Posts Tagged ‘Isle of Wight’

Historic British Space Rocket Rescued to Go on Display in Scotland

January 22, 2019

Yesterday’s I for Monday, 21st January 2019, carried a very interesting bit of news for fans of the British space programme. The article, ‘UK rocket to go on show 50 years after Australian crash landing’ by Conor Riordan, reported that the Black Arrow satellite launcher has been retrieved from the Ozzie outback, and is due come back to Britain to be put on show in Penicuik in Scotland. The article ran

The UK’s only rocket to successfully blast a satellite into orbit is to go on show nearly 50 years after its crash landing in the South Australian outback.

Black Arrow, which lifted off on 28 October 1971 from a launch site 280 miles north-west of Adelaide, has been returned home after decades of exposure to vandalism and the elements. It has been transported by Skryrora, a space technology firm, and will be unveiled in Penicuik, Midlothian, later this month.

The Prospero satellite that Black Arrow propelled into orbit, was sent up to study the effects of space environment on satellites.

Daniel Smith, director at Skyrora, said: “This is quite feasibly the most important artefact linked to the UK’s space history.
“While our engineers have been working on our own launches, our Stem ambassadors have been arranging all of this in the background.

“We’ll be unveiling it in Penicuik later this month, not far from our headquarters and workshop in Edinburgh. With the UK Government aiming to make us a launch nation again, it seemed like the perfect time to bring Black Arrow back. We really hope the rocket will help to inspire current and future generations of scientists and engineers.”

The UK Space Agency has previously announced 2.5m pounds of funding for a proposed vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland.

Developed and tested on the Isle of Wight, the Black Arrow programme completed four rockets between 1969 and 1971. The third flight was the first and only successful UK-led orbital launch, but the programme was then cancelled. This is said to have given the rocket cult status.

Skyrora has also commissioned a plaque to be placed where Black Arrow had lain.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Black Arrow is testament to Britain’s longstanding heritage in the space sector which continues to thrive today.” (p. 13).

The video below is a short video of just under two minutes from James Bignell’s YouTube channel showing a montage of all the Black Arrow launches.

It’s great that Britain is finally going to launch rockets again after nearly half a century, and that this superb piece of British space engineering is coming back to Blighty to inspire a new generation of space cadets.

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Conservatives, Racism and Anti-Chav Class Prejudice

September 2, 2017

Mike reported yesterday that Activate, the Tory ‘grassroots’ campaign, that isn’t connected at all to the Tory party, except for what it says about working to get Tories elected and defining itself in its constitution as a Conservative organization, found itself mired in controversy over its members’ conversation on WhatsApp, in which they expressed some very unpleasant comments about ‘chavs’. It was, as one of those involved dimly began to realise, Nazi stuff. They were talking about sterilizing them, gassing them, and turning the Isle of Wight into a giant prison for them. As well as using them for medical experimentation.

Activate splutteringly denied that they were responsible for all this Nazi hate speech, claiming instead that they were hacked. It’s a convenient excuse which doesn’t ring true, as someone else had appeared on their page after the conversation telling them that they should be careful what they say.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/01/backtractivate-tory-youth-organisation-dissolves-into-chaos/

It’s now been revealed that all the ‘Nazi chat’ really did come from members of Activate, as their membership director, Fizarn Adris, had a Twitter feed which showed a very unpleasant attitude to the poor and vulnerable. This has now conveniently been taken down.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/01/gas-chavs-whatsapp-chat-was-by-activate-members-allegedly/

I am not remotely surprised that members of a Tory support group have such a deep hatred and contempt for the poor and marginalized. And I admit that I’ve made some of the same comments myself about the criminal members of the underclass. A friend of mine used to work in a very rough area in Cheltenham. Don’t be surprised – they do exist. She and her colleagues had been threatened several times at work, and gangs had also tried to break in and rob the place by people, who could fairly be described as ‘chavs’.

The Activate members’ gloating descriptions about what they’d like done to the desperately poor, however, is just pure Tory class prejudice. It comes across as the stupid sneering of upper class public schoolboys and girls, smugly convinced of their own superiority as members of the privileged class, with a bullying attitude to those beneath them. Oh, isn’t it great fun to give the lower orders a good bashing, even if it’s only in the form of tasteless jokes. It comes from the same mindset that produced the Assassin’s Club in the 1980s. That was a group of public schoolboys at Oxford, who used to pay restauranteurs so they could come in and wreck the place.

