The Germans pioneered the use of hydrogen peroxide as a rocket fuel in the early 1940s, powering the Me163 rocket fighter, and the V2’s turbine and fuel pump. British work was to take this much further. The key to a successful HTP motor is the choice of catalyst. When the HTP is passed over a suitable catalyst, it decomposes into steam and oxygen, and the decomposition is sufficiently energetic for the HTP to be used as a monopropellant. However, it is much more effective then to inject a fuel into the steam and oxygen. In British rocket motors this was always kerosene. The kerosene ignites spontaneously in the hot gases. Silver plated nickel gauze was used as the catalyst, and such catalyst packs could be easily inserted into the rocket chamber. The ratio of HTP to kerosene was around 8 : 1. Although the combination does not give a very high S. I. compared with many other fuel combinations, it has other advantages. Not being cryogenic, it can be left in the vehicle and does not need topping up. Nor does it need insulation as liquid hydrogen does: the insulation adds to the vehicle weight. Further, HTP is quite dense, 1375 kg/m3, as opposed to 80 kg/m3 for liquid hydrogen. This makes for a very much smaller volume and thus smaller tanks, again saving on vehicle weight. The later rockets developed by the UK using HTP technology were structurally very efficient.

Other engines were then developed using this combination: Spectre, Sprite, Scorpion, Stentor and Gamma. These were initially for aircraft use, although Stentor would be used in the Blue Steel stand-off missile, and Gamma would go on to power Black Knight and Black Arrow. Most of these were developed by commercial firms: Scorpion by Napiers; Sprite and Spectre by de Havilland; Stentor and later Gammas by Armstrong Siddeley, as they were then. Sprite and Super Sprite were designed to assist the take-off of large aircraft such as the V bombers and the Comet, but the increase in effectiveness of the jet engine meant that these units were obsolete before entering service in any major fashion. Scorpion and Spectre were intended for aircraft, to augment the jet engine. However, the HTP combination was to represent the principal British contribution to the rocket field.

The UK was to make hydrogen peroxide technology very much its own: no one before or since has made use of it on such a large scale. Early German and British work used compounds of manganese in one form or another to decompose the peroxide, often injected with the fuel, leading to a very messy exhaust. The secret lay in a metal gauze, through which the HTP was passed, and as it did so, decomposed to steam and oxygen at a temperature of around 500 °C. The gauze was made of silver coated nickel, and a catalyst pack was fitted at the top of the combustion chamber. Into these hot gases a fuel could be injected, and at that temperature they burned spontaneously, meaning there was no further ignition needed. This was very convenient, particularly in the rocket aircraft and the Blue Steel missile.

The largest HTP motor produced was the large chamber in the Stentor motor for Blue Steel, seen above, which had a thrust of around 24,000 lb at sea level. Although the small chamber would find use in Black Knight and Black Arrow, the large chamber was not developed further.

It has been argued that, in some respects, HTP was a technology in search of an application, and in some cases this was certainly true. The Sprite and Super Sprite were developed as rocket assisted take-off units for the Comet airliner and the Valiant bomber, but were far too sophisticated for simple RATO units, which were normally made from clusters of small solid fuel motors. The advantage of using several motors in clusters is that it was far less catastrophic if one failed. Having just two motors, one on either side, was much more hazardous, since the failure of one of the two would result in an off-centre thrust sufficient to make


Figure 8. A later Gamma chamber, as used on Blue Steel, the later Black Knights, and Black Arrow. The ring at the top of the motor was where the HTP entered the motor, which was made of thin tubes formed to the shape of the chamber and brazed together. The catalyst pack is shown on the lower right.

the aircraft lose control. Such an elaborate system, whereby the used motors would be jettisoned, parachuted back to the ground, then serviced for re-use, made very little sense.

The Scorpion was produced by Napier, and a twin-chambered version, the Double Scorpion, was fitted to Canberra bombers, enabling one of them to reach a new record altitude of 70,310 ft. They were to have been used for high altitude cloud sampling at the H bomb trials at Christmas Island (Operation Grapple), but


Figure 9. The Stentor motor developed for the Blue Steel stand-off missile.

the second Canberra was grounded during the crash investigations. There was also a proposal to fit it to the English Electric Lightning, but the Lightning’s performance proved to be quite good enough without the rocket. Rocket assisted take-off and rocket interceptors very soon became obsolete; the main contribution of HTP motors was to Black Knight, Black Arrow and Blue Steel – and it is questionable whether HTP was the correct choice for Blue Steel. However, a new use was to be found for HTP motors – in ballistic rockets. The original Gamma 201 motor for Black Knight used four Gamma chambers, a double-walled chamber developed by RPE. This chamber was later replaced by the small chamber from the Stentor motor, which used the tube-walled construction. Equally importantly, the 301 allowed better adjustment of the kerosene/HTP mixture ratio, making the motor more efficient.

The Stentor small chamber was carried over into Black Arrow, where the first stage motor, the Gamma 8, had, not surprisingly, eight chambers, arranged as four pairs. The second stage of Black Arrow was powered by the Gamma 2, which had two chambers, but with an extended expansion cone, as it would be operating in the near vacuum of altitude. This gave it a higher thrust than the first stage chambers.

There is a final footnote to British HTP work. Bristol Siddeley (who became part of Rolls Royce in 1966) were given a contract by the Ministry of Aviation to develop a high performance HTP motor of 7,500 lb thrust, following on from suggestions made by the firm in 1963. The development programme ran from January 1964 to December 19664. The chamber was designed to run at much higher pressures than usual – 1,000 psi – and a total of 118 firings were achieved, totalling 78 minutes. The thrust level of 7,500 lb was chosen deliberately so that the chamber could be used as a direct replacement for the existing Gamma chamber.

Unlike the existing Gamma chambers, the new chamber (named, for some inscrutable reason, Larch) was double-walled. The reason given for this was that ‘HTP tends to decompose on the hot surfaces in the cooling tubes, producing insoluble gases which can occupy an unacceptable proportion of the restricted passage of one or more of the tubes and lead to burnout’.


Figure 10. A Gamma 201 motor for Black Knight being test fired at the Armstrong Siddeley test site, Ansty.

The higher chamber pressures also gave an improved S. I.:

Standard Gamma Larch

Sea level SI 217 226

Vacuum SI 251 269

The new chamber (Figure 11), would also have been slightly lighter.

Replacing the existing Gamma chamber in Black Arrow with the new improved version meant that the vehicle could be stretched. As a consequence, the payload could be increased from 232 lb in polar orbit to 375 lb.

Despite the time and money that had been spent on the development, it was not taken further. When RAE did decide to uprate Black Arrow, it went for the solid fuel strap-on booster option. The Gamma motors of Black Arrow were to be the last HTP motors to be developed, but HTP motors did put Britain’s only satellite into orbit, and it is fitting that a British developed technology was used to do so.


Figure 11. The experimental high pressure ‘Larch’ chamber.


Figure 12. ‘The Larch’ HTP/kerosine test chamber.


Single stage. Launched 12 March 1959 at 20:20. Apogee 334 miles. No re-entry head.

BK03 was the second proving trial, and was successful except for an engine malfunction late in flight resulting in a long period of ‘cold’ thrusting (that is, decomposition of HTP in the absence of kerosene). The fault was subsequently traced to excessive heating of the propulsion bay, in which temperatures were measured during flight.

Control of the vehicle was satisfactory both during ‘hot’ burning and ‘cold’ burning. In this trial, the guidance telescope tracking was made the primary source of information and radar tracking was retained as the stand-by; this proved very successful. Very good tracking information was received until engine flameout, after which radar information was used during ‘cold’ burning.


I have seen the Minister of Aviation’s minute to you of 16th July about military space.

I note that he does not believe that we shall be able to hold back over military space indefinitely. I must make it clear that I should find the utmost difficulty in agreeing to add to our programme what might well become yet another major defence role or commitment. I suggest we cannot start to build a vertical empire if our colleagues insist on our continuing to provide for the defence of a horizontal one. I am sure that, before we go any further, we need a cool appraisal of what our real military space requirements are, if any, and of the various ways in which they might be met, with full figures of probable costs and an analysis of the effect of such costs on the already horrible Costings. I understand that papers on all this are being prepared for the Defence Research Policy Committee and I hope that these, in particular that of the Ministry of Aviation, can be considered very soon.

