The history of rocketry dates back to around 900 C.E., but the use of rockets as highly destructive missiles able to carry large payloads of explosives was not feasible until the late 1930s. War has been the catalyst for many inventions, both benevolent and destructive. The ballistic missile is intriguing because it can be both of these things. It has made possible some of the greatest deeds mankind has ever achieved, and also some of the worst. German Walter Dornberger and his team began developing rockets in 1938, but it was not until 1944 that the first ballistic missile, the aggregate-4 or V-2 rocket, was ready for use. V-2 was used extensively by the Nazis at the end of World War II, primarily as an error weapon against civilian targets. They were powerful and imposing: 46 feet (14m) long, able to reach speeds of around 3,500 miles per hour (5600 kph) and deliver a warhead of around 2,200 pounds (1000 kg) at a range of 200 miles (320 km).
Ballistic missiles follow a ballistic flight path, determined by the brief initial powered phase of the missile’s flight. This is unlike guided missiles, such as cruise missiles, which are essentially unmanned airplanes packed with explosives. This meant that the early V-2 flew inaccurately, so they were of most use in attacking large, city sized targets such as London, Paris, and Antwerp. The Nazi ballistic missile program has had both a great and a terrible legacy. Ballistic missiles such as the V-2 were scaled up to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles with a variety of warheads, but also the craft that have carried people into space. Ballistic missiles may have led us to the point of self destruction, but to venture beyond our atmosphere.
The intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were first developed by the United States in 1959. It is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of 5500 kilometres primarily designed for nuclear weapon. United States, China, France, India, United Kingdom and North Korea are the only countries that have operational ICBMs. The ICBMs has a three stage booster, during the boost phase the rocket get the missile airborne, this phase last around 2 to 5 minutes until the ICBM has reached space. ICBMs have up to three rocket phases with each one ejected or discarded after it burns out.
They use either liquid or solid propellant. The Liquid fuel rockets tend to burn longer in the boost phase than the solid propellant. The second phase of the ICBMs is the point where the rocket has reached space, here it continues along is ballistic trajectory. At this point the rocket will be travelling anywhere from 24,140 and 27,360 kilometres an hour. The final phase is the ICBM’s final separation and re- entry into earth’s atmosphere. The nose cone section carrying the warhead separates from the final rocket booster and drops back to earth. If the ICBM has rocket thrusters, those will be used at this point to orient itself towards the target. It is important that ICBMs have adequate heat shields to survive reentry, if not they burn up and fall apart. It’s important to note that although countries have ICBMs, none have ever been fired in anger against another country.
“This third day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation that of space travel.” – Walter Dornberger