And I’m not remotely surprised that the jokes being made involved the same treatment that the Nazis inflicted upon Jews and other persecuted groups, including the disabled. There’s a section of the Tory right which has always overlapped and sympathized with the Fascist fringe, despite their denials and the attempts by Thatcher and her successors to quash all mention of it. Some of us can remember the antics of the various Tory youth movements in the 1980s, like the Union of Conservative Students. This bunch of upper class charmless nurks, to use Norman Stanley Fletcher’s descriptive epithet, used to run around singing such inoffensive ditties as ‘We Don’t Want No Blacks or Asians’, to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. As well as ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’. I also remember how the leader of one of these Tory youth outfits in Northern Ireland was also something of a racist, although he sort of denied it. Very sort of. In fact, if I recall correctly, he issued a statement which said, ‘We are not Fascists. We are Thatcherite achievers. But if Mrs. Thatcher won’t have us, then we will go to the Far Right’. Which, like Trump’s condemnation of the Nazis who goosestepped in Charlottesville two weeks ago, really isn’t a denial at all. As for the Union of Conservative Students, from what I recall, it was just so riddled with overt, unapologetic racism, that Tory Central Office closed it down and merged it, along with the Young Conservatives, into a new organization, Conservative Future.

Since the 1980s, racism, or at least very open displays of it, have become much less acceptable in British society, quite apart from the legislation in place to protect ethnic minorities from prejudice, intimidation and violence. And the Tories have tried to weed out, or at least be seen to be weeding out, the Nazis in their midst. In the 1970s the Monday Club opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews to show that they didn’t have anti-Semites amongst their membership. However, the organization still remained so extremely anti-immigrant that in the early part of this century Cameron and IDS severed the Tory party’s links with them because of their racism.

So the upper class members of Tory support organisations have found that they can’t be as racist as they were back in the 1980s. But they still have the urge to punch downwards, to mock and sneer at the underprivileged. And so instead of joking about abusing and deporting ethnic minorities, they’ve gone on to making Nazi comments about maltreating and exterminating chavs. Which is supposed to be quite acceptable, because they’re white, and so this doesn’t count as racist abuse.

Not that there’s anything much different in their attitude towards the poor here. Keith Joseph, Maggie’s mentor, caused a storm of outrage in the 1970s when he expressed a similar eugenicist, Nazi attitude in a speech in which he attacked unmarried mothers as a threat to ‘our stock’.

The jokes Activate’s members were making about killing, sterilizing and experimenting on members of the underclass are disgusting and offensive. But there’s nothing remotely new in their attitude, or in what this has revealed about part of the Tories’ constituency. It’s always included sneering members of the upper classes, with a chilling contempt for those they see as the inferiors. They only difference now is wider society finds this more offensive than it did, and they’re expressing their vile views on social media, rather than on the rostrums at party conferences.

Tim Peake and British Space Rockets

December 17, 2015

The big news in science this week as far as this country goes, was Tim Peake’s blast-off yesterday to join the crew of the International Space Station. He’s the first Brit to travel into space for nearly twenty years. Helen Sharman in the 1990s was the first Briton to go into space in a privately-funded mission in Russia. Unfortunately, the private funding didn’t appear, and she only flew thanks to the generosity of the Russian government. Towards the end of the decade, Tim Foale also flew aboard the Space Shuttle. He was not, however, technically British, as in order to participate in American shuttle programme, he’d had to take American nationality.

The launch was covered by the Beeb in their Stargazing Live programme, and there was a countdown to the launch, featuring various Beeb celebs and personalities. Down here in Bristol, even the local news programme, Points West, got in on the act. Their anchor David Garmston interviewed an Asian lady, an astrophysicist working as the education director for the @Bristol Science Centre. She had joined the competition to become the first British astronaut for over a decade, and had reached the final six before sadly being rejected. She graciously said that the better person had won, and wished Peake all the best.

In fact, long before Helen Sharman, Foale and Peake voyaged into the Final Frontier, from the 1950s to the 1970s Britain was manufacturing and experimenting with space vehicles as easily the third space power apart from America and the USSR. The rockets launched by Britain, many of them from the Woomera launch city in Australia, were the Skylark, Skua and Jaguar sounding rockets, the Blue Streak missile, Black Arrow and Black Knight. There was also a projected larger launcher, Black Prince.