These are examples of the Zeitgeist, the feeling that space and rocketry are not Britain’s concern, and more than that: that the UK does not have the resources to become involved, and that British projects will inevitably be inferior to American projects.

The apogee of enthusiasm for space in the UK was probably in 1964. This is the year when Black Knight had reached a total of more than 20 successful launches, when there were two successful Blue Streak launches, and when Black Arrow was given its go-ahead, being announced publicly at the Society of British Aircraft Companies (SBAC) dinner just before the 1964 election by the Minister of Aviation, Julian Amery. There was a feeling of optimism that ELDO might lead to a bright new future for Europe and for Woomera. Newspaper and magazine articles portrayed Woomera as a space port for the future. Even earlier in the 1950s, the hit BBC radio serial, Journey into Space, portrayed the launching of Commonwealth rockets to the Moon and to Mars from the Australian outback.

The last of the major aerospace projects were all initiated under Macmillan’s Conservative Government. The Wilson Government in 1965 cancelled the TSR 2 and other major military aircraft projects. Concorde and Europa survived because of their international dimension: the UK was treaty-bound to these projects, the Foreign Office fought for them, the Government did not want to seem anti­European, and, most importantly of all, because the way the treaties were written, not a great deal of money would have been saved by cancellation.

The same was not true of Black Arrow, but by comparison with the likes of Concorde or TSR 2, it was a fairly insignificant affair. Spending was put on hold, to be doled out in three monthly offerings. Needless to say, this budgetary regime, the consequence of any lack of decision one way or the other, had the effect of both delaying the programme and increasing the cost, by preventing any long-term planning or ordering of materials.

Returning to the theme of the Zeitgeist, it is interesting to look at the press view. There had been successes with the launches of Blue Streak in 1964 and 1965, and with the Black Knight launches. But the Black Knight programme had finished by 1964, and the ELDO launches were hardly good news, despite the fact that the Blue Streak stage had always performed as expected. There was always the Black Arrow programme, but this was deliberately (and by Treasury instruction) kept very low key at the outset. The R2 launch in September 1970 was a different matter. The failure drew widespread attention in the press.

The broadsheets kept their reporting quite factual, and there had obviously been some ‘spin’ from the Ministry of Aviation and from Farnborough. Almost all the papers refer to the ‘seventeen seconds that cost success’, obviously a reference to the drop in pressurisation. The tabloids were less forgiving.

Under the heading ‘Broken Arrow,’ the Daily Mail had the following to say:

One Christmas, as a child, we got a train set called Golden Arrow which was gleaming, expensive, bursting with concealed power – and didn’t work.

So we can understand the chagrin of the boffins who get a space set called Black Arrow which was gleaming, expensive and… etc.

The first all-British launch of a satellite to orbit Earth failed to lob into a space an object uncomfortably like a pawnbroker’s ball.

Its purpose, we are solemnly assured, was to tell us things we didn’t know about the upper atmosphere. To this end, the Black Arrow project has been costing us £3 million a year.

As the Americans are some years ahead of us in this sort of exploration, it is likely that we could get all the information we could possibly digest about the upper atmosphere simply by calling Washington at the cost of £1 per minute.

If, however, we insist in going it – albeit late – alone, we would do well to mark the fact that NASA’s budget is around £1,300 million a year. And even they are looking for European money to launch a recoverable, and therefore cheaper, space outfit.

Our dilemma lies somewhere between the facts that even £3 million a year is too much to pay for a damp squib, while it would cost us many times that amount to buy a share of the American Roman candle. Especially as they would want to light the blue touchpaper.

The worst part about the article is the tone of mockery. The Evening Standard, a few months later, under the headline ‘WHAT A JOKE’ was even more brutal:

The French laugh at it. The rest of Europe ignores it.

The Russians couldn’t care less. Most Americans don’t even know it exists.

It is run on a budget that makes a shoestring look like a hawser. It depends on out of date equipment, and its future is in doubt.

What is IT? The Black Arrow project.

Britain’s national space effort – the one intended to gain us admittance to the exclusive – and so far elusive – Space Club.

But Black Arrow is a joke… a joke on the British tax payer.

The article continues in this vein, but there is a more interesting passage at the end:

The first one went haywire and had to be destroyed seconds after launch.

The second performed perfectly, and the third, launched last September, failed to put a satellite into orbit and in so doing failed to gain Britain entry into the ‘Space Club’ …

Yet, ironically, the previous failures can be laid at the door of funds, or the lack of funds.

This shortage of cash has led, in turn, to a shortage of time. For although there is only one firing a year, time is still of the essence.

Particularly when the scientists involved have to use slide-rules rather than computers.

When you have to make do with second best electronic monitoring devices.

And when you have to resort to economies like using garage petrol pumps for measuring your rocket fuel.

For the truth of the matter is that where America uses dollars, France uses francs, and Japan uses yen, Britain falls back on good old ingenuity.

But it is fast becoming apparent that Space projects can’t live on ingenuity alone.

Both articles are, in different ways, making the same point. There is no such thing as a cut price space programme.

So much for the public perception of the British space effort. What was the Government’s attitude? They were, after all, the customer.

With the advent of the Wilson Government in 1964, the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) was set up as a counterbalance to the Treasury. One of its remits early in 1965 was to consider the UK space programme. To say that it was opposed to it in almost any form is no exaggeration. Thus one paper, when discussing the Small Satellite Launcher (Black Arrow) states: ‘There may possibly be a long term interest in TV transmission by satellite, but this is never likely to be economic.’ The first direct broadcast satellite was a Canadian satellite in 1972; nowadays, of course, Sky Television is ubiquitous. One of the problems with the Civil Service of the time, excellent though they may have been in many ways, is that they were not technically educated, nor had they any feeling for entrepreneurship. Even economists are seldom likely to spot the next future technology. This is re-inforced by a later paragraph in the paper:

… the fact remains that none of the applications of satellites at present even remotely in sight is likely to bring any economic return, either in terms of commercial profits to manufacturers, exploitation by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] as operator, or, through international contracts, across the exchanges.

[This passage in the brief has been underlined and noted in the margin.]

One wonders how much consultation there had been with manufacturers, particularly those in the US. By 1964, two TELSTARs, two RELAYs, (medium orbit satellites) and two SYNCOMs (in geostationary orbit) had operated successfully in space. By the end of 1965, EARLY BIRD had provided 150 telephone ‘half-circuits’ and 80 hours of television service.

The paper then concluded: ‘This proposal [Black Arrow] should be resisted as strongly as possible. Either it should be killed right away or remitted back to lower-level …’

Another official in the same department as part of the same debate commented that competing with the US and USSR in space was ‘a wanton waste of resources’. With regard to ELDO,

… unless Europe is to go on indefinitely squandering more and more resources in a field without significant economic return, some country sometime has got to take the lead in calling a halt, even at the cost of seeming opposed to European co-operation.

Implicit in this statement was the notion that the UK should be that country. Then in 1965 came the first of the many disagreements in ELDO, followed later by the British reluctance to be further involved in the programme. It must have seemed odd to the remaining five members of the organisation to see the founder members, those who had pushed so hard for the organisation, to fall out in this fashion, and to lose enthusiasm for their own project.

A brief prepared for the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, by the DEA on ELDO noted: ‘. the ELDO programme in general and our own proposed satellite launcher and satellite development programme are of low economic priority and cannot be justified on economic grounds.’ And on the ELDO B launcher proposal: ‘. For much less money we could do more work than we do now in a field which is of direct concern to us and where we can make new technological contributions’. But these fields never seem to be specified in any of the documents.

So what proportion of the space budget was taken up by ELDO? A policy paper written in 1966 estimated that Britain would spend £20.65 million on space that year, of which ELDO’s share would be £13.5 million, or more than 65%. Black Arrow, on the other hand, would come to around £1.7 million – or 8%!

Was the space budget exorbitant? Another paper of the period gives these figures for the estimated expenditure on civil Research and Development for 1966-19672:

£ millions


Space programme



Atomic Energy Authority



Research councils*






Ministry of Technology**



Other Government departments



Post Office*



*excluding space ** excluding atomic energy

Take ELDO out of the space programme, and its fraction of research and development expenditure shrinks to around 2%!

