Tag Archives: military

Wonderful Things: V2 engine

The V2 rocket engine was developed in Germany in the early 1940s. The engine was far bigger than any other rocket engine built before, making the V2 rocket the first long range missile used in World War 2.

The V2 engine- revolutionary and terrifying

The V2 engine- revolutionary and terrifying

Propelled by an alcohol and liquid oxygen fuel, V2 had a range of over 320km and travelled at about 1,341m/sec. Incredibly, that’s three times faster than the speed of sound! The V2 offensive on the British lasted from September 1944 to March 1945 and close to 2,500 rockets were launched during that period. London alone was hit by over 500. On one particular day in 1944, a V2 carrying a tonne of high explosives was launched from its site in the Netherlands, detonating just five minutes later on homes in Chiswick,West London. The explosion that day killed three people.

V2 rocket on launchpad

V2 rocket on launchpad. Image SSPL

The engine’s name alone (V2 standing for ‘vengeance weapon 2’) clearly indicates the idea of inflicting harm or injury through the power of this missile. After the war, work began in Russian larger missiles, based on extensions of V2 technology. However, although the V2 was used for military purposes first, it has also been a vital component in the evolution of space rocketry!

The V2 engine was in fact the forerunner of the booster rockets that launched space craft and astronauts, allowing humans to start exploring what lies beyond our planet. How so? After the war, the remaining V2 rockets were captured by Allied forces and taken to the US to be researched. The V2 rocket was the first vehicle in space! In fact, the first ever photo of the earth from space was taken in 1946 by a camera on a V2 rocket. This black & white image is on display with the V2 engine as part of our  ’10 Climate Stories’ exhibition.

As well as space travel, we can’t escape the V2 is also the precursor of all modern guided missiles… But many technologies initially developed for military use have become incredibly important to everyday life (the internet, for example).

Is the V2 rocket an engine of discovery, or an engine of war?

Do the advantages of space travel and exploration enabled by the V2 outweigh the devastating military use?

What other applications of military technology can your students find in their lives?

The V2 engine is on display in Exploring Space Gallery, ground floor.

The V2 rocket is found in Making the modern world, on the ground floor.

- Denise Cook

Introducing… Robolobster!

Not entirely new, Robolobster has actually been in the works for some years. Is this not just the coolest/weirdest sounding technology ever? It’s a mechanical lobster that scurries along ocean floors, seeking out and detonating buried bombs.

Robolobster the mine-detecting robot

Robolobster, the mine-detecting robot

Scientists developing an underwater mine-detecting robot realised that nature had already done all the work in ‘designing’ a creature that can move easily along the seabed despite buffeting waves- the lobster! All those legs mean that it can propel itself forward even if they aren’t all touching the ground. That strong heavy tail and stabilising claws help it stay upright as the water moves around it. Thank you, evolution!

The bigger picture:

YES!!! We can learn lessons from the natural world and adapt them to robotics and solving human problems. We can save human (and animal) lives by making robots do the dangerous/ugly jobs. And from military robots we may develop technology that helps us live healthier, safer lives every day- maybe one day things like seeing eye robots for blind people.

BUT OH NO!!!! With more and more robots being used for traditionally human tasks (but without human reasoning or sympathy), are we in trouble? Will we need new laws governing these interactions? Would we want unmanned robots to be armed (Robocop-style)? If robots are being used more and more in warfare, does it mean that we are more likely to engage in conflict, because we can fight harder, putting less human soldiers at risk?

Lots of questions worth exploring, as autonomous robots are heavily researched by the military and may one day be much more commonplace even in our lives.