Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Origins of the ICBM

The Bumper V-2 was the first missile launched at Cape Canaveral on July 24, 1950. America’s initial interest in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) dates back to World War II and reports that the Germans had fired a “V-2” ballistic missile.

Named for mythological gods and American heroes, America’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have played a critical role in the nation’s defense strategy while helping to lay the foundation for the exploration of space.

America’s interest in and experimentation with ICBMs actually dates back more than 50 years, to the dark days of World War II and the initial reports that the Germans had fired a “V-2” ballistic missile. Those V-2s were relatively inaccurate, with a range of 200 to 300 miles and a TNT warhead of approximately one ton. The Germans reportedly produced approximately 6,000 of the V-2s during 1944 and 1945, firing more than 3,500 of them against the Allies.

The end of the war was followed by significant levels of technical assessment involving captured V- 2 (and V-1) hardware and technology. By early 1946, more than two dozen separate missile projects had been undertaken by the Army Air Force (AAF) focusing on the captured V-1s and V-2s.

April 1946 saw the start of project MX-774, designed to study rocket and missile capabilities that might be applied toward ICBM development. The MX-774 contract was with Consolidated-Vultee (later to become Convair/Convair Division of General Dynamics). Although the MX-774 project was cancelled in June 1947, contractor-funded work continued at a lower level, and three of the early test missiles were fired late in 1948.

By 1951, a new project, designated Project MX- 1593, was evaluating the advantages of rockets versus glide missiles. Based in part on the earlier MX-774 work, the ballistic approach was selected for concentration in September of that year with the code name “Atlas” assigned to the newly re-focused effort.

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