Skylark

Skylark Rocket

These rockets were developed at the suggestion of the Gassiot Committee of the Royal Society, which in the 1950s became interested in using rockets to study Earth’s upper atmosphere. The committee invited members of the Ministry of Supply to their 1953 conference on the subject, and the result was that they were contacted by the British government to see if there would be any interest in developing such a vehicle. And from this came the Skylark programme.

These rockets were 25 feet long and 17.4 inches in diameter. They were built by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the Rocket Propulsion Establishment, Westcott, which made the Raven solid rocket motor which powered it. The first Skylark rocket was launched from Woomera in 1957. By 1965 over 100 such rockets had been launched. The rocket was modified, and the Raven motor replaced by the more efficient Cuckoo, so that it could lift a payload of 330 pounds 136 miles into space.

The rocket has been used to study wind, the temperature of the upper atmosphere, the ionosphere, radiation and micro-meteorites.

Skua

Skua Rocket

This is another sounding rocket used to study the atmosphere. It was 8 feet long, 80 pounds in weight, but could carry a payload of 11 pound 46 miles into the atmosphere. Like today’s hobby rockets, it was re-usable, coming back to Earth via parachute, so that it could be given another load of charge and used again. A second variant of the rocket, Skua 2, could take the same payload up to 62 miles. The rocket was built by Bristol Aerojet, and was launched from a 32 foot long tube mounted on a Bedford truck.

Jaguar

This was developed to research the problems of aerodynamics and heating in hypersonic flight. It was a three stage rocket developed by the Aerodynamics Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, and the Aerodynamics Division of the Weapons Research Establishment in Australia. The rocket motors for the vehicle were produced by the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott.

The first stage was powered by a Rook motor, which takes the rocket to 80,000 ft. The second stage Gosling motor is fired, which increases the rocket’s speed from 3,000 ft/s to 5,500 ft/s. After this is used up, the final stage Lobster motor accelerates the rocket to 10,000 ft/s. It was capable of taking 20 pounds to an altitude of 500-600 miles.

Black Knight

Black Knight Rockets

This was developed as the test vehicle for Blue Streak, an independent nuclear missile launcher. Blue Streak was abandoned in 1960, partly because they wouldn’t be anywhere in Britain suitable to launch it from in the event of a nuclear attack. Black Knight, however, continued to be developed as rocket for scientific research. It was used for a further five years to study problems in re-entry, the upper atmosphere and carry experiments later incorporated into UK and US joint scientific satellites.

The rocket came in single and two-stage versions. The single stage version was powered by a Gamma 201 liquid rocket motor burning a mixture of High Test Peroxide and Kerosene. It was 32 ft 10 in. in length, and three feet in diameter. The rocket could reach a maximum height of 147 missiles. The rocket motor was produced by Armstrong Siddeley, and based on an existing Gamma motor developed by the RPD at Westcott.

The two-stage version of the rocket were flown from August 1964 to 25th November 1965. It was 38 ft 8 in. in length. The first stage rocket motor was powered by a Gamma 301 engine, and then by a Gamma 304, developed by Bristol Siddeley. The second stage was powered by a version of the Skylark’s Cuckoo motor, and was three feet long and 1.4 feet in diameter. It was fire back into the atmosphere so that the effect of the re-entry speeds could be studied.

A larger version of Black Knight using Gamma 303/4 motors in a vehicle 54 in. in diameter was under development in Bristol in 1963. There was also a plan to build a three stage rocket, Black Prince. This was to use Blue Streak as its first stage, a 54 inch Black Knight as the second stage and then a small, solid rocket third stage. The rocket would be 97 ft 10 in. tall, and be able to send 1,750 pound satellite into polar orbit 300 miles above the Earth.

Between September 1958 and November 1965 22 Black Knight rockets were launched from Woomera. Saunders Roe on the Isle of Wight were responsible for the rocket’s overall design, construction and testing. Armstrong Siddeley of Ansty, near Coventry, were responsible for the rocket engine, and De Havilland of Hatfield were to supply the test team at Woomera. The rockets were subjected to systems checks at Highdown on the Isle of Wight, before being flown or shipped out to Woomera.

