Thursday, December 4, 2008

Redstone Missile

Redstone ballistic missile

The first large ballistic missile to go into operational service with US forces, Redstone was also to play a major role in the early American space program. Work on an American long-range theater missile had begun even as German V-2s were still hitting Allied targets, and the early postwar era saw General Electric designing and launching rockets as part of the Hermes program. The Hermes name was actually an overall designation for several different rocket projects. One of these produced the Hermes A-3 model, given the military designation XSSM-A-16. This was planned to carry a fairly heavy payload over ranges similar to those of the V-2, but although flight testing was carried out, this missile did not enter operational service.

There were also proposals for much more powerful Hermes-C models, including variants with IRBM class ranges of up to 1,500 miles. These were really too ambitious for the time, and as superpower tensions ratcheted up in the early 1950s, the emphasis turned towards the near-term development and fielding of a 200-mile range weapon that could carry a nuclear warhead.

Although generally similar in class to the Hermes C-3 proposal, and known informally as Major early on, the missile was officially named Redstone, with the program starting in 1952. Development work would be centered at the Army's Redstone Arsenal (hence the name) where German rocket team personnel from Fort Bliss had been moved. The German connection and the Redstone's similarity in range to the V-2 showed the link between the two missiles, but the Redstone was more than a simple rehash of the wartime design, as it had a much more powerful engine and nuclear delivery capability, as well as a warhead that detached from the main airframe.

Chrysler would actually build the missile, which first flew in August 1953. Seemingly atypical for the time, the Redstone test program was very successful, wrapping up with a firing from Canaveral on November 6, 1958. This allowed deployment of the system to Europe, where it would serve until 1964, when the Pershing arrived. Like most early tactical ballistic missiles, Redstone was cumbersome to transport, assemble, and fire, as the warhead, engine, and fuel tank had to be put together in the field. Despite the awkwardness of this arrangement, Redstone did give forces in Europe the means to strike at targets deep behind enemy lines.

The experience of developing Redstone would be a vital stepping stone on the von Braun team's road toward the Saturn lunar booster, but the Redstone itself would be in the limelight, briefly, at the beginning of the space race. Even before the military version had entered service, it had been proposed as the basis for a satellite launch vehicle using solid motor upper stages, but this concept was not pursued, and in October 1957 the Soviets pulled ahead by orbiting the first artificial satellite. The superpower space competition that then ensued led to manned orbital programs, and soon afterwards NASA's Mercury program would be in full swing. The basic Mercury spacecraft would be ready before man-rated Atlas boosters could be, so a Redstone variant was chosen to launch early suborbital flights.

1/72 Mercury Redstone model by Dragon.

Redstone on launch pad

1/130th sport scale Mercury Redstone

Mercury program drawings, including views of the Mercury-Redstone booster

Downloadable Mercury Redstone paper model

Video of a Redstone launch
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