Ernst Steinhoff earned his PhD at the Darmstadt University of Technology in 1940 with a dissertation on aviation instruments.
His younger brother Friedrich Steinhoff assisted rocket experiments while commanding U-511 in 1942. Ernst was among the scientists to surrender and travel to the United States to provide rocketry expertise via Operation Paperclip. Friedrich was captured aboard U-873 and committed suicide in a Boston jail before Ernst came to the United States on the first boat, November 16, 1945. with Operation Paperclip and Fort Bliss, Texas (1945-1949). He then moved to Holloman Air Force Base where he also worked closely with White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. He focused on guidance, control, and range instrumentation throughout his career. He was awarded the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service in 1958 for his contributions to the US rocket program. In 1979 he was inducted into the New Mexico International Space Hall of Fame.
Steinhoff is being credited as one of the first pioneers to popularize the concept of space resource utilization for Mars exploration. He became the first chairman of Working Group on Extraterrestrial Resources (WGER).