BK 10, the spare for the rocket BK 11, was returned to Britain, and donated to the Science Museum, while High Down is now the property the National Trust.

Blue Streak

Blue Streak Rocket

Although it was cancelled as an independent nuclear weapon, there was an attempt to salvage it by using it as the proposed first stage for the proposed European rocket launcher, Europa 1. It was built by Hawker-Siddeley Dynamics and Rolls Royce. It had a Rolls Royce RZ-2 engine, burning a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen to produce 300,000 pounds of thrust. Unfortunately, this also came to nothing as the European rocket launcher project was cancelled due to the failures of our European partners to produce effective, functioning second and third stages.

Black Arrow

Black Arrow Rocket

After the cancellation of the Black Knight programme, Britain continued developing its own independent satellite launcher. This was Black Arrow, a three stage rocket standing 42 feet 9 inches tall. The main contractor for the spacecraft was Westland Aircraft, which was famous in the West Country for manufacturing helicopters. The first stage was powered by a Rolls-Royce Gamma Type 8 engine, burning hydrogen peroxide and kerosene. The second used a Rolls-Royce Gamma Type 2 engine, while the third was powered by a solid propellant rocket, Waxwing, made by Bristol Aerojet. Sadly, the project was cancelled after it successfully launched the 220 pound Prospero satellite into a 300 mile polar orbit in November 1971.

And Now the Politics Bit

These projects were cancelled and the accumulated knowledge effectively thrown away, because the mandarins at the British Civil Service saw no value in them. They were considered too expensive, and it was believed that using American rocket launchers would be a cheaper and more cost-effective option. In fact Britain has lost out because, at least in the 1990s, it looked as if there was going to be an international market in space vehicles. Even the Indians were developing them. The launch of British satellites by the Americans meant that Britain depended on their goodwill and available space aboard their rockets.

The French, who I believe were responsible for the second stage of Europa I, the European rocket launcher, forged ahead to produce the cheap and successful Ariane, launched from their site in Kourou, French Guiana. The French rocket is actually cheaper, and more economical, than the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle, however, had the advantage in that it was heavily subsidised by the American government.

It’s therefore ironic that David Cameron should try to show the world how keenly he is supporting a British astronaut, when this is precisely what British governments have failed to do since the 1970s. Maggie Thatcher was all for Helen Sharman’s voyage into space, as that was supposed to be managed by private enterprise. Until private enterprise wasn’t able to do the job. Cameron’s government has carried on this daft and destructive policy of closing down Britain’s manufacturing base, and preferring to buy in from outside rather than develop our own industries. Way back in the 1960s Harold Wilson made a speech about Britain benefiting from the ‘white heat of technology’. Those in power never listened to him, and despite Cameron mugging on Twitter, they still aren’t. You can see that from the way they’ve sold off our industries, including the defence contractors that were able to create such magnificent machines as Black Arrow. And our country is much the poorer.

Further Reading

The Encyclopaedia of Space (Hamlyn: 1968)

John Becklake, ‘British Rocket Experiments in the Late 1950s/Early 1960s in John Becklake, ed., History of Rocketry and Astronautics (San Diego: American Astronautical Society 1995) 153-64.

John Becklake, ‘The British Black Knight Rocket’, op. cit. 165-81.

T.M. Wilding-White, Janes Pocket Book : Space Exploration.

In this clip below, Alice Roberts from the Beeb’s Coast TV series, interviews members of the Black Arrow team on the Isle of Wight. One of them tells her how he was told to tell the rest of the team the project was cancelled and they were sacked immediately after the launch. Hansard, the parliamentary newspaper, records that the mandarin, who made the decision did so because he could see absolutely no future in the development of satellite launchers.

Here’s a British newsreel report on the Blue Streak programme from 1964. It shows the rocket being tested at Spadeadam in Scotland, and its launch in Woomera. It talks about the European Rocket Launcher programme, and some of the dignitaries attending the launch, such as the French general in charge of the European project. It also shows what a thriving community Woomera was back then, and follows Mrs Lawrence, a housewife with a part-time job as a camera operator tracking the rocket on its launch, as she goes on her 300 mile commute each day from home to the launch site.

It recalls the era as one of optimism, of a time when Australia itself, its rugged landscape and sheer vastness, were a source of fascination and wonder to Brits, long before the arrival of soap and pop stars like Kylie Minogue.