One of the ironies of the Blue Streak saga is that the UK spent a very considerable sum on its development and on the Europa satellite launcher as part of ELDO, sums of the order of £200 million at 1950s/1960s prices, with absolutely nothing to show for it at the end of it all.

However, over a period of around 15 years from 1957 onwards, designs and proposals for an indigenous satellite launcher based on Blue Streak came and went. The design which most nearly came to fruition was known inelegantly in official files as the Blue Streak Satellite Launch Vehicle, or BSSLV for short. This chapter looks at the various designs proposed over the years. Not surprisingly, since Blue Streak, Black Knight and Black Arrow were the only liquid fuel ballistic rockets being developed by the UK, most of the designs tended to revolve around these vehicles, but in addition liquid hydrogen stages were often proposed. Alternative HTP designs could have been produced from de Havilland’s Spectre or Armstrong Siddeley’s Stentor motors, but were never considered by the RAE or Saunders Roe, where most of the designs originated.

The design of Blue Streak was finalised by around the start of 1957. At the same time, Black Knight had been set in motion, and it might be useful to give some approximate data for each vehicle.

Подпись: Black Knight 3 ft 16,400 lb 12,000 lb Blue Streak

Diameter 10 ft

Thrust 300,000 lb

Weight 196,000 lb

Blue Streak was around 15 times more massive than Black Knight, and this highlights one of the difficulties which designers of the time faced. The most efficient way to design a satellite launcher is to match the size and performance of the individual stages, but instead designers of the period were taking rockets designed for entirely different functions and putting them together into a
launcher, however mismatched they might be. This might be less efficient, but it saved time and money.

But to step back for a moment, the origins of the BSSLV are both obscure and interesting.

It is well known that the Pentagon was interested in reconnaissance from satellites in the mid-1950s, but was held back by a legal consideration. Aircraft from one country could not overfly another country without permission – to do so would be violating the second country’s airspace. What had not yet been legally established is the height of a country’s airspace – did it end at the top of the atmosphere or stretch out to infinite space? And how would ‘top of the atmosphere’ be defined?

Thus one of the reasons why the satellite proposed as part of the 1957 International Geophysical Year would be launched by a civilian rocket was so that it could not be described as military in nature by the Soviet Union. Its purpose would be entirely scientific, but at the same time it would set a legal precedent.

All this, of course, became moot with the launch of Sputnik 1. The Soviet Union could no longer complain if American satellites passed over Russian territory, and had no way of knowing what instruments or cameras the satellites were carrying. Over the next few decades, America was to spend literally billions of dollars on satellite reconnaissance. In March 1967, President Johnson was quoted as saying,

… we’ve spent thirty-five or forty billion dollars on the space program. And if nothing else had come out of it except the knowledge we’ve gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times what the whole program has cost. Because tonight we know how many missiles the enemy has and, it turned out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn’t need to do. We were building things we didn’t need to build. We were harboring fears we didn’t need to harbor.’

For comparison, the GDP of the UK in 1967 was $111 billion.

But it was not only America that was interested in reconnaissance. So was Britain.

Towards the end of 1954 the D. R.P. C. appointed a working party to consider the problems of long-range reconnaissance. This working party reported in November 1955 and one of the recommendations in the report was that the most promising line of research and development would be an orbiting satellite to carry optical reconnaissance equipment.1

Desmond King-Hele of the Guided Weapons Department, RAE, was given the task of writing a report outlining the advantages and disadvantages of reconnaissance by satellite. RAE GW reports are usually very prosaic documents, designed to convey technical information only. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to read King-Hele’s introduction to his paper2.

Escaping from the earth, this ‘dim vast vale of tears’, has long been one of man’s recurrent dreams, a dream enshrined in primitive myth and exploited in many later European writings, among them Dante’s famous Divina Commedia, which includes visits to all the known planets, the sphere of the fixed stars, and beyond, even to the empyrean. Neither Dante nor most of his successors could specify a realistic means of propulsion, and it is only since the advent of the modern rocket motor the dream has shown any possibility of being fulfilled. Now that plans are afoot in Britain for a long-range ballistic rocket missile, the first step towards fulfilment – an unmanned satellite circling the Earth – has advanced beyond a possibility to a logical development.

The equally recurrent military need for continual reconnaissance also appears to be satisfied by a satellite vehicle, provided its launching is not denounced as a warlike act. If launched in high or middle latitudes it will inevitably pass over enemy as well as friendly territory, and much better photographs should be obtained from a satellite than from high altitude aircraft ‘peeping over the frontier’ through hundreds of miles of haze.

Bringing the satellite safely back to earth would be almost as difficult as placing it in an orbit; so the satellite is here assumed to be expendable, i. e., it is doomed at best to die in a brief blaze of glory, lighting up the night sky to the wonderment of some remote tribe, and at worst to drop with dull thuds in recognisable pieces on an enemy city.

Some of his rhetorical flourishes are not entirely successful: ‘to drop with dull thuds’ strikes a note of surely unintentional bathos, and political correctness today might cause ‘the wonderment of some remote tribe’ to be reconsidered. After this rather ornate introduction, the prose becomes more mundane and more suited to the matter under consideration.

The problems as he saw them were firstly, providing adequate propulsion and structure without exceeding the stringent limits on weight; secondly, methods of guidance, control and power generation; and thirdly, recording and transmitting back to Earth a picture of interesting territory which the satellite passes over.

King-Hele was aware that the satellite would not be able to provide ‘live’ data that is, when it was above the territory to be photographed, it would not be able to relay the information back directly, as the receiving station would be over the horizon and thus out of radio contact. What is slightly more surprising is that he rejected the idea of recovering film directly from the satellite after re-entry on the grounds that atmospheric decay of the orbit would be too unpredictable. The possibility of commanded re-entry did not seem to have been considered at all.

As to the resolution obtainable:

A continuous strip record would be taken while over interesting territory, by infra­red photography. This record would be processed or otherwise stored until transmission back to the ground, which would take place over friendly territory at low data rate. For an orbital altitude of 200 nautical miles quite good resolution, 100-200 ft, should be obtainable with a camera of about 50" focal length, and a strip 40-50 miles could be covered.

Power supply for the satellite was another problem. Among King-Hele’s suggestions was:

A third and more direct method is the Bell solar battery, in which electricity is generated directly by light falling on thin strips of pure silicon impregnated with traces of boron. The first models of the solar battery had an output of about six watts of exposed surface but by improved techniques output has now been raised to about 11 watts (11% efficiency of conversion). The standard 2000 lb satellite assumed here has a surface area of about 150 sq ft, so the area requirements are within the realms of possibility. The present high cost of the Bell device (quoted elsewhere as around half a million dollars per kilowatt) would however have to be reduced.

Interestingly, given the provisional status of Blue Streak at this date, King – Hele suggested that:

It will obviously be advisable to profit as far as possible from work on the Blue Streak surface-to-surface ballistic rocket missile, and accordingly the type of propulsion and structure at present proposed for Blue Streak are used here.

