The ground of scientific competence for the communications satellite includes two fundamentals. First is the theoretical understanding of how gravity might make ‘a projectile…revolve in an orbit, and go round the whole earth’ which was outlined by Newton in the Principia (Lovell 1973:9). Second is an understanding of rocketry.
The origins of the rocket are lost in time but it is noted as an instrument of war at the battle of K’ai-Feng-Foo in 1232. It became something of the weapon of the underdog, because igniting a combustible substance inside a tube requires no great theoretical knowledge nor, indeed, a very high level of technological wherewithal. Rockets were used, for example, against the British by the Sultan of Mysore in the battles of Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799. In the twentieth century, both in Russia and in a Germany constrained by the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, there was considerable interest in rockets (Blagonravov 1996).
From 1932, Sergev P. Korolyov was head of MosGIRD (the Moscow Reactive Propulsion Group) and in the 1950s he was in charge of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programme which led to the launch of Sputnik. Also in 1932, the Germany army found a home at one of its proving grounds for an amateur society, Verein für Raumschiffahrt (the Society for Space Travel—VfR) which had been regularly launching rockets from a Raketenflugplatz just outside Berlin. The army gave a young VfR member and Ph.D. candidate, Wernher von Braun, facilities to pursue his research into rocket combustion. By 1937, von Braun was installed, with a staff of eighty, at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. By 1942, his fourth Fernraket Aggregat (Long-range Rocket Assembly) was put into production, using slave labour, as the Vergeltungswaffen Zwei—Vengeance Weapon No. 2 or V-2. Those launched against Britain killed 2754 people and injured 6523