Industry figures gather to witness the homecoming of the Black Arrow rocket
A ROCKET brought 10,000 miles home from the Australian outback has been greeted by politicians, the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force and some of the leading figures from within the sector.
Almost 50 years since its original launch, the Black Arrow rocket has been unveiled in Midlothian following efforts by Edinburgh-based rocket developer Skyrora to transport the vehicle back to the UK from its landing site in South Australia to be used for educational outreach.
Developed and tested by a team of engineers on the Isle of Wight, the Black Arrow programme completed three launches between 1969 and 1971, with the third flight from Woomera, Australia, serving as the first and only UK-led orbital launch.
Skyrora, which will commence testing on its own orbital vehicle’s upper stage engine in Cornwall in the coming weeks, also arranged for two of the project’s original engineers, Derek Mack, 86, and Mike Kelleway, 78, to make the pilgrimage from the Isle of Wight – flying to Edinburgh via Southampton Airport to attend the event.
Derek Mack, who was the programme’s senior trials engineer and present for the launch of the Prospero satellite, said: “As soon as I saw Black Arrow again, it was like being reunited with an old friend.
“I spent ten weeks straight working on the project before the launch, so to see it again really is remarkable – the fact that the rocket is still in such good condition after all this time shows it was built to last.
“That Skyrora will be using technologies and in particular a fuel oxidiser inspired directly by Black Arrow is also a source of great pride – and means that our old rocket remains so relevant today.”
Involved in inspecting the rocket’s engine prior to the launch, Mike Kelleway joined Derek on the trip north from the Isle of Wight.
He said: “It’s great to be able to see Black Arrow again, something neither Derek or myself thought would happen.
“I volunteer to lead trips around the test sites at High Down and it’s great to think that Skyrora’s efforts to bring Black Arrow back to the UK will make more people aware of the programme and encourage them to visit us on the Isle of Wight.”
Cancelled before its fourth and final launch, the Black Arrow programme – that famously launched the Prospero satellite – has achieved ‘cult’ status among the space community.
Skyrora, which is just 20 months old has already developed a large team comprising 120 people with headquarters in Edinburgh and six workshops around Europe. The company is currently searching for a permanent engine testing site in the Lothians.
Daniel Smith, Director at Skyrora, said: “Black Arrow serves as a testament to Britain’s space legacy. We’re incredibly grateful that two of the engineers from the original project have been able to join us for the unveiling.
Smith added: “It’s our hope it will be reminder not only to our own team, but to everyone that’s part of the new commercial space race of what’s been accomplished before.”
The transportation process involved Black Arrow being shipped across land and sea, making the journey from the Australian desert to Bishop’s Move in Penicuik – where the rocket was unveiled.
Kenny Janczyk, Branch Manager at Bishop’s Move, said: “It’s been great to have the local community involved in the project, especially being able to run an arts competition with nearby schools and have the winning pupils join us at the unveiling.
“We’re really proud to have hosted the event at Bishop’s Move – hopefully some of the youngsters who made it along will have been inspired to get involved in the industry in the future.”
Skyrora successfully completed its inaugural sub-orbital test launch north of the border last year.
The company’s next rockets, Skylark Micro and SkyHy, will allow their team to gain more valuable launch experience, with the latter capable of reaching the edge of space, a feat never accomplished by a private company launching from the UK before.
Skyrora’s rapidly expanding team aims to capture its share of the fast-growing small satellite launch market and has already created two separate prototype engines, one of which is set for testing at Cornwall Airport Newquay.
It is developing launch vehicle technology that builds on previous British rocket programmes with the aim of reducing the cost of launches thanks to proven technology and advanced engineering methods.
The firm draws on Britain’s launch heritage and aims to build a robust supply chain while creating new employment opportunities to inspire the next generation of talent.
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