He obviously took this further in a later Guided Weapon Department report of May 1957, entitled ‘The Use of Blue Streak with Black Knight in a Satellite Missile’. This was the first time that a full analysis of Blue Streak as the first stage of a satellite launcher had been carried out… five months before the launch of Sputnik! His calculations showed that the Blue Streak/Black Knight combination could put a payload of 2,280 lb (very close to 1,000 kg) into low earth orbit. The conclusions of the report were that:

It should be possible to place quite a massive satellite vehicle in an orbit by using a three-stage missile which consists of (1) the first stage of Blue Streak, (2) the first stage of Black Knight and (3) the final satellite. Some structural strengthening would be required, in Blue Streak especially: increases in structure weight of 1000 lb on Blue Streak and 100 lb on Black Knight have been assumed here. Under these assumptions, and with an 850 ft/sec advantage from the earth’s rotation, the satellite payload would be about 2400 lb for 200 n. m. orbital altitude and 2200 lb for 400 n. m. orbital altitude.3

That is a remarkably accurate prediction, made all the more impressive since the two vehicles in question were still in existence only on the drawing board! King-Hele’s proposal can be seen in Figure 54. Looking at the design more closely reveals that the 3 ft diameter Black Knight sits uneasily on the 10 ft diameter Blue Streak. Making a one ton satellite that would fit into a 3 ft payload fairing might also be a challenge (for comparison purposes, the average saloon car is about a ton in weight).



Подпись: THIRD STAGE L WEIGHT 3000 LB. LENGTH 30 FT.BSSLVBSSLVIn 1957, there was also considerable security surrounding both Blue Streak and Black Knight, and it was not until 1959 that Geoffrey Pardoe of de Havilland was able to present various satellite launcher designs, using the same ideas, to a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). The design that emerged as the favourite perhaps took the answer to the geometry problem a little too far: instead of being a slim 3 ft cylinder, the upper stage had become a 10 ft sphere!4 There is considerable logic behind this design, but there was also a practical difficulty relating to cost and facilities, which was much less obvious.

Подпись: Figure 54. King-Hele's proposal.Saunders Roe had designed their test facility at High Down for a 3 ft diameter vehicle; the stands could be relatively easily adapted for designs up to 54 inches Beyond that, there would, apparently, have to be considerable rebuilding. The cost of this was held up as an objection to design after design, until Black Arrow with its two metre diameter lower stage was produced – without any objection from anyone!

Although there was no specific requirement for a satellite launcher, RAE had considerable autonomy and pressed on with studies. The minutes of the ‘First Meeting in Ballistic Missile Division to Discuss the Development of Satellite Vehicles’ are dated February 19585. These meetings were obviously a follow on

from King-Hele’s paper, and discussion centres around Blue Streak. Curiously, the minutes of a later meeting in October 1958 mention that:

Mr. Longden reported that de Havilland had been doing satellite performance estimates. He understood that using only Blue Streak and Black Knight they could get a ton into orbit.

Mr. Cornford said that this work should not be encouraged.


Figure 55. Pardoe’s design for a Blue Streak launcher. The complete vehicle is shown on the left; the somewhat unusual second stage is shown in enlargement on the right.

Unfortunately, the minutes give no explanation as to why!

In May 1959, Harold Macmillan was asked in the House of Commons by Mr Richard Fort (Conservative Member for Clitheroe; sadly, he was to die in a car accident four days later): ‘if he is yet in a position to make a statement about space research’.

This was probably a ‘planted’ question so as to give the Prime Minister an opportunity to make his statement. As part of his answer, Macmillan said:

Meanwhile, however, design studies are also being put in hand for the adaptation of the British military rockets which are now under development. This will put us in a position, should we decide to do so, to make an all-British effort.

I have asked my noble Friend, the Lord President of the Council, in consultation with my Right Hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and other Ministers concerned, to exercise general supervision of these new developments.

He then went on to say:

I cannot give any figure of the cost of using the British rocket should it be decided to do so. What we are doing now is to spend a substantial but modest sum, more in hundreds of thousands than in millions, first for the design of the instruments, which is the first element, and secondly, for making the necessary designs for modifications of the British military rocket should it be decided when the time comes to use it for this purpose.

There were some sceptics in the House:

Mr. Chetwynd [Labour member for Stockton-on-Tees]: Is the Prime Minister satisfied that there is intrinsic value in this scientific work or is it just an attempt to keep up with the Joneses?

To which the Prime Minister replied in true Macmillan style:

I am not by nature or, I am afraid, by education very favourably inclined to swallow all that the scientists tell me, because, alas, I do not understand it, but I am impressed by the universal opinion of these very distinguished people whom we have consulted, and I feel certain that in this scientific instrument work it is clear that Britain ought to play her part in this advancing scientific effort. As to the method of launching these instruments, what I felt right to do, and what, I think, the House will think sensible, is to make preliminary work at not very large expense which will put us in a position to use our own rocket should, when the time comes, we decide to do so.

As a result of the announcement, Dr Robert Cockburn (who at that time was CGWL) at the Ministry of Supply was asked for design studies for a rocket and for the satellite itself by the Office of Lord President of the Council, Lord Hailsham, who was also acting as Minister for Science6. The RAE set up a series of panels to produce a detailed design late in 1959, resulting in the brochure produced by Saunders Roe, entitled ‘Black Prince’.

It was obvious that Saunders Roe had been involved before the announcement had been made. In a meeting back in April, ‘Saunders Roe tabled and presented several schemes for RAE consideration and discussion’.

As a result of all this work, a brochure for a launcher was ready in time for the military cancellation7. The brochure was prepared by Saunders Roe and RAE, and the vehicle is called, rather optimistically, Black Prince. Its design is very conventional: Blue Streak as the first stage, a 54-inch Black Knight second stage, with the Gamma engine uprated to 25,000 lb thrust, and various configurations suggested for a third stage, depending on the mission. This would also use HTP and kerosene, with a small four chamber rocket motor, designated the PR.38, from Bristol Siddeley.

The weight breakdown for the launcher in the initial design brochure was:

Подпись: Propellants 173,000 lb 16,000 lb 2,400-4,300 lbПодпись: Thrust 270,000 lb (sea level) 25,000 lb (vacuum) 2,000 lb (vacuum) All burnt weight First stage 12,500 lb Second stage 1,520 lb Third stage 500 lb

This would mean that the upper stages would be about 1/10th of the vehicle weight – a distinctly inefficient design. The vehicle would have a first stage diameter of 10 ft; the upper stages 54 inch or 4% ft. It would be nearly 98 ft tall.

But the brochure points up another flaw in the whole project. Different versions of the third stage were to be tailored to three specific missions: a low earth orbit of 300 nm ‘for experiments in stellar U. V. spectroscopy’, a 300/7000 nm orbit ‘enabling investigations of the Earth’s radiation belts to be undertaken’, and a 300/100,000 nm orbit for a ‘Space Probe’. Such imprecise missions do not engender confidence, nor answer the question: what was the point of Black Prince?

