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meteorological rocket under experiment

Mr. Willie Ley, science editor of PM and former vice president of the German Rocket Society, is at present experimenting with a meteorological rocket for the Burke Aircraft Corporation in Atlanta. Mr. Ley in a lecture before the Atlanta section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers expressed his belief that a meteorological rocket able to duplicate regularly the feats of the most successful sounding balloons could be achieved within the next two or three years. The diagram below shows the general structure of the rocket upon which Mr. Ley is working.

The over-all length of the rocket is to be about 10 feet, the diameter of the tanks about 4 inches. The total weight of the rocket now under experiment with fuel, oxygen, and instruments is approximately 44 pounds, of which 19.8 pounds is the weight of fuel, 2.2 pounds the proposed weight of the meteorological instruments.

The material of which the motor is made, a metal capable of withstanding the extreme heat generated by combustion of gasoline in liquid oxygen, is Inconel, an alloy of nickel, chromium and iron, manufacture of which is limited to the United States.

The rockets greatest ascent would be about 1985 ft. per second. The signals from the instrument, which are to be patterned closely from the existing radiosonde instruments, would, of course, be broadcast during the descent, the speed of which may be regulated as desired by the size of the parachute. The inset shows the returning rocket. Since the rocket would reach the ground first, the parachute would be relieved of all weight but that of the instrument for the last 40 or 50 feet.

The question arises as to possible advantages of the use of such a rocket, could it be perfected over our present method of upper air sounding with the balloon-borne radiosonde. Perhaps the foremost advantage claimed for the rocket by Mr. Ley is an ability to regularly attain any desired altitude up to approximately 85,000 feet. The altitude reached could be predetermined by the fuel placed in the rocket, and would not be subject to uncertainty as in a balloon ascent. Very high altitudes could be reached as consistently as lower ones if data from the greater heights were desired. Though forecasters do not at present require or use data above the base of the stratosphere, the results of high altitude soundings would possibly be of interest in meteorological research. High winds could cause no inconvenience at time of release. Precipitation, icing, or turbulence would not affect the rocket in its ascent.

Some disadvantages of the rocket are apparent. Its size and weight make it more cumbersome than is the radiosonde balloon. The handling of liquid oxygen, which is at a temperature of about 200° C below zero, requires care. Mr. Ley compares the liquid oxygen to boiling water in that “burns” may be suffered from it. Though the cost of a meteorological rocket cannot be estimated with any degree of accuracy at this time, it is believed that even under mass production its cost will be slightly above that of the radiosonde.

Mr. Ley has invited members of the Weather Bureau staff to witness tests of the rocket motor this month. The tests are not made by launching the rocket but by anchoring the motor securely in a machine which measures the thrust when the fuel is ignited.

Of course a vast amount of work remains to be done on the meteorological and many problems are yet to be solved, but Mr. Ley approaches the task with a confidence born of his twenty years of experience in the field of rocket development.

In: “The BREEZE”, Vol. 2, No. 4, May 10, 1945. Pp. 1-3.

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