All the documents disparage ELDO A (Europa) on the grounds of ‘obsolescence’. This is a half-truth. What, in this context, does obsolete mean? The purpose of a satellite launcher is to launch satellites, and ELDO A would be a very good medium-sized launcher in the 1960s. Technically, the US was moving forward into solid fuel boosters and liquid hydrogen, but essentially, the technology has changed hardly at all in the half century from the advent of Atlas and Blue Streak. Launchers have grown bigger, but the latest designs would be quite comprehensible to the pioneers of the 1930s. The problem was rather different: there was little European demand for a medium-sized satellite launcher. Given in addition its increased cost compared with US launchers, then demand would indeed appear to be minimal (although it would have been as effective or more effective than the Delta rocket used to launch the UK Skynet satellites – had it been available on time).

ELDO B was written off by the same officials as still being smaller than some US launchers (Titan III). They commented: ‘Even the advanced ELDO B launcher cannot be expected to be technically or financially competitive with American launchers’. This again misses the point, which is whether it would have been capable of launching the geosynchronous satellites for which there would be a market, and a market that exists today and is growing ever greater.

It is interesting to read Tony Benn’s (Minister of Technology, 1966-1970) summation of ELDO, published in the New Scientist magazine in February 1971:

… The foundation of ELDO was, in fact, the first offloading by Britain of a high technology budget that its own industrial weakness no longer permitted it to carry. France identified it as a chance to build an alternative space programme to the American one, and de Gaulle dreamed of carrying the French language and culture to French Africa and possibly even to Quebec. Germany saw it as a first foot back into rocketry which helped to compensate for the loss of Werner von Braun, and Italy as a place for her in the big league plus contracts for Fiat. For European ministers of science it offered new ways to win a national reputation that would be popular with a public for whom the technological unity of Europe was slowly beginning to be real, even if only through the televising of the European cup and the Eurovision Song Contest.

And further: ‘ELDO… suffered from the fatal defect of being a hardware system in search of an application which was in any way economic.’

The counter argument was put forward by the Ministry of Aviation that unless the UK or Europe had its own capability, the US would have had a monopoly. Without Ariane, and without the availability of Russian launchers from the early 1990s, that would have been true. It is also probable that despite the wishful thinking of civil servants, the US would have charged a very great deal for launching satellites that would have competed with its own in the lucrative communications market. Indeed, it could have charged almost what it wanted to, or alternatively have retained its monopoly in the communications satellite area.

Lest it should seem that all the preceding quotes have been taken out of context, or that the quotes have been carefully selected to provide a one-sided argument, it is well nigh impossible to find any quotes in favour of pushing forward any space programme outside the Ministry of Aviation and the Foreign Office – and indeed after around 1966 even the Ministry of Aviation, or Technology as it had become, accepted the demise of the British effort. The Foreign Office was not concerned with the technology at all – merely the political implications of withdrawal from present programmes with regard to Europe and Australia.

Be all that as it may, British withdrawal, painful though it was, took place. The British experience with ELDO bit deep: so much so that the UK has never again become involved with any launcher programme. Even the European Space Agency, ESA, was described by one minister in the 1980s, Kenneth Clark, as ‘an exclusive club designed principally to put a Frenchman into space’. Such wilful disparaging of one of the most commercially and scientifically successful space agencies is astonishing. The same minister also refused to fund the innovative British Hotol design, whilst at the same time declaring the engine design classified, and thus preventing development elsewhere.

Could commercial firms have carried on some of these projects? The companies involved in aerospace in 1971 were Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, successor to de Havilland, which itself had been swallowed up in British Aerospace, Rolls Royce and Saunders Roe, who by then were part of Westland (at this period they were working under the name of the British Hovercraft Corporation. Like too many of the Saunders Roe programmes, hovercraft seemed initially to have had a bright future but have turned out to be a dead end).

Saunders Roe, even as part of a larger organisation, were too small to be able to afford the capital investment needed for developing satellite launchers. Rolls Royce and British Aerospace could have worked together on further developments of Blue Streak, but this was only part of the problem.

As well as the rocket, launch sites are needed. Woomera was not suited to satellite launching, and, by this time, was near closure. Kourou, in French Guiana, did, however, have a Blue Streak launch pad. Ariane 1 was not launched until 1979; Ariane 4, which has been the mainstay of ArianeSpace, not until 1988. How prepared the French would have been to make the launch site available is, however, another question. In addition, NASA in its post-Apollo phase, was promoting the Shuttle very forcefully as the answer to satellite launching, with the re-usable nature of the craft. Indeed, it is arguable that part of the success of Ariane was the Challenger disaster of 1987, since by then NASA had almost halted its programme of satellites on conventional launchers.

However, Ariane was a more powerful launcher than all but the most sophisticated Blue Streak derivatives. Ariane 1 was optimised to put 1,750 kg into a Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO). A Blue Streak/Black Arrow combination, even supplemented with strap-on boosters or liquid hydrogen stages, would not have matched that performance. Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 are even more powerful.

But even if the three firms had joined forces to produce a launcher, who would have been their customers? The UK Government has launched some military communications satellites under the Skynet programme, but not on a scale large enough to justify such investment. The European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), ELDO’s sister organisation, and other European countries might have been customers, but the market in 1971 was still very thin.

There is also a further political dimension: the UK aircraft industry was not in good shape in the 1970s; indeed, it was nationalised by the Wilson Government

during that period. It was certainly in no position to undertake large speculative projects of this sort.


This book would not have been possible without the help given by very many people.

Ed Andrews, the Central Services Manager of Westcott Venture Park.

Alan Bond of Reaction Engines.

Roy Dommett CBE, of the RAE and DERA, who was involved in much of the work detailed in this book, and whose sharp and percipient comments have thrown light on many of the ideas outlined.

Wayne Cocroft of English Heritage for his help and assistance with the Spadeadam and High Down sites.

Andy Davis for the photograph of the VC 10 as a Skybolt carrier.

Guy Finch for his encyclopaedic knowledge of aircraft, Blue Streak and the rocket interceptors.

Professor Edward James, who set me on this search following an interview when I applied for his MA course in Science Fiction at Reading University, and after reading his book Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, where he notes that Dan Dare ‘gave a whole generation of British boys… a totally false impression that Britain was going to dominate the space race.’

James Macfarlane of Airborne Engineering Limited, Westcott Venture Park.

Doug Millard, Space Curator at the Science Museum, who with great kindness started me on my research by allowing me access to his filing cabinet. He also was the first to put the idea in my mind: why do you want to launch satellites anyway?

Kate Pyne, official historian at the AWRE, Aldermaston, for answering blundering questions with tact.

Dave Wright, who has pursued Blue Streak with dogged perseverance, and without those endless telephone conversations this book would not have been possible. Many of the ideas outlined in this book originated from him. Thanks too to his wife Lesley for her patience!

The staff at the Public Record Office in Kew, the ELDO section of the Historical Archives of the European Union at the European University Institute of Florence, the Coventry History Centre and the Science Museum at Wroughton.

Thanks also to David Cheek of GKN Aerospace, Susan Kinsella, Tom Lukeman, Sean Potter and Barrie Ricketson, for their help and suggestions. Any mistakes are entirely due to me.

Images and copyright:

Thanks to GKN Aerospace for supplying images. Also images from the Defence Evaluation Research Agency: © (British) Crown Copyright, 2000 Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, reproduced with the permission of the Controller Her (Britannic) Majesty’s Stationery Office.

The image of the ‘underground launcher’ on page 122 is by kind permission of English Heritage, and is copyright English Heritage. It was drawn by Allan Adams, and I am grateful to Wayne Cocroft for his help in obtaining the image.

A Solid Fuel Design?

A report from Westcott dated December 1956 considered the ‘Application of Solid Propellant Motors to Medium Range Ballistic Missiles’8. Its summary states that

The studies are based chiefly on the studies of motors with plastic propellant charges of maximum length 25 ft and maximum diameter 3 ft 6 in. These maximum dimensions are considered feasible with radial burning plastic propellant charges… and are within the pressing limits of facilities already planned and requested… For a missile carrying a 4,000lb warhead, fitted with clustered motor units, the ranges calculated for single stage and two stage propulsion are respectively up to 1,300 miles and up to 2,500 miles.