However, as part of the announcement of the cancellation of Blue Streak as a weapon in April 1960, stress was laid on its conversion to a satellite launcher. To be cynical, it could be said that this was a useful ploy to deflect criticism; it was argued by Watkinson, the Minister responsible for the cancellation, that the considerable expenditure to date had not been wasted, since Blue Streak was now being used for another purpose. The hollowness of this argument can be demonstrated by the fact that the expenditure to date had been in the order of £60-80 million; another £60 million would be needed to complete the project, and yet no Ministry was prepared to put up more than a few million pounds out of their own budgets. Watkinson, against the advice of his civil servants such as Sir Edward Playfair, was prepared to offer £5 million, but this would have to come out of existing budgets – not an easy option. Similarly, Hailsham was not
prepared to raid the science budget, and there seemed no obvious other source of finance, unless the Treasury were to fund it over and above existing expenditure – which was highly unlikely!

Подпись: NITROGENПодпись: Figure 56. From the Saunders Roe brochure for ‘Black Prince’.BSSLVThis is shown very clearly in a letter from Hailsham to Sandys (now Minister of Aviation) in April 1960, just after the announcement of the cancellation of Blue Streak as a military weapon.

The Advisory Council on Scientific Policy said in its last report that to leave vital scientific needs unsatisfied ‘in order to shoulder the crippling cost of a large programme of space exploration on a purely national basis would be, in the Council’s view, the grossest folly.’ At that time, of course, we were going ahead with Blue Streak for military purposes and the Council said ‘we do not consider that the technological advantages likely to accrue from the development of a British rocket and satellite programme designed for civil purposes over and above the effects of the existing military missile programme, would be sufficient to justify the very considerable expenditure involved’.

Using vehicles already developed for military purposes was one thing, but for the science budget to take on all the development costs of a launcher would be a very different matter. If Blue Streak had gone ahead as a military missile, then most of the development costs would have been covered by the defence budget, but that was no longer an option. Certainly the cost of the programme could not be justified from a very limited science budget.

There was little military interest too: the Chiefs of Staff, in conjunction with the DRPC stated in December 1959 that ‘The Committee agreed that, while
satellite research was important nationally, there were not at present any strong reasons to justify the spending of Defence funds on it.’

On the day the announcement of the cancellation was made, CGWL at the Ministry of Aviation (Sir Steuart Mitchell had returned to the post) wrote to all the firms involved – Rolls Royce, de Havilland, Sperry and others – and mentioned: ‘The Government is now considering whether to continue Blue Streak in the role of a Satellite Boost Vehicle, but it is unlikely that a decision will be reached on this until about June.’ Optimistically, he noted that ‘The intention would be to complete development by early 1964 with the firing of not more than 8 rounds, at a rate of approximately 3 per year’. (There was a curious British usage of the time which referred to the launches as ‘rounds’, rather as if they were shells or bullets.) At a meeting between RAE and Saunders Roe in May, the firing programme was outlined thus:

The initial 1st stage firing would be planned for October 1961. Thereafter there would be three firings in 1962, three in 1963 and one in 1964. The following more detailed firing breakdown was given: –

(a) 1st firing – As Blue Streak F1 but simplified…

(b) 2nd firing – As above.

(c) 3rd firing – Plus separation bay and dummy 2nd and 3rd stages.

(d) 4th and 5th firings – As above.

(e) In 1963 – 6th firing using live 2nd and 3rd stages plus a small simple satellite.

In the event, not even the first flight had occurred by early 1964!

Later in April Mr Syme of the Ministry of Supply in Melbourne, Australia, noted:

The programme would involve firing three Blue Streak missiles of current design, three modified ones carrying dummy upper stages, and two complete three stage versions, making eight firings in all, extending from the first firing in mid 61 to the last in early 64 at about four monthly intervals.

And the Ministry of Aviation had similar visions:

… [the] first missile on the launcher by April 61, static firing in July and first flight October 1961. Thereafter flights in March, July and October 1962 and 1963, terminating with the eighth flight in March 64.

Flights one and two would be unmodified Blue Streaks; firings 3, 4, and 5 would carry dummy upper stages; firings 6, 7 and 8 real upper stages. In addition, the Black Knight plus third stage require firing from Area 5 [the Black Knight launch site at Woomera]. Three flights suggested between September 1962 and May 1963.

The latter reference is to separate flight testing for the second stage. Thus the first complete vehicle would be F6 in March 1965.

To further these considerations, a Cabinet committee was set up, chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook. Not surprisingly, he took advice from the Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir Solly Zuckerman, who did not have a high opinion of Blue Streak and its technology. A flavour of the advice he gave can be seen in a quote from Brook: ‘The main advantage would be to keep a leading position in liquid fuel technology, but this was an obsolescent skill.’

The value of his advice can be gauged from the consideration that derivatives of both the Thor and Atlas rockets, somewhat older than Blue Streak, are still in regular use 40 years after this advice was given, and there are still no large satellite launchers that do not use liquid fuel in at least part of their design. To be fair, however, from the military point of view he was quite correct. Then there was the question of cost: Zuckerman pointed out that ‘the whole UK R&D expenditure is £500M [per annum],’ of which £238 million was for defence, whereas the launcher would cost £15 million per annum, with a total cost of £64 million. (Much later, in June 1966, Zuckerman was to say of the launch of the first French satellite: ‘We could have anticipated and greatly exceeded this achievement had we decided in 1960 to adapt Blue Streak for this purpose and added Black Knight to it as a second stage’. It is a pity he had not been more forceful at the time.)

Senior civil servants are not noted for their extravagant use of language, yet in all the files that survive from the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Aviation, no enthusiasm for the project ever shines through. Instead, Blue Streak, even in a civilian guise, is seen as an unfortunate inheritance from a military programme, and the very strong impression is that the project is maintained for political reasons rather than through any intrinsic merit.

But to return to money: cost estimates for aerospace projects are a notorious minefield, and the launcher was to prove no exception. Hasty initial estimates gave £35 million.8 This was solely for vehicle development costs. But there would be other costs as well – the vehicles themselves (around £2 million each) and the satellites that would be carried. This pushed the total estimate up to £64 million by July – although this included in addition the cost of three satellites, which the early estimate did not. An analysis was also done of the unit cost of a launcher, once development was complete, and these estimates were in the region of £1.8-£2.1 million, depending on the number of launches per year.

After the cancellation, a Missile Conversion Committee was set up, and the Ministry of Aviation gave some costings for the programme:

£31.0 m

2 Подпись:firings £15.8 m

3 firings £13.4 m

3 firings £9.7 m

If the same programme of work were spread over five years, then:

Подпись: 1960/61 1961/62 1963/64 1964/65 1965/66 £31.4 m

2 firings £12.4 m

2 firings £10.2 m

2 firings £10.2 m

2 firings £9.1 m

In total, the four year programme would cost £69.9m; the four year programme £73.3m.

But, noted the Treasury gloomily,

… the Ministry of Aviation… have very grave doubts about the five year programme on technical grounds. They are not at all sure that a firing every six months is in fact a viable arrangement. [ELDO managed only one launch a year between 1968 and 1971, with one gap lasting 16 months.] It would inevitably mean that many of the expert staff would be twiddling their thumbs for some time between each firing.

