Black Knight Launches

Note: these are listed in the order in which they were fired, not the vehicle number.


Single stage. Launched 7 September 1958 at 20:03. Apogee 140 miles. No re­entry head.

The preliminary post firing meeting stated that:

… the vehicle appeared to follow the anticipated velocity and acceleration programme until about 132.7 secs from time zero when the motor flame went out. At the same instant, transmission from the body telemetry sender ceased, and there was failure of all information channels on the head sender. some seconds later, a large bright flash was observed which seemed to travel laterally.

The vehicle was recovered in two main portions, one consisting of the engine bay and part of the HTP tank and the other the head, electronics bay and approximately half the kerosene tank.

Fragments of the engine bay, and HTP tank were scattered over a wide area, and the state of the engine bay contents suggested that an explosion had occurred on impact. Extensive burning of cable looms in the lower half of the bay had occurred.2

The vehicle was fitted with a destruct mechanism in case of failure. If the appropriate signal was sent, small explosive charges would blow manganese dioxide powder into the HTP tank. Manganese dioxide is a fine black powder, and a very effective catalyst for the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. Post flight analysis showed that the aerial had picked up a stray signal and had inadvertently triggered the destruct mechanism. This would cause the HTP to explode, destroying the vehicle – hence the bright flash, which was probably the remainder of the kerosene burning in the hot steam and oxygen produced by the decomposition. In all other respects, the vehicle had behaved as designed, and from most points of view, the flight could be called a success.