Not surprisingly, given the lack of experience with solid fuel motors of such size, the report is somewhat lacking in precise detail, but instead takes various arrangements of mo tors and makes an estimate (or guess) at the range obtainable from each one.

The individual motors shown in the sketches are also very generic: other than being 3 ft 6 inches diameter and 29 ft 2 inches long, there is very little information about them. Quite why these particular dimensions have been chosen is not obvious.

A Solid Fuel Design?It is clear that the option of using solid fuel motors was not taken very seriously – there is no mention of them at all in policy papers, and it is quite possible that the study was undertaken so as to be seen to have covered all possibilities. It does not appear from the report that there had been wide consultation with those who were actually producing solid fuel motors – the limits imposed on the dimensions seem to have been rather arbitrary. Certainly there is no discussion of the degree of practicality of building motors as large as these or larger.

The payload used in the calculations is given as 4,000 lb –

Figure 36. Proposed solid fuel missile. given the later reduction in the

weight of the payload it might have

been worth revisiting some of these ideas. Unfortunately the idea of a liquid fuel missile had become too firmly entrenched by then – which is, in many ways, a pity. For comparison, let us look at the American solid fuel Minuteman missile.

The US Air Force began looking at the possibility of solid fuel motors in August 1957, in response to the Navy’s Polaris missile. The task was given to Colonel Edward Hall, who calculated that ‘the ICBM version of Weapon System Q [i. e., Minuteman] would be a three-stage, solid-fuel missile approximately 65 feet long, weighing approximately 65,000 pounds, and developing approximately 100,000-120,000 pounds of thrust at launch’. The missile would be stored vertically in underground silos and ‘would accelerate so quickly that it could fly
through its exhaust flames and not be significantly damaged’. The system was approved in February 1958 and the first successful launch was in February 1961, when the re-entry vehicle travelled a distance of 4,600 miles. Its design range was 5,500 miles. The first stage was 65 inches in diameter and 22 ft high; the whole missile was 55 ft tall – in other words, shorter than Blue Streak, almost half the diameter, a third of the weight, and it could deliver its payload near three times as far! The warhead yield was 1.2 MT and the re-entry vehicle plus warhead would have weighed in the or der of 1,000 lb.

Подпись: Figure 37. A distinctly unconvincing attempt at a solid fuel design, with seven rocket motors. Even though the US was considerably ahead in the design of solid fuel motors, developing a British solid-fuelled missile would have been quite feasible, and probably no more expensive or time consuming than developing Blue Streak, but the idea was taken no further.

The outlines of the design were now beginning to emerge: liquid fuelled, two motors, all up weight approaching 200,000 lb. It took some time for a more detailed design to emerge, however. Thus Joe Lyons of the RAE wrote in February 1956:

It had been agreed in principle that it would be a thin steel missile with propulsion at rear and the warhead at front. Titanium had been considered for the skin but was not promising. A cylindrical structure of about 10 ft diameter and length of about 60-70 ft was generally agreed. It was probable that fins would be fitted but this was not completely certain yet.9

Even the use of the NAA motors was still to be debated. A note from Serby, DG/GW (Director General/Guided Weapons at the Ministry of Supply) in March 1956 reads:

Should the missile be designed as a single-stage weapon using 2 x 135,0001b NAA motors since the AUW (All Up Weight) could be reduced and the requirement for thrust control could be eliminated if a number of smaller motors could be used?10

The thrust control issue arose from the use of large rocket motors: towards the end of the flight, when almost all the fuel was consumed, accelerations became unacceptably high. Thus there was a proposal to throttle back the motors: not an easy task.

The firms detailed to do the work had been decided back in 1955.

It is proposed that Messrs de Havilland should be responsible for the airframe and general weapon co-ordination, Rolls Royce for the rocket motor and fuel system design, Sperry for the internal inertial ‘guidance’ and autopilot, Marconi for the ground radar launching system.

Whilst relationships between the firms and the Ministry were usually good, this was not always the case with de Havilland, particularly in the early days. There were considerable cost overruns at a time of financial stringency, and at one stage the Ministry went as far as sending in Cooper Brothers, a firm of accountants from the City, to check the costs and management. And with reference to talks with Rolls Royce in 1958, the Ministry noted that

they share the view with everybody else that de Havilland can be extremely difficult and very unsatisfactory, but have no complaints to make over their immediate contacts in this particular connection. Indeed, at the working technical levels, they have a very high opinion of the de Havilland staff, but, here again, they fully share the general view about de Havilland top level people.11

To be fair, we are not given de Havilland’s views on Rolls Royce!

The debate as to the missile structure had been effectively settled by April 1957, when Wing Commander Bonser of the Ministry of Supply noted that:

A list of equipment required for the building of the ‘Blue Streak’ airframe has been submitted by the De Havilland Aircraft Division…

The equipment is required to reproduce that used by Convair for the production of the same type of pressurised structure for an American Ballistic missile. This type of structure is unique to Ballistic missiles and consists of a series of rings in stainless steel and seam welded. These rings are then welded together and fitted with stainless steel domes to form the main tanks for the liquid oxygen and kerosene. The resulting structure is of such strength that it must be kept under pressure in order to retain shape.

This very light structure and the method of production has been developed by Convairs over a very long period (5-10 years) and to save time is to be copied by De Havilland. So important is this feature of the ‘Blue Streak’ programme that it has been decided that the British missile shall have the same diameter as the American one. This means that the tools, jigs and fixtures can be reproduced with the minimum loss of time – a most important feature as the first structure is required by mid-1957.

It might be thought that work could now go ahead on Blue Streak without any further problems, but with Blue Streak that was never the case. There was constant opposition to the project throughout its life within Whitehall. This surfaces most clearly in the Treasury, but other ministries such as the Admiralty, were also against the project, as we shall see. Indeed, even the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry whose job it was to develop Blue Streak, was against the project. Sir Roger Makins of the Treasury, one of the ‘Great and the Good’ of the 1950s and 1960s, reported a conversation thus:

Sir Cyril Musgrave, of the Ministry of Supply, came to see me on 14th November [1956], to talk about the Medium Range Ballistic Missile. His primary objective was to talk about Spadeadam, and when I told him the Chancellor had made a decision, the main point of his visit was lost. However, he did say that the Ministry of Supply was having great difficulty in holding De Havillands at arm’s length, particularly now that the American Government had approved the contract with Convair.

I explained that the Chancellor had felt it desirable to hold up his approval of this transaction until he had an opportunity of considering the future of the M. R.B. M. in relation to the rest of the air weapons programme. On this, I believed that the Ministry of Defence were on the point of producing a paper. I would certainly do what I could to accelerate both its appearance and consideration. Sir Cyril Musgrave turned out to be a bitter opponent of the M. R.B. M. and a passionate advocate of the supersonic bomber [the Avro 730, cancelled in 1957]. He evidently relished locking horns with the Ministry of Defence on this subject.12

The transaction being referred to was the licencing by de Havilland of the technique for building the tanks – the decision had been taken to use the same construction method as the Atlas missile, with its ‘balloon’ stainless steel tanks. The passage about Musgrave is, on the face of it, extraordinary – the Ministry of Supply was simply a procurement ministry, and was not supposed to decide military policy. It demonstrates how blurred the lines can become at times.

The Chancellor certainly did hold up his approval. That conversation was in November 1956, the proposal had been made and put to the Americans; the Americans had agreed, but still the Treasury held out. The proposal reached the Chancellor himself (‘Rab’ Butler) on 4 July 1957 – eight months later. The memo began:

This is a proposal that de Havillands should buy from the American Company Convair some ‘knowhow’ for the development and production of a British intermediate range ballistic missile (Blue Streak). This knowhow will cost $700,000.

There is no doubt that if the Blue Streak project were finally agreed there would be no question of not approving this purchase. But although Ministers have taken decisions which go a long way towards the final decision to go ahead with Blue Streak, that final decision has not yet been taken.. ,13

Butler’s response was scrawled beneath in pencil:

A Solid Fuel Design?No action. Anything could happen in this field in the next 6 weeks. America might offer us the knowhow. Russia might agree to a halt in atomic tests. Everyone might agree that we should not make more fissile material. We might decide not to make a British missile.14

Подпись: Figure 38. Blue Streak's tanks - made of very thin stainless steel, they had to be kept pressurised to maintain their structural integrity. They were made from lengthi of .stainless steel rolled around into a cylinder and welded. The 48 stringers on the kerosene tank can also be seen quite clearly.