Later, the memo summarised the position by saying:

. the most that can be said is that the five year programme might put off by a year the (? evil) day when the scientists would be able to come along with their next big leap into space.

The difference in US and UK resources, or the proportion of their resources that they were prepared to devote to space research, is shown up quite starkly in a conversation recorded by Zuckerman in December 1960 with the US Assistant Secretary for War, who suggested that the UK joined the US in space work. ‘When I told him our total [annual defence] budget for R and D was £220M, he immediately replied that, even if we put all our defence R and D money in, we were obviously not starters in a US/UK collaboration programme in rocketry and satellites’9. If £220 million was not enough, how far would £15million take the


Funding for Blue Streak itself after the cancellation was kept at a ‘tick over’ rate, and although the Chancellor had initially agreed to provide money for the project, the beady eye of the Treasury was always on it. But this points up
another factor: the lack of any firm decision. This was summed up in an internal Ministry of Aviation paper soon after the cancellation:

The current BLUE STREAK programme will have run down to the level needed for the development of a satellite launcher by about the middle of July. A decision on the future of BLUE STREAK must therefore be taken within the next few weeks.

The possible courses are:

(a) To cancel BLUE STREAK completely.

(b) To undertake a programme of space research based on the joint Anglo/Australian development of BLUE STREAK as a satellite launcher.

(c) To undertake a programme of space research as at (b) and to explore the possibilities of co-operative programmes with European and Commonwealth countries.

(d) To take no final decision on space research, but to continue the development of BLUE STREAK at the minimum level while the possibilities of co-operation with Europe and the Commonwealth are explored.

If course (d) were adopted, then interim measures would be needed to ensure that this country retains the ability to develop a satellite launcher and undertake a space research programme, until the necessary decisions are made. The extension of the current BLUE STREAK contracts on a month-by-month basis could not last for

Подпись: Figure 57. Artist’s impression of Black Prince from the Saunders Roe brochure. more than 2 or 3 months, since it would be unsatisfactory and uneconomic, and would prevent contractors from entering into the longer term commitments involved in the supply of materials. Contracts would probably have to be extended for at least 12 months. In practice course (d) would be difficult to present to Parliament and the public, particularly if it resulted in the abandonment of space research after a year or so.

But, as we can see, course (d) is what the Government ended up with. Often a lack of any firm decision is worse than any of the decisions that could have been taken. Immediate cancellation would have saved money, pressing on with the project would have produced an end product.

There was no room in the military budget despite Watkinson’s offer. There was little money for anything: the Ministry of Aviation had been given £50,000 for the initial design study for a satellite launcher, and they were told by the Treasury in April 1960 that if they want £250,000 for wider studies then they must apply for it. More realistically, Sir William Downey asked for another £35,000 in May. This is hardly an extravagant budget. In addition, money had to be provided for the ‘tick over’ contracts at the likes of de Havilland and Saunders Roe.

So in May meetings began between RAE, Saunders Roe and Bristol Siddeley to continue the development of the design. Mention was made of an intention to ground launch the upper stages as part of the development programme. Saunders Roe set about the business of designing the second stage in detail and producing a test tank structure. De Havilland began the design of the interstage section, and Bristol Siddeley was keen to press on with the new engine for the third stage.

The RAE took the design very seriously: just as there had been a series of panels for the missile on guidance, propulsion and so on, a series of similar panels were set up for Black Prince. However, in July CGWL wrote a memo decreeing that:


Figure 58. The third stage of the proposed Blue Streak launcher (left), which would have been powered by the PR.38 motor (right).

It has been decided that the proposed 3-stage satellite launching vehicle based on Blue Streak, Black Knight, and a third stage, and the subject of current project design studies, shall be known as the BLUE STREAK SATELLITE LAUNCHER.

The names Black Prince and Blue Star, which have been used semi-officially, are not to be used.

But even so, there was continued Government vacillation on the programme. The then Minister of Aviation, Peter Thorneycroft, had visited both Canada and Australia, and, as part of his mission, had attempted to interest both countries in a Commonwealth satellite launcher.

Подпись: Figure 59. The third stage would have been powered by the PR.38 motor. Here a chamber interested other than supporting the for that motor is being test fired. work being done at Woomera. With any New Zealand contribution likely to be ‘modest’, and with South Africa no longer part of the Commonwealth, such a joint programme seemed unrealistic. However, whilst the Commonwealth expressed no interest, France did. Very soon after the initial cancellation, French officials made various discreet contacts with British diplomats to ask about Blue Streak. However, they were as much aimed at finding out design information for their own ballistic missile project as enquiring about a joint satellite launcher programme. While the indecision dragged on, RAE and Saunders Roe continued with the development of the BSSLV. On a meeting in December 1960, RAE mentioned that the second stage diameter of 54 inches was producing control problems, and that they would prefer a larger diameter stage. Given existing facilities at Canada’s reply was that she was already investing enough in space; privately the Canadians told the British that they were spending considerable sums on Alouette, a Canadian satellite to be launched by NASA, and on various sounding rocket programmes. Indeed, they admitted that the total expenditure was far more than publicly acknowledged, and no other commitments were possible. Similarly Australia was not

High Down, the greatest diameter possible would have been 58 inches and Saunders Roe were asked to produce a design for such a stage.

The third stage design is shown in Figure 58, with the PR.38 motor on the right. Some test chambers for the motor were constructed and fired, as can be seen in the photographs10 in Figure 59.

However, the initial performance calculations for Black Prince gave a figure of around 1,750 lb in low Earth orbit. Communications satellites needed to be in a much higher orbit – preferably geosynchronous, although RAE and the Post Office had been interested in 8-hour and 12-hour orbits as alternatives. In addition, Woomera is poorly placed for launching such satellites, with its range restrictions necessary to prevent overflying of populated areas, and also too far south for geosynchronous launches. Estimates of the cost of an equatorial launch site were in the region of £20-30 million. Black Prince’s payload decreased rapidly with altitude and with launch direction: it was estimated that for a 2,500 nm orbit at 40°W of N, the payload was down to 600 lb.

Black Arrow

Some of the most interesting moments in the history of a project may never be recorded on paper, since they happen as a result of casual conversation, or, at least, not in meetings with formal minutes. It is not recorded when it was first suggested to develop Black Knight into a satellite launcher, but judging from the various sketches and proposals that began appearing at the end of the 1950s, the idea took root fairly quickly.

Подпись: Thrust/lb Подпись: Burn time/ seconds Total impulse/ lb.seconds 120 2,600,000 140 3,500,000 145 4,400,000 110 7,500,000 47 2,700,000 127 6,350,000
Подпись: 36-inch Black Knight* 21,600 54-inch Black Knight 25,000 Vanguard 30,300 Diamant A 68,000 Scout A 58,000 Black Arrow 50,000 *Using the later Gamma 301 motor

The original Black Knight was not well suited as a satellite launcher. It was simply too small, and could not carry any significant weight in the form of upper stages. Here, for comparison, is some data for Black Knight and various small satellite launchers:

These figures are only approximate, and total impulse is not the only measure of how effective a rocket stage may be, but it gives a good indication. Scout does

Подпись: Figure 105. A liquid hydrogen stage for Black Knight. Unfortunately, no room has been left for a satellite! not appear to be that powerful, but it was a four stage vehicle, which improved its efficiency as a launcher. Vanguard was not the first American launch vehicle (although it was intended as such); Diamant A was the first French satellite launcher.

