Hopes unfunded

In 1954, Britain began work on its own intermediate-range ballistic missile, the Blue Streak, with assistance from Australia (Woomera in the Australian outback was to be used as a testing range). Despite early successful tests, spiralling costs and doubts about Blue Streak's military effectiveness eventually led to the cancellation of the programme in 1960.

But Blue Streak lived on in other forms for another decade. Britain at first tried to interest Canada and Australia in a collaboration to build a three-stage launch vehicle called Black Prince, with Blue Streak as its first stage. When no deal could be reached, the missile became a crucial element in the ill-fated European ELDO project (see p.229). In parallel with Blue Streak, Britain had also been developing a smaller sounding (or research) rocket,


A Blue Streak missile is shown here ready for launch at Woomera. Despite successful tests, the British government abandoned the project in 1960, to the annoyance of their Australian partners.



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Black Knight - initially to test warhead designs for use on Blue Streak. Uniquely, Black Knight utilized high test peroxide (HTP), a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide, as an oxidizer. First used in some German experimental rocket engines, HTP's violently combustible nature allowed the design of Black Knight's Gamma engines to be greatly simplified.

By the 1960s, Britain led the world in HTP propulsion, and in 1964 the Royal Aircraft Establishment proposed building a small, cheap satellite launch vehicle based largely around the existing Black Knight technology. Black Arrow, as it became known, was approved by the British government, but suffered from repeated delays to its funding. Finally given the go-ahead, test launches began


Although the Blue Streak missiles were manufactured in Britain, the lack of a suitable launch site meant that they had to be shipped around the world from the Spadeadam Rocket Establishment in Cumbria (shown here) to the Australian missile range at Woomera for testing. Transport delays to both Blue Streak and Black Arrow added to the woes of the British space effort.


A Diamant A rocket blasts off from the originol French launch site at Hammaguir in the Algerian desert in 1965.


A Diamant A rocket blasts off from the originol French launch site at Hammaguir in the Algerian desert in 1965.


Britain's first satellites were the Ariel series, launched by NASA on Delta and solid-fuelled Scout rockets between 1962 and 1979. Ariels 1 and 2 were built in the US and fitted with British experiments, while Ariels 3 and A were entirely British-built. Each studied galactic radio signals and the properties of the Earth's ionosphere. The later Ariels 5 and 6, in contrast, were two of the earliest X-ray astronomy satellites.



The first Black Arrow test flight in June 1969, codenamed RO, veered off course due to a steering problem, but a successful second test eight months later (right) cleared the way for a satellite launch attempt in September 1970. Unfortunately this R2 launch failed to reach orbit when the second stage shut down early. Despite the project's cancellation in July 1971, permission was given to launch the R3 vehicle. With just one chance to get it right, the launch slipped to late 1971, but this time everything went perfectly, and the Prospero satellite entered orbit on 28 October 1971. Despite this, there was to be no reprieve, and Britain gained the distinction of being the first country to abandon its satellite launch capability.


The first French satellite, Astérix (left), was little more than an orbiting radio transmitter. More advanced was Diapason (above), which incorporated a modified transmitter for measuring the speed of the satellite and therefore the Earth's varying gravity.

in 1969, but a troubled start to the programme meant that, with astounding lack of foresight, the government cancelled the project in July 1971, on the eve of its greatest success (see panel, below). In the future, it seemed, Britain would be content to rely on small American rockets to launch its satellites. But soon British satellites themselves would be a thing of the past, and from the 1970s, Britain's space effort would generally extend no further than its limited involvement in the new European Space Agency, ESA.

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