Part II : 1950 -1957

5. NACA Research on High-Energy Propellants



NACA Reconsiders Missiles


[83] Although the NACA had always maintained an interest in the problems of high-speed flight and had made some significant contributions,* actual effort remained relatively small until about 1956. Meanwhile, the military ballistic missile effort had risen rapidly since early 1955, in FY 1956, it passed the half-billion-dollar mark and was nearly three times larger the next year. 27 Interest in extending ballistic missile [84] capabilities to launching satellites was also growing. In NACA's 1956 annual report, Chairman Hunsaker recognized the need for more missile research and added," we are striving for the knowledge that will make possible satellites probing the regions beyond the earth's atmosphere . . . ."28


Following up on the need for greater effort in both aircraft and missile research, the NACA established a panel to determine the type of facilities required for the coming years. Hugh L. Dryden, NACA's director of research, wrote to Thomas Myers, the rocket subcommittee chairman, acknowledging the three-year attempt by the subcommittee to increase rocket research and informed him that the facilities panel "now has under consideration ... a proposal for a rocket systems research facility to provide the necessary space and equipment to implement the Subcommittee's recommendation."29 Dryden was fully aware of the new high-energy propellant facility nearing completion at Lewis and had in mind "basic research leading to improved turbopump designs for rocket engines and to improvements in propellant systems generally." Dryden had pinpointed a deficiency in NACA research that could be swiftly remedied. Since its formation in 1945, the Lewis rocket group had been limited to problems associated with the thrust chamber of a rocket engine system. The laboratory had a large division specializing in compressor and turbine research for jet engines, a technical field closely related to turbopumps of rocket engines. By building suitable facilities for turbopumps and complete engine systems, NACA could tap this pool of technical talent and accelerate its contributions to missile problems.


In his letter to Myers, Dryden asked for comments and answers to specific questions such as, "Why should NACA enter the field of rocket propellant systems?" His choice of words was unfortunate for apparently Myers thought he meant rocket propellant combinations. Myers replied with an eloquent plea for NACA research on propellants, giving three reasons: high-energy propellants can increase missile range by an order of magnitude or for satellites, permit increases in payload; improved propellant systems have multiple applications and research data from NACA spread throughout the country have a beneficial effect on rocket developments; and the NACA's achievements in propellant research are widely recognized and used by the rocket industry.30


* For example: the blunt-body theory for warhead reentry into the atmosphere from a ballistic trajectory conceived by Harvey Allen of NACA-Ames in 1951 and published in the open literature in 1958.