Co-founded Europe’s first space-related group.
Franz Oskar Leo Elder von Hoefft was born in Vienna, Austria on April 5, 1882. He attended the lower Gymnasium and Oberrealschule (high school) in Vienna, graduating in 1900. He then volunteered with the Royal and Imperial Regiment of Dragoons but was eventually discharged due to poor eyesight.
Von Hoefft decided to study chemistry, receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Technology in Vienna, then attended the Göttingen University to specialize in physical chemistry, finally receiving a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the Vienna University in 1907. For the next twenty years, he worked variously as an engineer in Donawitz, a tester at the Austrian Patent Office, a chemist in Vienna, and as a consultant. In 1926, he and Guido von Pirquet founded the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Höhen-forschung (Scientific Society for High Altitude Research), the first space-related society in Europe. Von Hoefft was its first president. The group formed a Rocket Committee and communicated with Hermann Oberth, one of the foremost pioneers in rocketry. Von Hoefft soon popularized his vision of exploring outer space in a series of articles entitled “The Conquest of Space” published in the German Rocket Society’s journal, The Rocket.
By 1928, Dr. von Hoefft had trained himself to be an expert of rocket fuels. He proposed an ambitious series of rockets to be developed sequentially. First, an unmanned single-stage sounding rocket, the RH-1, for “Repulsion Hoefft,” would be transported by balloon to over 30,000 feet. The rocket would then propel itself to the edge of space, 60 miles above the earth, to explore the upper layers of the atmosphere. It would have as its payload a “meteorograph,” device that would separate from the rocket at its apogee and record air pressure, temperature and humidity as it parachuted back to earth.
The second phase of Franz von Hoefft’s proposed rocket development program was a large single-stage rocket, the RH-2. Intended to reach an altitude of 930 miles, it would cover vast distances on a ballistic trajectory, transporting mail or photographing the earth with automatic cameras. The RH-2, once perfected would then be expanded into a two-stage rocket, the RH-3. Von Hoefft hoped to use two combined RH-3 rockets to carry flash powder to the Moon. Upon impact, the powder would ignite, providing proof of the mission’s success. This proposal was identical to one made by the American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard in 1920. To avoid the Earth’s heavy, lower atmosphere, von Hoefft felt the RH-3 should be launched from a pilot balloon, a booster rocket, or a mountaintop.
The next stage in Dr. Von Hoefft’s proposed rocket development was a large space vehicle, the RH-V that could transport passengers across the globe as well as to the moon. He hoped the RH-V could also be used as the upper stage of a multistage rocket, the RH-VIII, which would be capable of traveling to even more distant planets and perhaps beyond the solar system. Von Hoefft suggested building the RH-VIII at a space station to avoid launching such a large vehicle from the surface of the Earth.
Franz von Hoefft never had the opportunity to attempt his visionary program. Internal disputes fragmented the Austrian rocketry community, and the Scientific Society for High Altitude Research dissolved in 1930. In 1938, Austria became part of Nazi Germany and rocketry entered a military chapter. Franz von Hoefft died in 1954, in Linz, Austria.