This is misleading in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to begin. A halt in atomic tests would not make the slightest difference in the military need for a missile, nor would the amount of fissile material. The Americans might have given the UK the ‘know-how’ free (unlikely, and that avenue had probably been explored already), but not all the $700,000 was just for ‘know-how’ – it included specialised welding equipment for the tank sections.

In correspondence which took place last summer, the Financial Secretary agreed that work on the MRBM should go on but asked that expenditure and commitments should be kept down to the minimum essential until the United States Government had replied to an approach regarding the sharing of information on this and other defence R & D subjects. As far as I can gather the prospects of obtaining substantial US Government help in this field are not at all encouraging. Further, they are least encouraging in the spheres of atomic weapons, of which the M. R.B. M. is, of course, one. It is not necessary here to discuss the rights and wrongs of this state of affairs as between the US Government and her most important ally; but it is worth considering what courses of action are open to us:

(i) we can drop the whole MRBM project. This would mean either that we ceased to contribute actively ourselves to the strategic deterrent or that we did so only during the lifetime, now relatively restricted, of the bomber.

(ii) we can proceed as at present, buying (with the US government’s permission) what American information we can, but in the main relying on our own brains and effort (but knowing we are far behind both the Americans and the Russians in the ballistic missile field).

(iii) we can try to regain as much lost ground as possible, by pressing the Americans, by every means within our power, to let us have the information, or the weapons, or both, that we require.15

This is an extraordinary memo. First, it recognises the dilemma that would face Whitehall for the next four years: no missile, no deterrent. In practice, the Treasury would have been more than happy to abandon the deterrent – in the mid-1960s, it thought it had succeeded. (The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence were described by the Treasury at one stage as the ‘last two remaining retentionist [sic] departments’. It was the politicians of the Wilson Government that wanted to keep British nuclear weapons.) The other extraordinary feature is the way the Americans are regarded as some kind of fairy godmother. There were no ‘rights or wrongs’ in this case: there had been some controversy with regard to nuclear information in the 1940s, but that certainly did not apply to missiles. The word ‘sponging’ comes to mind on reading memos such as these.

Part of the uncertainty with regard to the MRBM was due to the uncertainties in British defence policy, and Suez had a part to play in this, as Sir Cyril Musgrave noted in November 1956:

I believe, however, that Suez has once more put the Policy Review into the background and it becomes necessary to decide immediately whether we should authorise de Havillands to sign the agreement or whether we should reveal by our continued refusal that the future of the project is in doubt. This means revealing the matter to the Americans.16

The outcome of the Suez debacle was a further rethink in defence policy under the new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who appointed Duncan Sandys as the new Minister of Defence with increased powers. Part of Sandys’ policy rested on missiles and nuclear weapons, which should have made Blue Streak more secure – although, paradoxically, this proved not to be the case.

The licencing of the motor proved to be much more straightforward. Rocketdyne had been set up by North American Aviation (NAA) soon after the war to build rocket motors. There were links between NAA and Rolls Royce dating back to the Second World War, when NAA had developed the Mustang fighter. The Mustang had originally been powered by an Allison engine, which was replaced by the Packard V-1650 – a variant of the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Lord Hives of Rolls Royce and NAA President ‘Dutch’ Kindelberger were thus old friends, and the agreement for Rolls Royce to licence the Rocketdyne S-3 rocket motor was relatively informal (Rolls Royce had difficulty locating the contract in the early 1960s when ELDO was being formed; Val Cleaver, the chief rocket engineer at Rolls Royce, said that Hives and Kindelberger had probably signed the deal ‘on the shake of a hand’). The agreement provided ‘for the exchange of Technical Information on Rocket engines over a period of 10 years on payment by Rolls Royce to NAA of a capitol sum of $500,000 and an annual payment of $100 000.’17

Rolls Royce initially copied the S3 design and then refined and anglicised it, so that the motor could be built with purely British components. The S3 was being developed for the American Thor and Jupiter missiles, having evolved from the original V2 design via the Navaho missile. This motor burned kerosene and liquid oxygen, standard for the time, but a combination that might, in retrospect, have appeared out of date by 1960, although this is still a matter of controversy. A copy of the design, designated the RZ 1, was built by Rolls Royce and tested at Westcott. From this, the anglicised design, the RZ 2, evolved.


Two stage. Launched 30 November 1962 at 02:03. Apogee 358 miles.

BK18 was the second proving vehicle for the Gamma 301 engine and the transistor control system. The head was a 12.5o semi-angle doorstops cone, 2 inch nose radius and with a semi-elliptical base, and was fitted with accelerometers and rate gyroscopes for investigation of re-entry dynamics. No provision was made to measure re-entry heating.

Propulsion was once again excellent; a re-entry velocity of 15,750 ft/second was attained at 200,000 ft. The transistor control system was proved for the second time. The guidance telescope tracking problem was again evident, and the guidance radar information was used throughout flight for guidance and proved most satisfactory. All the vehicle systems were successful. The second stage flare was ignited in vacuo and proved to be a useful acquisition aid for sighting ground instruments. Ground instrumentation was successfully operated and re-entry instruments data was obtained. The head tape recorder was recovered and all the data was successfully recorded, from which the dynamic behaviour of the head during re-entry was determined.


The strongest political personality that looms out of this story is Duncan Sandys, who made an early reputation for himself during the Second World War in the context of German guided weapons. He was an effective if abrasive Minister, being Minister of Supply in the early 1950s, then Minister of Housing and Local Government. In that context he was also responsible for setting up the Civic Trust. In 1957 he was appointed Minister of Defence by Macmillan, and was arguably the first to get a grip on the Ministry with its divergent Service interests. Before Sandys there had been a rapid turnover of Ministers, who did not have time to stamp their authority on their Ministry. Certainly, he retains a considerable notoriety among aircraft buffs for the 1957 Defence White Paper, with its unspoken ‘no more manned aircraft’ philosophy. Given the speed of the White Paper, he was probably implementing policy that had been already laid out by others, principally Sir Frederick Brundrett, Chief Government Scientist at the Ministry, and also Chairman of the influential DRPC. A further motive behind Sandys’ appointment was to cut the cost of defence in general, and he was not a man to be easily deflected from his objectives. Certainly, he reduced defence expenditure to 7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at which level it broadly remained for many years. Part of the increased dependence on nuclear weapons was to cut the cost of conventional defence.

Sandys started the ball rolling for Blue Streak whilst Minister of Supply, and he remained a vigorous proponent whilst at Defence. At the end of 1959, he was moved to a new Ministry, Aviation, which took over many of the functions of Supply. It has been asserted that Macmillan appointed him to this post to start the rationalisation of the aircraft industry. It also cleared the way for a new Minister of Defence, Harold Watkinson, to cancel Blue Streak. Watkinson’s ministerial career was relatively short. It is quite likely that the fallout from the cancellation led to Sandys’ sideways move to Colonial Secretary, although this too was a post that would require a man not afraid to take unpopular decisions. As Aviation Minister he was succeeded by Peter Thorneycroft, who had previously resigned from the Macmillan Government as Chancellor over the level of government spending, and it was Thorneycroft who began the Anglo-French talks which later led to ELDO. Thorneycroft later became Minister of Defence.

The Wilson Government, despite its rhetoric of the ‘white heat of technological revolution’ cannot be seen as a government that pushed British technology. Beset by economic problems, research and development (R & D) is an easy target for politicians looking for economies. Few in his Government were scientists or technologists: to make Frank Cousins, a trade union boss of the old school, Minister of Technology was no doubt politically astute, but can be seen as typical of the political cynicism with which Wilson operated. He was succeeded as Minister of Technology by Tony Benn, who seems to have had enthusiasm for but not a great deal of understanding of modern technology.

Crossman, another important Minister of the Wilson Government, writing in his diaries, bemoans time spent in cabinet discussing Black Arrow. Technology had no appeal for him either. But how was Britain going to survive in the latter part of the twentieth century without exploiting advanced technology?

