LETTER: We just haven’t got what it takes to join space race

Readers' letters | Published:

A reader discusses the space race.

Space shuttle Atlantis

Does Britain have what it takes in space race?

It was so nice to read the article by Mark Andrews about the Black Arrow. To answer the question we must go back to see how the Black Arrow came to exist. It was developed from the Black Knight which was the test vehicle to design the re-entry nose cones for the Blue Streak ballistic missile, which was built by De Havilland. The engines were made by Rolls Royce. It was of course cancelled in this role. The Black Knight was built by Saunders Roe, the engines being made by Armstrong Siddeley at Ansty, near Coventry. The Black Knight first launched in 1958 and made 22 launches all successful.

The Blue Steak was launched 11 times all successful, these would have been some of the most successful rockets at the time.

Instead of using these to launch our own satellites, we had Peter Thornycroft going around Europe trying to get them interested in using the Blue Streak as the first stage of a European satellite launcher ELDO. We were of course trying to join the EEC then, a couple of launches were made with the Blue Steak first stage performing well but not so the upper stages.

So true to form we backed out and the French of course then made the first stage the Ariane, and they seem to have done very well with it and its developments, it has over the years launched many satellites.

We then developed the Black Arrow from the Black Knight and it made four launches two were successful, the last one putting the satellite called Prospero into orbit as the article said 50 years ago and it’s still in orbit.

The Blue Streak had a full blown test stand facility at Spadeadam, Cumbria, where they would test fire the engines etc, everything except launching before transporting to Woomera, Australia, to be launched.

The Black Arrow test facility shown in the article served the same purpose again before transporting to Woomera. All this at a time when only the America and Russia had the capability to launch satellites.


No other country other than Britain would have thrown all this away. All this was achieved by that much maligned group – the British worker. Most of them were trade unionists, also managers, designers, scientists etc. They had a job to do and they did it, all this done at costs compared to some projects today for peanuts.

We could still be using, or developments of this system today to launch some of the many satellites that are in orbit just as the French are, and of course China, India, Japan and others are all in on the act now.

No I do not think Britain has what it takes to do much of anything at all these days.

Richard Green, Great Wyrley

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