Blue Streak with a Centaur Upper Stage
Late in the Blue Streak saga, HSD published a brochure which was interesting technically, even if the chances of the British Government being interested in it were remote. The brochure has the look and feel of one put together in a hasty or cursory fashion – all the text is in block capitals – and does not really do justice to the proposal, except in the artwork.13
The proposal was for a Blue Streak launcher with an American Centaur D1 upper stage, built in Europe under licence (rather cannily, the brochure says ‘Europe’ rather than ‘Britain’!). Optional French L17 strap-on boosters were proposed as an optional extra. As to the payload, the brochure states:
Performance in geostationary orbit
– without strap-on boosters
– with two L17 boosters
– with four L17 boosters
(grouped in two pairs)
More tellingly, it goes on to say ‘Typical payload ranges are quoted – actual capability for specific payload requires detailed study of optimised trajectory and earliest permissible fairing jettison time’ – in other words, the figures quoted are estimates rather than being the result of any precise calculations. They do seem reasonable, and the brochure says ‘performance capability is higher than the proposed Europa III’ – which was true up to a point. There is a drawback in the sense that the vehicle has been stretched as far as possible, and had really reached the limit of its performance.
The proposed launch site was Kourou in French Guiana, which, like the rest of the proposal was technically feasible but politically completely impractical.
One technical side note: Centaur was the only other rocket stage, apart from Atlas and Blue Streak, built using pressurised stainless steel ‘balloon’ tanks. Centaur was originally designed to go on top of Atlas, hence the similarity in construction. In that sense, Blue Streak and Centaur were well suited. The Centaur stage had some teething problems, but by 1970 was a well-tested and proven design.
BLUE STREAK VEHICLE PLUS 2xL17 BOOSTERS WITH
CENTAUR UPPER STAGE
Figure 61. HSD’s proposal for mounting the American Centaur stage on Blue Streak.
The other major advantage of the proposal was that by comparison with the ELDO design, and any possible Europa III designs, all the components were flight-proven, and the bugs ironed out. But interesting though the idea might have been, it was a product without a customer. The UK was determined to have nothing more to do with launchers; any new European launcher would be French led, and use of an American stage, even built under licence, would have been a non-starter.