Historic Black Arrow Rocket Returned to the UK

While Black Arrow once reached for the stars, its most recent journey saw it transported across land and sea; from the Australian outback to Edinburgh.

An iconic reminder of Britain’s space-faring ambitions is to be returned to the UK following a 10,000 mile journey home.  

The Black Arrow satellite carrier rocket is set to go on display in Penicuik, Midlothian, later this month having been brought back to the UK by Scottish space firm Skyrora.  

The rocket, which crashed in South Australia in 1971, has lain dormant for nearly five decades, succumbing to both the elements and vandalism over time.

While Black Arrow once reached for the stars, its most recent journey saw it transported across land and sea; from the Australian outback to Edinburgh.

Daniel Smith, Skyrora director, believes Black Arrow is one of the UK’s most iconic pieces of technology.

“This is quite feasibly the most important artefact linked to the UK’s space history,” he said. “While our engineers have been working on our own launches, our STEM ambassadors have been arranging all of this in the background.”

The Black Arrow programme developed four rockets between 1969 and 1971 and was a key component of the UK’s orbital ambitions during an age dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.

The third flight in the programme on the 28th October 1971 was the first – and last – successful UK-led orbital launch which saw the Prospero satellite placed into low-earth orbit.  

Three months before the launch, however, the programme was cancelled due to budgetary restraints. At the time, the Ministry of Defence decided it would be cheaper to use US-made Scout rockets, which had a similar payload capacity to the British-built projectiles.  

Frederick Corfield MP, who served as Minister for Aviation Supply and Aerospace between 1970-1972, announced the cancellation of the Black Arrow project in the House of Commons on the 29th of July, 1971. Despite the programme’s cancellation, the third rocket had already been shipped to the launch site and permission was granted for it to be launched.  

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The rocket gained “cult status” among the space community and as the UK Government looks to capitalise on the growing global space sector, Smith believes the time was right to bring Black Arrow home.  

“With the UK Government aiming to make us a launch nation again, it seemed like the perfect time to bring Black Arrow back,” he said.  

“We really hope the rocket will help to inspire current and future generations of scientists and engineers,” Smith added.

Last year, Skyrora successfully completed its first sub-orbital test launch. Its next rockets, the Skylark Micro and SkyHy, will help further develop the company’s launch capabilities.

Read more: Skyrora Aims to Achieve UK’s first Private Space Launch

SkyHy, the company said, will be capable of reaching the edge of space.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said Black Arrow is “testament to Britain’s longstanding heritage in the space sector” – a sector which continues to flourish in 2019.

“The Government’s Spaceflight Programme includes a series of education and outreach activities which I hope will play a major role in inspiring the next generation of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs,” Turnock said.

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