The Wilson Government from 1964 onwards brought a number of economists in to evaluate programmes on a cost-benefit analysis basis (Wilson himself had been an economics don at Oxford). The problem was that research programmes were analysed for their economic benefits, and this is a difficult if not impossible task. One of the points of starting research programmes is that their outcome is not always predictable, since the object of research is to look at matters that are uncertain or unknown.

Surprisingly, the greatest number of files on Blue Streak in the Public Record Office relate to the Foreign Office. This is as a consequence of the attempt to convert Blue Streak into a European satellite launcher. Hence it is not surprising that the Foreign Office were firm advocates of the project irrespective of any technical or economic merit.

The US comes into the picture indirectly, since, with its vastly greater resources, it had covered most of the ground in space and rocket technology before the UK. The warheads that would equip Blue Steel and would have equipped Blue Streak were of American origin, as was a good deal of the technology that went into Blue Streak. Competing with the US in space research or satellite launching was also often thought by those in Government to be pointless, given the progress that had been made in America and the resources available to the American Government. The closeness of the US and UK defence, intelligence and research establishments also often meant that the UK concentrated on certain rather narrow areas (for example, re-entry research) so as to have useful information to trade with the US. (The US would never give information away for nothing, but it would exchange information on a fairly generous basis.)

A Liquid Hydrogen Stage

One way round this limitation was to use a high energy upper stage, and so at the same meeting in December 1960 Saunders Roe were asked to consider a liquid hydrogen third stage with 4,500 lb of propellants. The brochure they produced was up to their usual high standard, laying down the problems clearly, and describing the solutions equally clearly. This design and that of RPE has been described in the chapter on rocket motors, so no more about the designs themselves need be said here. The cost of developing a liquid hydrogen stage for the BSSLV was put at between £5.5 million and £7 million.

Saunders Roe did hedge their bets somewhat at the instigation of RAE: the design might have been tailored to the BSSLV, but it was also drawn up with the possibility of mounting it on the French second stage which was now being negotiated. The prolonged European negotiations were slowly getting somewhere, although it would take many more months before any clear shape would emerge. At a meeting in March 1961 at Cowes, the RAE had to tell Saunders Roe that it had now been definitely decided that the second stage would be of French design. Saunders Roe and Bristol Siddeley were to continue with the design for the third stage, with particular emphasis on liquid hydrogen. At the same meeting, Saunders Roe reported that manufacture of the second stage tank structural test specimen was about 25% complete. Although it might seem that the work on the HTP second stage had been wasted, it carried through first to the 54-inch Black Knight and then to the second stage of Black Arrow.

In a further Design Study Progress meeting in July, the chairman noted that the situation was very vague (which, given the ELDO negotiations, was probably an understatement). He hoped that Saunders Roe would play a part in any future design studies and that they would continue to maintain a design study team. At the same meeting, Saunders Roe presented a brochure for the HTP/kerosene third stage, which would involve both high thrust and low thrust stages; a 2V hour period of low thrust was mentioned, and in addition, there was a further report on their liquid hydrogen stage. But this is effectively where work on Black Prince, or BBSLV, comes to a halt. Instead, attention turned to ELDO and Europa.

Подпись: Figure 60. Blue Streak with Black Arrow upper stages (left), compared with Europa (right). It might be thought that the creation of ELDO would have finally put the lid on any further thoughts of a BSSLV, but RAE was still doing its best to resurrect the idea. Throughout 1963 and 1964, meetings were being held between RAE and Saunders Roe on ‘medium energy upper stages’. This is a euphemism for HTP stages. In a meeting in June 1963, the chairman of the Working Party, H. G.R. Robinson of RAE, stated that ‘a study of upper stages for Blue Streak were needed as a back-up of the system studies for the E. L.D. O. launching vehicle, in case the latter was not available, or unsuitable’10.

The RAE was considering designs for circular equatorial orbits of either 13,740 km or 36,060 km height – i. e. 12-hour or 24-hour orbits. This would need an apogee motor for a final stage. In a follow up meeting, Saunders Roe were told that they would be given design contracts for ‘An Investigation on British End Stages in combination with the Blue Streak Launcher Vehicle’, and ‘in view of possible ELDO
involvement, RAE recommended that the proposed body diameter be 2 metres (i. e. 6.5 ft.)’11. Although Saunders Roe duly undertook the design studies as requested, they never went past the paper stage. On the other hand, the link to what would become Black Arrow becomes more obvious.

During 1963 and 1964, the design for what would become Black Arrow was evolving. Amongst all the imperial measurements of feet, inches and pounds is a first stage diameter of 2.0 m! This mixing of units not only seems odd but also would seem to have no connection with Blue Streak. However, the ELDO vehicle was being designed with a French second stage, which was also to be of

2.0 m diameter. The idea was then that if the Blue Streak interstage were to be suitable for the French vehicle, it would also be suitable for Black Arrow. In the event, there was a problem, since the Blue Streak side of the interface was much wider; the French stage was to have a skirt that would mate with the lower stage. So this odd metric feature was included in case, as seemed possible in 1963, ELDO did not go ahead, or, for whatever reason, was not a success.

Figure 60 shows a comparison between Blue Streak with Black Arrow mounted on top and Europa. The 54-inch diameter of the payload shrouds may have been a problem for a conventional satellite, although not for a communications satellite, where the payload might be quite small. The other problem was that Blue Streak might have been struggling to lift the 40,000 lb weight of Black Arrow.

But the design for Europa did materialise, and it might then be thought that all further suggestions for a solely British launcher might have died forever. However, there was one enthusiast for space exploration in the House of Commons, the Conservative MP Neil Marten, who asked a Question in the House about the possibilities of the Blue Streak/Black Knight combination. This might well have been a put up job, but it gave RAE the excuse to work the figures for a Ministerial reply, a task they set to work on with eagerness.12

This was in March 1968, when Europa, despite problems with its second stage, still looked viable. Two versions were considered. The first employed the first stage only of Black Arrow, with four of the eight chambers and one of the turbopumps deleted. The payload estimate was for 1,800 lb in a 200 NM polar orbit (750 kg at 500 km); however, extended nozzles on the motors (as in the Black Arrow second stage) resulted in an improvement on this of ‘some 20% to 25% giving a performance appreciably greater than ELDO A’. Adding the third stage of Black Arrow – the Waxwing motor – would increase payloads ‘by about
200 kg’. This would put the maximum payload up to 1,100 kg. Development costs were put at £1 million, and the unit cost per vehicle at £1.5 million.

A follow-up note gives some interesting comparisons between ELDO A and the Blue Streak/Black Arrow combination.

Black Arrow




2nd Stage

3rd Stage

Vacuo S. I.




Burnable Props. (kg)




Mass of stage (kg)




Structural efficiency




Ideal velocity*




Ideal velocity**




* from stage itself (m/s) ** from stage when used as part of multi-stage vehicle

This shows the potential of a Blue Streak/Black Arrow combination. It also shows up very clearly the structural efficiency of Black Arrow as opposed to the ELDO second stage.

Equally interesting are the costings, for what they are worth:

Подпись: £100k £400k £100k £30k £80k £150k £960k - say £1000k HSD for work on Blue Streak:

Rolls Royce for work on Black Arrow motor: Westland – Black Arrow modifications Motor bays

Ground equipment modifications:

Modifications at Woomera say Total

[sic – total is actually £860k!]

Cost of first flight vehicle: Blue Streak £1000k

Black Arrow £400k – say £1500k total.

To carry out the modifications and launch one test vehicle for £2Уг million seems a touch on the optimistic side.

There were, of course certain snags. To do this in parallel with Europa would have been politically unacceptable (but it would have been interesting to see the reactions if the Blue Streak/Black Arrow combination had reached orbit by 1970). There was also the question of payload – but the Perigee Apogee System (PAS) design could have been adapted from ELDO to give a geostationary capability.

At around the same time, Saunders Roe produced their own brochure for a Blue Streak/Black Arrow combination. The skirt to the engine bay was flared out to match the Europa interface, as originally intended. They went through all the permutations with their usual thoroughness, considering eight chamber and four chamber variants, two – and three-stage versions, and also reviving the liquid hydrogen third stage possibility. Their payload calculations were on the optimistic side, however, since they estimated that Blue Streak and Black Arrow together could put as much as 3,000 lb in low earth orbit, and even a few hundred pounds in a geosynchronous orbit.