Black Knight had originally been designed with the Gamma 201 motor in mind, which had a thrust of only 16,400 lb, limiting its all-up weight to around

14,0 lb. The Gamma 301 had a greater thrust, which meant that in theory Black Knight could now carry more in the way of upper stages. The Gamma motor could have been further uprated to 25,000 lb thrust, but increasing the thrust without increasing the fuel load means reducing the burn time – the total impulse will stay very much the same. The proposed 54-inch Black Knight is getting closer to Vanguard, although with some way to go.

At around this time, RAE were also becoming seriously interested in liquid hydrogen as a fuel. There was considerable experimental work being carried out at RPE, and also the proposed liquid hydrogen third stage for Blue Streak. Black Knight offered a way of building and testing a liquid hydrogen stage, and producing a satellite launcher at the same time. There are various sketches of such vehicles, but most of the work was summarised in a publication from Space Department of RAE entitled ‘The Orbital Capabilities of Black Knight with a Hydrogen-Fuelled Second Stage’ dated April 19631. Four vehicles are studied, with first stage thrusts of 21,600 lb, 25,000 lb, 40,000 lb and 50,000 lb. Version 1 is 36 inches diameter, all the others are 54 inches. It is not made very clear how the thrusts of 40,000 and 50,000lb are to be achieved. Various combinations of upper stage are modelled – a pump-fed or pressure-fed liquid hydrogen second
stage with a solid fuel third stage. Again, what emerges fairly clearly is the inadequacy of Black Knight as a first stage. The most that could be put into orbit using a pump fed second stage is 88 lb, 102 lb, 324 lb and 377 lb respectively. Given that only versions 1 and 2 relate directly to Black Knight, then this is not very impressive.

The conclusions of the report were that:

This study of the possible use of enlarged versions of Black Knight together with a second stage using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants indicates that such a vehicle can place a payload of about 80 lb into a circular polar orbit at an altitude of 300 nautical miles. Addition of a third stage using a solid propellant increases the payload to about 375 lb.

The advantages of turbo-pump feed for the second stage engine compared to the use of pressurised tanks is quite clear at the stage sizes considered and the payloads just given are for the turbo-pump version. A pressure-fed version would not be capable even of placing the second stage in orbit and in the three stage version, would substantially reduce the payload.

The results of the trajectory calculations for this class of vehicles show that the second stage thrust should be at least twice the total initial mass of the upper stages and payload. This means that the engine developed for this second stage might well have applications for larger upper stages on other vehicles.

There is, of course, another option: using strap-on boosters. This was not considered in the context of the liquid hydrogen stages, but there is no doubt that it would have improved performance very considerably. On the other hand, the idea of Black Knight with added boosters did arise in an entirely different context – RAE was asked by an official at the Ministry of Aviation in October 1961: ‘What has the RAE done on solid propulsion and what has been done on smaller rockets? (Opinion and any possible objections)’

The context is not entirely clear (the document seems to be the transcript of a telephone call), but Dr Schirrmacher gave a fairly lengthy reply, and part of this reads:

For smaller satellites two solutions are worth mentioning:

Black Knight boosted by two Ravens and carrying a Rook as 2nd stage with a Cuckoo as 3rd stage. One will get 100lb into a 200mile orbit. Present development at Westcott for an improvement of the mass fracture [sic – probably fraction] indicates that the payload could probably be increased by a factor 2 [sic].

It is at the moment not clear whether the Black Knight has to be structurally altered. In this case it is estimated that there are altogether two years of development time with Saunders Roe at £650,000 per year and the probable alteration to the gantry. £1.5M would be a likely sum.2

The ‘two solutions’ mentioned is probably a reference to an RAE report written in January 1961 headed ‘Black Knight as a Satellite Launcher’. It takes as its starting point the 36-inch Black Knight ‘Dazzle’ vehicle, with a thrust of 21,600 lb. It mentions that extra fuel could be carried in the main stage (i. e., Black Knight) but without specifying exactly how much. In true RAE style, the report also tends to the theoretical when it uses solid motors ‘similar to’ the Rook, Raven or Cuckoo. It is also not clear why only two Raven strap-on boosters would be used: using four would be almost as easy and would improve the performance considerably (near the end of the Black Arrow programme, RAE did begin investigating an uprated Black Arrow with four such boosters). The conclusion to the report states: ‘It is clear from these results that, unless exotic fuels are used [a reference to liquid hydrogen], the potentialities of Black Knight as a satellite launcher are very limited.’3

The later 54-inch Black Knight is rather a different, and quite a respectable launcher could be made from it using contemporary solid motors. Such a possibility is explored further in Appendix B.

There was another contender for an all-British small satellite launcher, one with a somewhat curious history. In October 1958, David Andrews of Bristol Siddeley Engines (BSE) produced a brochure for an IRBM fuelled by kerosene and HTP, using four of the large Stentor chambers clustered together in a configuration similar to that of the Gamma 3014. Using HTP rather than liquid oxygen as an oxidant in a missile has very clear and definite advantages, as the HTP can be stored in the vehicle for long periods, and there is no problem with ice etc. As a single stage vehicle, its payload over the 2,000 miles range required was small if not minimal. The brochure does not give any breakdown for the weight of the vehicle, but it does give some very detailed drawings of the engine. On the other hand, lightweight warheads were now a possibility after the negotiations with the US concerning atomic weapons, and, failing that, a small solid or HTP stage could have been added. Two stages had been avoided in the design of Blue Streak owing to lack of experience in staging, but by late 1958 this was hardly a novel technique.

The brochure seems to have produced no official reaction at all, even during the Skybolt crisis when it looked as though Britain might be thrown back onto its own resources. On the other hand, dropping the development of Blue Streak for an entirely new design would have been difficult for many reasons: writing off the work done so far would have been difficult politically, and by then Blue Streak had a strong grip on both industry and the Government. In these circumstances a momentum develops: the new design did not have enough to offer to make the change worthwhile.

The vehicle was a good deal smaller than Blue Streak. The design sketch indicates a diameter of 6 ft and a height rather less than 50 ft – effectively an enlarged Black Knight. This would have made the silo smaller and cheaper. The Stentor motor was already under development for Blue Steel: it might have been quicker and cheaper than finishing the development of the RZ 2. Most important of all, using a non-cryogenic fuel would have increased its credibility immensely. The American Titan II missile, which used storable liquid propellants, and was housed in a silo whose design owed something to the Blue Streak silo design, remained in service until the mid-1980s.

Black ArrowHowever, it was not to be.

