should than as soon as possible turn by 90° in the vertical.

The first test took place on July 19th 1950; but it was one of those days on which everything wents wrong. In the morning everything was ready to launch, but had to be cancelled minutes before ignition, because one the airplanes which should warn the ships in the firing direction had to do an unforeseen landing. In the afternoon everything was ready again, but in the last moment, an auxiliary device was not working. The failure was repaired, and then everything seems to go according to plan. The engine of the V2 ignited and the turbine was started. Before starting the turbine, the V2 engine produces a thrust of about 7 metric tons, and when the turbine is running the pump and the fuel is pumped under pressure into the engine, the thrust increases to 27 tons. So the turbine was started . . . . . and nothing happened. The rocket continued burning without moving. One of the engineers shouted: "The rocket does not lift", and Colonel Harold R. Turner, who was flown over from White Sands, gave the order to shut the side valves. He assumed the main valve did not open an assumption which was confirmed by the later inspection. On this day it was left to drain off the fuels and to take out the explosives which were mounted inside the rocket.

On July 24th the test was repeated. No emergency landing was disturbing the program, all valves were working and the rocket lifted vertically into the air. Some seconds later, it broke through the high veil of cirrus clouds. In 16 km height it was slowly turned into the horizontal path, and 80 seconds after launch, the second stage, the WAC-Corporal, was ignited. The slowly descending V2 was destroyed by remote ignition of the explosive charges, when it arrived at 5 km height, so that at a distance of about 80 km from the launch site only relative small fragments fell into the water. The WAC-Corporal must have fallen into the sea about 300 km from Cape Canaveral.

On July 29th the second two-stage rocket was fired. In contrast to the first test, everything went well. The rocket worked perfectly, die radar devices could track it without difficulties, and the remote measuring instruments recorded all found values. With that, the rocket test site at Cape Canaveral began its activity.

from: WELTRAUMFAHRT, issue 5 / 1950, translated by Frank Leuband < Home