It is interesting to note that Saunders Roe were obviously thinking of communications satellites as an application for the launcher. Under the payload shroud the satellite is sketched with two solid fuel motors: one which would convert a low Earth circular orbit into a highly elliptical geotransfer orbit, and the second of which would then act as an apogee motor to convert the elliptical orbit into a circular geosynchronous orbit. In this context, it should be noted also that although the US was prepared to sell launchers to other countries, this offer was subject to considerable restriction and would almost certainly not have included commercial communications satellites. Britain’s military communications satellites, Skynet, were launched by the US only as a result of the close military ties between the two countries. Thus Britain might have been able to produce a low cost launcher for communication satellites – but not a very powerful one.

However, there was a considerable divergence in views between the establishments and the Ministries. The RAE and its associated establishments were constantly producing ideas based on Blue Streak, yet it was obvious that the Ministry of Technology, as the Ministry of Aviation had then become, was firmly set against any idea of a British-based launcher, and certainly, as already mentioned, it would have been politically unacceptable whilst ELDO was still in existence. It would also have been financially unacceptable as far as the Treasury was concerned.

The Flights

R0 – 28 June 1968

R0 was launched on a trajectory to the north west, towards Talgarno in Western Australia. The first two stages were live; the third stage was inert.

The launch procedure was that the vehicle was held down on the launch pad by a ball and claw mechanism, the engines were started, and when full thrust was reached, which took around 4 seconds, the vehicle was released. But as soon as it cleared the pad, the vehicle immediately developed a large rolling oscillation. The cause of the fault was an open circuit in the feedback loop that controlled one of the pairs of motors: a wire had probably broken.

At about 64 seconds into the flight, the control system could not cope and the vehicle tumbled. One of the payload fairings broke away, followed by the payload, then the Gamma 8 first stage motor stopped working. The vehicle was destroyed by ground command when it was at an altitude of 9,000 ft on its descent.

The response of the motor pair concerned was normal up to about 4.1 seconds after opening the first stage engine start valve, 0.5 seconds before the release jack was opened. Loss of the signal meant that the pair of motors concerned would swing to their full extent and back again on receiving a correction, instead of the small deflection needed to put the vehicle back on to its correct course.

The FlightsThis can be seen quite clearly in the film of the launch, where one of the set of rocket exhausts can be seen swinging from side to side. Figure 115 shows the vehicle a few seconds after lift-off, and one of the sets of exhausts can be clearly seen pointing to one side.

Eyewitness statements were taken from those who had been watching the flight.

One, by Ken Smith of RAE, reads as follows:

Ignition was seen to occur just after zero time, and the vehicle lifted off as expected a few seconds later. The ascent appeared normal, and the downrange pitch programme was clearly occurring. Just after the time count of 60 seconds, two or three glowing fragments were detached and fell away from the ascending vehicle.

Immediately afterwards, the clean flame pattern changed to an intense white smoky trail. The vehicle pitched violently, then appeared to recover to its original path, but the rate of ascent diminished. Then tumbling began; the vehicle turning slowly nose over tail several times and beginning to descend. The intercom call was made ‘vehicle descending’. The FSO announced that break-up would be initiate when the vehicle reached 9,000 ft on the descent. After a short interval, the vehicle still falling and tumbling, he announced break-up ‘NOW’. An instant later the vehicle disintegrated in a bright luminescent explosion. The loud sharp detonation was hard several seconds later.17


Liquid hydrogen is usually regarded as the most effective fuel for rockets. (In this section, it may be assumed that liquid oxygen is the oxidant. Fluorine is better theoretically, but is very hazardous environmentally, if from no other point of view.) This is because it has a very high exhaust velocity, or looking at it another way, a very high S. I. Thus the HTP/kerosene combination used in Black Knight and Black Arrow has an exhaust velocity in vacuum of around 2,500 m/s, whereas a well-designed liquid hydrogen motor can achieve exhaust velocities of around 4,400 m/s.

Using the rocket equation vfinal = vexhaust x ln(mass ratio), a liquid hydrogen stage of the same mass ratio would achieve a final velocity around 75% greater. On the other hand, the structural penalties of using liquid hydrogen means that the mass ratio would be significantly lower than an equivalent HTP stage. There are complications to liquid hydrogen vehicle design.

The first is that it is extremely cold boiling at -253 °C (20 K), and the second is that it has a very low density – 70 kg/m3 as opposed to around 1,300 kg/m3 for HTP.

The very low temperature of the liquid means the tank has to be well insulated, not only on the ground, but also from the heating effect of air friction

Hydrogenduring launch. Although effective insulation is

extremely light, this still adds weight to the vehicle. The low density means a large tank volume (almost 20 times that of HTP!), which again means extra weight.

Despite these drawbacks, liquid hydrogen is being used in an increasing number of vehicles, usually as an upper stage. The Ariane 5 central core uses liquid hydrogen, although it has the two large strap on solid fuel boosters to lift it to altitude. The Ariane 5 ECA (Evolution Cryotechnique type A) core has a burn time of 650 seconds.

RPE began work on hydrogen chambers in the late 1950s. At that time, they had no facilities for storing or producing liquid hydrogen, but instead used gaseous hydrogen pre-cooled by liquid nitrogen. A number of fully working Figure 13. A hydrogen/oxygen test chamber built chambers were built and fired at RPE Westcott. at Westcott (see Figure 14).

The larger chambers were capable of around 4,000 lb thrust: it would have been relatively easy to scale them up to, say, 8,000 lb, which would be well – suited to upper stages for Blue Streak, Black Knight, or Black Arrow. Such stages would have increased payloads very considerably. Whilst developing the chambers would not have been difficult, building a liquid hydrogen stage would have needed a considerable amount of development work and thus cost.

Based on this work, a variety of designs for launchers using Black Knight as the first stage were drawn up5. Some were pressure fed, others used turbopumps. Sketches of the designs can be seen below.

Calculations were carried out for a variety of configurations. Four different first stages were considered and three different second stages. A Cuckoo solid fuel motor was taken as third stage (calculations were also carried out for a two – stage version, without the Cuckoo motor, but only two of the combinations were able to put any payload into orbit at all). Payloads could no doubt be increased somewhat by a purpose-built third stage.


Figure 14. A hydrogen/oxygen chamber being test fired at the RPE, Westcott.



Подпись: VERSION l(o) LAUNCH MASS - 17,2.8 c LB LAU NCH THRU 5T - 2 l,feQ О LB. PAVLOAP (iQON.M.OR&rO- 8SL3 Подпись: VER5ION 2(a) LAUNCH MAS5 - 20,000LB. LAUNCH. THRUST- 2 5,00О LB. PAYLOAD (300N.M Oft&ll)—102.LB.


Figure 15. Various proposals for satellite launchers using Black Knight as the first stage and a liquid hydrogen/oxygen second stage.

Version 1 is the standard Black Knight, with a tank diameter of 3 ft and a sea – level thrust of 21,600 lb. Versions 2, 3 and 4 have a tank diameter of 4 ft 6 inches and sea-level thrusts of 25,000, 40,000 and 50,000 lb respectively. Version 3 would have a six chamber motor, and version 4 an eight chamber motor (effectively the first stage of Black Arrow). The lift-off weight was derived by assuming a thrust : mass ratio of 1.25.

Three variants of the second stage engine and propellant feed systems were examined:

(a) An engine having four chambers w ith turbo-pump feed of the propellants.

(b) An engine having four chambers with pressurised tank feed.

(c) A single chambered engine with pressurised tank feed.

The estimated payloads for each variant was calculated as being:


Launch mass





17,280 lb

88 lb

18 lb

56 lb


20,000 lb

102 lb

56 lb

76 lb


32,000 lb

324 lb

169 lb

248 lb


40,000 lb

377 lb

187 lb

289 lb

Versions 1 and 2 are really non-starters. Versions 3 and 4 are, on the face of it, fairly promising. However, the first stage of version 4 is in effect Black Arrow. Developing Black Arrow, where the intention was to keep the cost down by using as much Black Knight technology as possible, stretched the budget. Developing a liquid hydrogen stage, which would have been technically challenging, would have been much more expensive, and, as can be seen, payloads were not very significant. Some improvement could have been achieved with solid fuel strap-on Raven boosters, but not enough to make the design worthwhile.