Figure 106. Proposed IRBM design using Andrews did not forget the HTP/kerosene as fuels. idea, however, and later issued

a brochure entitled ‘A Three Stage Satellite Launcher Based on Black Knight and its Technology’5. The brochure is undated, but probably originates from 1962 or 1963. He was an engine designer, and so whilst that part of the brochure is again covered in great detail, there is no General Arrangement drawing, merely an artist’s impression of what the vehicle might look like. A payload of 650 lb to a 300 nautical mile orbit is given, but this is more of an educated guess rather than a figure derived from detailed calculation.

The Bristol Siddeley proposal and the Black Arrow design were costed against each other by RAE with the following breakdown:6

Bristol Siddeley Proposal

Black Arrow

First stage:

PR.27/90,000 lb thrust

£1,770 k

2 x G303/50,000 lb thrust

£350 k

Structure & systems

£5,950 k

£200 k

Second stage:

G303/25,000 lb thrust

£250 k

2 x G200/8,000 lb thrust

£250 k

Structure & systems

£375 k

£200 k

Third stage:

PR.38/2,000 – 3,000 lb thrust

£450 k

Apogee solid

£150 k

Structure & systems

£825 k

£65 k


£850 k

£1,000 k

Total so far:

£10,470 k

£2,215 k

Andrews at Bristol Siddeley had said that his design might cost £10 million, but this was almost certainly a guess rather than a detailed estimate. It rather looks as though the breakdown by RAE is designed to arrive at that figure! On the other hand, a figure of nearly £6 million for the structure and systems for the first stage is absurd. It is a cylinder 6 ft in diameter. The first stage of Black Arrow is a cylinder 2 metres (slightly more) in diameter. Why the Bristol Siddeley first stage should cost 30 times as much as the Black Arrow stage is a mystery.

Then some additional items are thrown in – launch sites, range additions and so on – which brought the grand total thus:

Bristol Siddeley: £11,470,000

Black Arrow: £2,915,000

The costing was done at RAE, and Black Arrow was the design produced by Saunders Roe in collaboration with RAE. If BSE were to have seen these figures, they might have had legitimate grounds for complaint!

Plans for enlarging Black Knight had been under consideration for some time. The liquid hydrogen proposals had sketched out vehicles with larger thrust, but without any detailed plans for how this might be done. During 1962, Saunders

Black Arrow

Figure 107. The three stage HTP/kerosene launcher proposed by BSE.

Roe turned their attention to a variety of configurations for six and eight chamber motors. The six chamber arrangement was awkward; an eight chamber version was both more logical and more powerful. The next question was how the chambers should be arranged. One possibility was to have four fixed chambers and four swivelling, but control of the vehicle became more difficult. The question was whether the existing arrangement in the Gamma 301 was powerful enough to swivel two chambers rather than one, and tests showed that it was. The motor bay size had not been fixed, and Saunders Roe gave different configurations with diameters of 57.5 inches, 63 inches and 64 inches. In the end, other considerations fixed the size of the bay, as we shall see.

Total З I 090

Interstoge 2i3 2 041 Stoge: HTP 5 *oe

Kero 7i4

Corcase wt 10 6 0 Total 75 8 2

3rd stoge : Apogee motor 762 Fairings 140

Poylood 213

Total his

Nominol vehicle weight 40000

Black ArrowBlack Arrow

Black Arrow

Arrangement drawing in imperial units – pounds, ft, inches, except one. The diameter of the first stage is 2.0 metres. There is an odd rationale behind this.

Europa 1, the ELDO vehicle, was a combination of Blue Streak plus the French and German upper stages. The French stage, Coralie, had a diameter of

2.0 metres, and so the first stage of Black Arrow was given this diameter as well, so that there was still the possibility of mating Black Arrow to the pre-existing interstage adapter if the opportunity arose – effectively a new version of Black Prince.8 Sadly, the occasion never did arise.

The first stage consisted of engine bay, HTP tank, intertank bay for electronics, kerosene tank and the interstage separation bay. There would be some weight saving if the two tanks shared the same bulkhead, but the decision was taken to separate them to prevent problems if one tank leaked into the other. The HTP tank but not the kerosene tank was pressurised with nitrogen from bottles in the intertank section.

The first stage engine bay had the eight rocket chambers arranged in four pairs of two. Each of the pairs was mounted radially, and were gimballed for vehicle control. Two turbopumps were used to feed the engines. The tanks contained 28,700 lb of propellants, which were consumed in 130 seconds giving a thrust of 50,000 lb at sea level. There was a mixture ratio control keeping the HTP to kerosene ratio to 8.2 : 1.

Black Arrow

Figure 109. The Gamma 8 motor (left) powered the first stage of Black Arrow, and the Gamma 2 (right) powered the second stage.

The separation sequence began as the first stage engines ran short of HTP, and soon after the first stage acceleration fell below 3 g, eight explosive bolts were to blow the two stages apart. At the same time four Siskin solid fuel rockets ignited on the second stage – at that point it would be in free fall, and so the propellants would be literally floating in their tanks. The motors provided the force needed to settle the propellants in their tanks (these are sometimes referred to as ‘ullage rockets’). HTP to start the second stage ignition was held in bottles in the interstage section, being forced in under the pressure of nitrogen gas. When the Siskin boosters had burned out, eight more explosive bolts blow off the interstage section.

The second stage used rocket motors which were almost identical to those in the first stage, except that they had extended expansion nozzles for high altitude operation, where there was a much lower external pressure, and there were, of course, only two motors instead of eight. They consumed 6,725 lb of propellant in 125 seconds for a thrust of 15,300 lb. The engines were fully gimballed for control. There was a fuel ratio control system as in the first stage, and, like the first stage, it shut down when the HTP was exhausted. Both tanks were pressurised with nitrogen.

The second stage diameter of 54 inches was a hangover from the 54-inch Black Knight: ‘the second stage, of 54” diameter, is derived from the vehicle being developed for the defence penetration programme’.9

So the second stage had the motor bay, the HTP tank, an intertank bay, the kerosene tank and the separation bay. The electronics were contained in the sealed intertank bay, and included the flight sequence programmer, the attitude reference unit, telemetry, the tracking beacon, the command destruct receivers, the control system servo amplifiers and power supplies.

After the second stage had exhausted its propellants and cut out, it separated, and the third stage plus payload would coast for around 300 seconds towards the apogee of the transfer orbit ellipse. During this time the vehicle would be stabilised by a nitrogen gas attitude control system. Then six solid fuel motors were fired to spin-stabilise the third stage and satellite to around 20 radians per second or about 200 rpm. Five seconds later the third stage and satellite were released.

The vehicle’s third stage was a specially designed solid propellant motor called Waxwing, with 695 lb of propellant, burning for around 55 seconds and producing an average thrust of 3,500 lb. The motor was very efficient, having a ratio of fuel/total mass close to 0.9. The satellite separated from the empty casing of the Waxwing 120 seconds after its ignition by firing gas-generating cartridges. (It turned out that not even this was a sufficient time: it is thought that some residual thrust from the Waxwing caused it to collide with Prospero after it had separated.) This meant three separate objects were put into orbit: the empty motor casing of mass 77 lb, the motor/payload separation bay of mass 31 lb, and the satellite itself.

Black Arrow

Figure 110. The Waxwing solid fuel motor was the third stage of Black Arrow.

The Waxwing was sometimes referred to as an apogee motor since it was not ignited until it was near the top of the sub orbital trajectory provided by the first two stages. At this point the third stage and payload would have fallen back to Earth, but the Waxwing gave sufficient extra velocity to put into the payload and itself into a near circular orbit.

The payload shroud or nose cone was made of magnesium alloy. Designed in two parts, it had an overall length of 11 ft 6 inches and a maximum diameter of 54 inches with a mass of 150 lb. Attached to the second stage, it was jettisoned 185 seconds into the flight, during the second stage burn.

When designing small satellite launchers, it is important to get the design right first time. The payload of Black Arrow was only 132 lb from a total lift-off weight of 40,000 lb. If the vehicle has to be redesigned or modified for whatever reason, and ends up not very much heavier (132 lb on the third stage obviously reduces the payload to zero, but there is more latitude on the lower stages), then the payload becomes zero! 132 lb is only 0.33% of the total vehicle weight. Losing 132 lb from a payload of a ton or more has a lot less impact.

Black Arrow

Figure 111. A Black Arrow vehicle can be seen here in the static test stand at High Down, on the Isle of Wight. The Needles lighthouse can be seen in the background.

The design having been finalised, the project was put to the Cabinet by Julian Amery, then Minister of Aviation. Again, there was Treasury resistance. A compromise was eventually reached whereby Black Arrow could only go ahead if Crusade and the 54-inch Black Knight were cancelled, with a saving of £4.8 million,10 and Black Arrow was chosen in preference to further re-entry studies.11 In addition, Westland Aerospace, who had taken over Saunders Roe, and Bristol Siddeley, who were to build the new engine, offered to pay a substantial sum, £1 million, towards the development costs. Not surprisingly, Amery greeted this offer with delight. A letter from Westland in February 1965 noted: ‘We expect you to make Management arrangements comparable with the excellent ones you have achieved on the present Black Knight programme. This has been RAE based.’12

However, in retrospect it seems odd that the two projects should conflict: the first stage of Black Arrow would have suited Crusade well. This, however, needs to be seen within the context of British deterrent. By 1964, the UK was committed to the Polaris programme, and Polaris in its original form was considered too small for an extensive system of decoys, and so the later Chevaline system sacrificed one of the three warheads to carry the decoys. When the idea of flight trials for the Chevaline system was considered, Black Arrow was deemed too expensive for the purpose.

The decision to go ahead with Black Arrow was taken in the last days of the Douglas Home Government, and this was to have serious consequences for the project. The incoming Labour Government, not surprisingly, wanted to review many of the major military and technical aerospace projects, and Black Arrow was put on hold. For a Government whose leader won an election with speeches about ‘the white heat of the technological revolution’, the attitude to technology was ambivalent. To put Frank Cousins, a trade union leader with few apparent qualifications for the position, as Minister of Technology was a breath-taking piece of political cynicism on Harold Wilson’s part. To be fair, part of Wilson’s policy was to reduce the number of highly skilled or qualified people working on these projects, so that they could become available for civil work, helping the export drive and so on.

The Treasury got their chance to oppose Black Arrow once again when they prepared a brief for the incoming Chancellor, Jim Callaghan. The brief would have been one of many prepared for him, and this one concerned the space programme and ELDO. (A full version of the brief can be found in Appendix A. It is a very good summary of the Treasury’s position throughout the 1950s and 1960s.) The paragraph on Black Arrow reads as follows:

Apart from some effort within Ministry of Aviation establishments, and a limited amount of research by industry (at government expense) into the basic technology of building satellites, the principal commitment of the UK ‘national civil space programme’ is the development [handwritten: ‘at an estimated cost of £10m.’] of the small satellite launcher based on the military research rocket Black Knight. The decision to go ahead with this development was taken at the beginning of September by the late government. It was justified [handwritten: ‘by the protagonists’] on the grounds that, if Britain is to go in with Europe in collaborative launcher and satellite
development programmes, it was necessary for Britain to have her own ‘research tool’ which would provide her with the necessary technological know-how and an opportunity to test in flight bits of the communications satellites which she will be contributing to the European programme. But no decision has yet been taken on whether the UK should in fact participate in any further European launcher or communications satellite programmes-as stated above, the Treasury would be opposed since to such participation. Until the decisions on this have been taken, it is in the Treasury’s view wholly premature to embark on the development of the United Kingdom small satellite launcher. We recommend therefore that until Ministers have had the opportunity to consider collectively the future course of UK space policy, no work should proceed on a small satellite launcher, and that the project should be regarded as in abeyance. If the Chancellor agrees, we will submit a draft minute for him to send to those of his colleagues who are concerned with these

Black Arrow13


Figure 113. One of the two Black Knight gantries was rebuilt for Black Arrow. In the distance is the equipment centre, from where the launches were controlled.

To be fair to the Treasury, there was an economic crisis at the time (when is there not?), and Wilson had made great play with the trade deficit in the election campaign – something which rather backfired on him, as it put sterling under further pressure (those were the days of fixed currency rates, with the pound being worth $2.80).

The firms that were to be involved in Black Arrow, Saunders Roe (who were now part of Westland) and Bristol Siddeley Engines, were given three monthly holding contracts merely to keep the project ticking over. The bigger problem was that as Black Knight wound down, then the teams of engineers and designs involved would disperse unless there was something to keep them usefully employed – which a holding contract did not really do. The offer the two firms had made to contribute towards the development costs faded away as the delays dragged out, and whilst more and more defence work was being cancelled.

Review after review took place14, and each time the project was opposed by the Treasury, which did make some valid points. These points were tied up with general British space policy, which was in a muddle. The new Government wished to withdraw from ELDO but to do so with the least political damage. In particular, they were worried not to give any impression of lack of enthusiasm for joint European projects, and so withdrawal from ELDO at the same time as approving Black Arrow was felt to be giving the wrong signals. On the other hand, if Britain did withdraw from ELDO, Black Arrow could be used to counter arguments that Britain was withdrawing from space research altogether. As usual with such contrary policies, inertia ruled.

There were economic reviews too, to determine whether Black Arrow would be ‘profitable’ or not. It is surprising that no one made the analogy with the likes of the Gloster Whittle aircraft: that was certainly not profitable, yet without it, or other test vehicles like it, there would be no jumbo jets. Was the Wright Brothers’ aircraft ‘profitable’? And the papers are not helped by the jargon used by the economists: one phrase to be found in the papers is ‘exogenous stochastic error’ when talking of the development costs of the vehicle, which in the context appears to refer to unpredicted cost overruns with external origins – in other words, it might end up costing more. The reviews also involved RAE in a good deal of work, having to put forward justifications (usually the same ones) for the vehicle almost every few months.