Another major proposal was for a liquid hydrogen third stage for the Blue Streak satellite launcher and the Anglo-French launcher proposal. Although the Saunders Roe brochure for Black Prince is sometimes taken as the ‘definitive’ version of the Blue Streak launcher, there was, in reality, no such thing. Black Prince shows an HTP third stage, but the RAE realised that a liquid hydrogen stage could increase the payload considerably, and in this period, it was looking at 6- or 12-hour orbits for communications satellites. It is interesting to see the emphasis that this stage is given in the initial brochure for the Anglo-French launcher.

Two quite comprehensive studies were carried out: one by the RPE and one by Saunders Roe. Both go into considerable detail, including detailed analysis of the thermal cladding that would be needed for the liquid hydrogen tank.

The RPE produced the report for its design in April 1961.6 One of the more unusual features of the report is that it seems to be the only one written in this period (other than some ELDO reports) which uses entirely metric units. This leads to some slightly awkward conversions. For example, the diameter of the fuel tanks is 1.37 m… or 54 inches! This was obviously designed as a third stage for a Blue Streak/Black Knight combination. Indeed, the RAE had calculated the optimum mass for a liquid hydrogen third stage for the Blue Streak launcher to
be 2,270 kg, and the stage was designed around this weight, although later calculations showed the optimum mass as 3,630 kg.

There would be four motors in the stage, each of which was intended to produce a thrust of 9 kN (2,000 lb) with a chamber pressure of 50 N/cm2 (5 bar or 75 psi). One design being considered was what might be described as self- pressurising: a pressure-fed system, with the gases being used to pressurise the tanks coming from the fuel itself via a heat exchanger. The tank pressures could be relatively low given the low chamber pressure – 80 N/cm2 (8 bar or 90 psi)

Подпись: Figure 16. The RPE design for a liquid hydrogen/oxygen third stage to be used as part of a Blue Streak launcher. was the value being considered. This is quite an elegant solution, dispensing with the weight and complexity of a turbopump, yet avoiding the weight penalties of thicker tank walls and heavy gas bottles. The only drawback is that with the relatively low thrust, the burn time will be quite prolonged, which means carrying the unburned fuel up the Earth’s gravitational potential well as the vehicle gains in height.

The specification for the BSSLV third stage investigated by Saunders Roe required a motor which had:

(a) A thrust of between 3000lb and 4000lb (in vacuo) lasting for about 15 to 20 minutes.

(b) A thrust of between 40lb and 60lb (in vacuo) lasting for about 2Vi to 3Vi hours.

Communication satellites need to be in as high an orbit as possible, and the new vehicle could have put an appreciable payload in an orbit around 8,000 miles high. The usual method of doing this is the apogee motor, as discussed before. Bristol Siddeley came up with a design for a motor which used a motor with two large chambers and two small chambers. The large chambers would take the vehicle up to orbital height, but the small chambers would then be used to raise the orbit, with a

burn time of two or three hours.

Подпись: Figure 17. The BS 600 proposal with two large pump fed chambers and two small pressure fed chambers. To power such low thrust chambers with a pump was impractical. Pressurising the tanks usually meant carrying large and heavy gas bottles. Instead, the proposal was to use a heat exchanger to produce ‘hot’ (relative in this context) hydrogen gas. The gas could then be used to pressurise the tanks (a further heat exchanger would be needed for the liquid oxygen tank).

Rocket chambers are usually at quite high pressures – perhaps 40 times atmospheric pressure. At sea level, the escaping gases are opposed by atmospheric pressure, and higher chamber pressures make the motor more efficient. In the vacuum of space this does not apply. Chambers can be run at quite low pressures, and it was suggested in this case that a chamber pressure of only one atmosphere might well be feasible. This avoids the complication of pumps and the weight of gas bottles.

On the other hand, pumps are needed for the earlier boost phase, and unless they are discarded (which they were not), the vehicle is carrying unnecessary weight during the long cruise phase.


Bristol Siddeley had not done any work on liquid hydrogen motors up to now, and this proposal was marked in the Ministry of Supply file with a hand written comment:

Downey thinks we would be nuts to bring yet another firm into the space business.7

Downey was one of the senior officials in the Ministry of Aviation – the criticism is slightly unfair since Bristol Siddeley were already producing the Gamma motors for Black Knight.

Saunders Roe were given the task of designing the tank structure, and produced a substantial brochure8. In conjunction with RAE and Bristol Siddeley Engines, the parameters for the design were set:

7.0 Подпись: All Up Weight: Propellants: S.I.: lb approximately

5.0 lb approximately 400 lb. sec/lb

Two thrust phases:

(1) Boost: 3,500 lb for 8 minutes

(2) Cruise: 44 lb for 2 hours

It was estimated that such a design could put 900 lb in a 5,000 mile circular orbit or 600 lb into a 9,000 mile orbit.

Подпись: Figure 18. Saunders Roe’s proposal for a liquid hydrogen/oxygen stage.

In many ways this is an interesting idea, but on closer inspection has as many drawbacks as advantages. During the cruise phase, the large chambers and their plumbing are still attached to the vehicle, but as dead weight. Jettisoning them would make the proposal much more efficient but would not be easy. Secondly, a ‘slow burn’ is less efficient from a different point of view: as the vehicle climbs the gravity well as it moves further from the Earth, then it is taking unused fuel with it. From a gravitational potential energy point of view, it is better to expend the fuel in one big burst at the start of the orbit transfer – this does the opposite!

In the end, of course, all of this became moot. The third stage of Europa was to be developed by Germany, and the design chosen was very different. As a consequence of the ELDO B proposals put forward by the French in 1964, contracts were awarded for research into liquid hydrogen motors. Rolls Royce was one of the firms involved, and building on the work done at the RPE, began the design and testing of a motor called the RZ 20. The contract was shared with the French firm of SEPR (Societe d’Etudes pour la Propulsion par Reaction). Rolls Royce was to produce the thrust chamber part of the motor, with SEPR providing the turbopump assembly.

Val Cleaver, Chief Engineer of the Rocket department at Rolls Royce, wrote to the Ministry of Technology asking whether he could build the test stand at Spadeadam, which was a Ministry establishment, but being run as an agency by Rolls Royce.

JEP Dunning, Director of the RPE, protested that the test site should be built at Westcott, which already had extensive facilities for testing and firing liquid hydrogen chambers, although none of them had been as powerful as the proposed Rolls Royce chamber, seen below being test fired at Spadeadam (Figure 19). Cleaver pointed out that Rolls Royce were building the facility as a private venture. As he put it in a letter to the Ministry of Technology:

It was not possible for ELDO to commit any money for the necessary test facilities for these chambers. Therefore (and not without some difficulty, as you can probably imagine) I persuaded our Main Board to sanction the cost of a modest test cell for the purpose, as a P. V. Extension to the Components Test Area at Spadeadam.9

He went on to say:

We are most anxious to have the test facility at Spadeadam, for two very definite reasons:-

(a) Because if any larger operational programmes for hydrogen rocketry ever arise in the UK, it will be inevitable that their testing should be done at Spadeadam. It is highly desirable, therefore, to begin as we mean to go on, and start gaining early experience there as soon as possible.

(b) Because the team at Spadeadam desperately need some injection of new work, to raise morale and inspire some confidence in the future of the establishment (I am sure I do not need to emphasise to you the problems of this sort we have had since 1959, with the 1960 military cancellation and all ELDO’s subsequent ups and downs.)


Figure 19. Rolls Royce RZ 20 hydrogen motor being test fired at Spadeadam.

Given that it was a private venture, the costs were substantial: £54,000 for the construction costs, £15,000 for two liquid hydrogen road trailers, and £5,000 for the chamber itself, making a total of £74,000 (a contingency figure of approximately 10% was added to the estimate to bring it up to £81,000).

In the end, two firings, each of ten seconds duration, were achieved before the programme ran out of money. The total cost of the programme was £250,000.