The arguments for Black Arrow were that it gave British scientists experience in space research at minimal cost, to which the Treasury reply was why did the scientists need such experience? The scope for research satellites was felt by the Treasury to be negligible, Black Arrow was far too small to be of any use in launching communications satellites, and there seemed to be few other uses which would benefit the UK. In many ways the Treasury was right, but the project was fought for by the Ministry of Aviation since it was seen as the last chance for British rocketry: if Black Arrow did not go ahead, the British space effort, or at least rocketry effort, would die.

The Treasury’s attitude to the project was summed up in a letter from FR Barratt in Treasury Chambers to Walter Abson at the Ministry of Aviation in April 1965:

It is claimed that the launcher would be of value in giving UK scientists and technicians experience of injecting satellites into orbit and controlling them, and would also enable us to test satellites and components in an actual space environment. But why should we in fact wish to give UK scientists and technicians this experience? What satellites is the UK going to be putting up? And for what reasons? No decision has yet been taken in regard to a programme of communication satellite and development. Ministers have not yet even been invited to consider the possibility of such a programme. Nor has any military requirement for a UK satellite launching capability been stated. The indications are that no such requirement will arise.

It is suggested that possession of a small satellite launcher will enable us the better ‘to compete for contracts for space projects’. I must remind you that the Working Party… concluded that export prospects in the space field were relatively quite small… It might be as well if you were to specify what contracts we are more likely to get if we have a small satellite launcher. I should myself be very surprised if there was anything significant. If there isn’t, I suggest that you would do better to drop this particular argument.

… I do not myself understand how the development of a small launcher on the basis of ‘proven techniques’ will have much relevance to ELDO activities on, say, high energy upper stages. Doubtless you can explain this. In any event, however, Ministers have yet to reach a final decision on UK policy towards ELDO: it is possible, to say the least, that they will ultimately take the view that we should aim to withdraw from ELDO activities. It is also possible that the attitude taken by the Italians and others at the recent ELDO conference will lead before long to the collapse of the organisation. It cannot therefore be assumed at this stage either that ELDO will continue to exist or that, if it does, the UK will continue to participate in it, or will wish to influence its activities.15

Apart from anything else, this is a marvellous example of the Civil Service at work. The sentence ‘Ministers have not yet even been invited to consider the possibility of such a programme’ tends to suggest how much policy was actually made by the senior civil servants rather than by ministers, and there is also a slight implicit suggestion that options are put up to Ministers to be rubber stamped. And then there is the put down in the third paragraph: ‘Doubtless you can explain this.’

It is also worth noting the attitude to ELDO. But, more importantly, this is a very neat summary of the official attitude to most of these projects. When the Ministry of Technology again tried to get Cabinet approval in 1966, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jim Callaghan, wrote a three page letter of protest reminiscent of those written by Selwyn Lloyd on Blue Streak. Again, the project had to be referred back for further economic studies before it was resubmitted to Cabinet. And the idea of economic reviews, cost benefit analysis, and the like was a new phenomenon. In the 1950s, projects were given a go-ahead mainly on their technical merit. Now the economists were creeping in. This is not intended to be an entirely pejorative comment. The costings of a good number of earlier projects had been completely unrealistic, and a sharper eye on estimates would be welcome. But that is not what the economists were looking at. How do you try to estimate an economic return from basic research? But it was probably the earlier gross under-estimates of earlier projects that made the Treasury so sceptical.

In addition, there were even those in the Space Department at Farnborough who felt that a satellite launcher took up too much of the space budget, to the detriment of other projects. Others in the Ministry of Defence felt that the offer of free launches from the Americans should be used instead, or, even if they did have to pay for them, then it was still cheaper than developing a British launcher. Needless to say, once Britain’s last vehicle was cancelled, the offer of free launches evaporated with it.

There were further financial problems: the Ministry of Defence wanted nothing to do with the funding of the programme. This meant that there might have been potential problems with the use of Woomera, as Black Arrow was, strictly speaking, a civilian programme, and so did not fall under the Joint Agreement between Britain and Australia. And indeed at this time the future of Woomera was being reconsidered – ELDO was moving to South America and thus there would be no more Blue Streak launches, and the number of new missiles under test was shrinking fast. Thoughts turned to alternative Black Arrow launch sites. Barbados was high on the list, but the RAE also looked at launch sites in the UK

Britain is not well situated geographically for satellite launching (but neither was Woomera). Payloads can be boosted by firing the rocket in the same direction of the spin of the Earth: eastwards. But this would mean that the spent rocket stages would fall on Europe, and, not surprisingly, people in Europe might object to this. The only clear path would involve launches almost due north, into polar orbit, and for this, two sites were considered. One was the existing rocket test site on the islands of North and South Uist in the Hebrides; the other was on
the north coast of Norfolk in the region of Brancaster. South Uist was ruled out on grounds both of accessibility and of infrastructure – indeed, it was considered by the Ministry of Aviation to be less accessible than Woomera. Certainly the weather in the Outer Hebrides would have posed a problem. The planned flight paths are shown in Figure 114. The first stage impact points are shown, and the second stage would impact close to the North Pole, north of the 85° parallel.

Black ArrowA team went from RAE to look at the area, and concluded:

No particular site has been

chosen at this time. There Figure 114. The flight path of Black Arrow launched are several areas north of from Norfolk the coastal road which

appear adequate. Ideally a suitable site would be within about five miles of a disused airfield or W. D.-owned site with existing roads and buildings. All that would be required in these circumstances would be the construction of a launch site on the coast line and all the other operations could be conducted at the other site, the two being linked together by microwave and hard wire links.16

A further memo in October 1966 noted that:

For Black Arrow, a site in East Anglia for polar launching has been studied in considerable detail by Space Department, RAE, and found to be technically very attractive. Their itemised estimate for equipment gives a figure of around £1M, to which must be added the complementary civil engineering costs to cover installation and general services. These latter costs are very dependent on the site chosen and at a first broad estimate might amount to as much as £2M, making a grand total of perhaps £3M; a considerable reduction should be available if a suitable disused camp
or airfield became available. Such a site would supersede Highdown for vehicle check-out and static firing purposes, and would have the simplest (and cheapest) supply and maintenance problems.

Polar launching of Black Arrow from N. Uist appears quite feasible, but such a site would not supersede Highdown, and would have substantial technical and logistical disadvantages compared with East Anglia; clearly the remoteness of the area would increase considerably installation, operation and maintenance costs.

The Norfolk launch site looked quite promising until someone realised that the North Sea was beginning to fill up with oil rigs. A chart was rapidly fetched from the Ministry of Power:

…discussions have been held with the Ministry of Power, and a chart obtained showing the position of existing and proposed oil rigs. Although it would be possible to show statistically that the chances of hitting an oil rig would be acceptably low, it seems probable that political considerations would inhibit the establishment of a launch site in Norfolk.

The chances of a spent first stage falling on an oil rig were minute, but given the consequences if one did, the proposal was dropped. The other launch sites being considered were outside the UK (although it is slightly surprising that the Lossiemouth/Inverness area was not considered) and were too expensive to set up. It was back to Woomera.