Memorandum submitted by Mr Nicholas Hill
and Mr Dave Wright
BRITAIN'S SPACE HERITAGEA FORGOTTEN
RESOURCE FOR INDUSTRY AND EDUCATION
1.1 Space is a very hostile environment
and any foray into Space is fraught with risk. Any Organisation
that deals with Space will have many failures as well as successes.
Success will be judged not by the avoidance of risk, but by the
seeking out and active management of risks. Britain has a proud
record of successful Space enterprises. This record ought to furnish
lessons for the future, inspiration for the young, a general sense
of pride, and a source of confidence to those buying British Aerospace
products or investing in British Aerospace companies. The history
of British efforts in Space has a positive value in providing
lessons for the future, educational resources, a cultural heritage,
a pedigree of engineering excellence, scientific creativity and
commercial capability, and an antidote to those who dismiss British
2.1 Space is regarded as a hostile environment,
and it could be argued that the UK has found it more hostile than
most. Whilst we realise that the remit of your Committee is to
look to the future, we would also ask you to cast a very brief
look back into the past. During the 50s and 60s, Britain had a
programme of rocketry research that was both technically high
advanced and extremely competent. Some of the details are enlarged
upon in our recent article in the magazine History Today, a copy
of which we enclose. This article was commissioned from us as
a consequence of our researches in this field.
2.2 However, to take this brief look back,
during that period the UK produced a number of technically successful
projects which include:
Blue Streak, which performed almost flawlessly
in 11 launches;
The Black Knight research vehicle, with 22 successful
The Black Arrow satellite launcher, which in
1971 placed Prospero, the first and last British satellite launched
on a British launcher.
We would not argue that we could or should revert
to any of these projects. They were cancelled at the time when
applications that are today commonplace were then not envisaged.
Whether it is worth reviving work in this area is a matter for
speculation, but is not our principal concern.
2.3 However, we feel that amidst the various
issues that you will be considering ought to be one of heritage.
The average UK citizen under 40and many over 40!thinks
of Apollo and of the Space Shuttle when they think of space programmes.
Much of the material relating to Britain's early work has been
discarded, or, if still extant, is lying quietly in remote corners,
and is unknown to the general public.
2.4 We would like the Committee in its deliberations
to give some thought to heritage and to the preservation of the
work that was done by a team of successful and motivated engineers.
To be specific, we would ask that that partand it would
be a very modest partof BNSC's remit, to be to preserve
the remaining materials and to encourage educational programmes
that would bring the attention of Britain's schoolchildren to
the work that has been done in the UK.
2.5 This could be done by providing even
modest funding of historical research; of the preparation of suitable
educational material for use in schoolswhich could include
textbook materials, CD ROMs, posters and the like; and of displays
in Britain's national museums. Since this is also a celebration
of Britain's historical heritage, this should be carried in co-operation
with other organisations.
3.1 We would argue that the British Aerospace
Industry would be adversely affected by a failure to preserve
and exploit past achievements. British achievements have frequently
been overlooked and ignored as a result of the assumption that
only Superpowers with vast budgets can achieve anything in Space.
In 1971 the Black Arrow launch vehicle placed the Prospero satellite
in orbit. It was an achievement both behind and ahead of its time.
The public had grown used to gigantic, hugely expensive launcher
systems thundering into the sky belching smoke and toxic pollution.
The astonishing thing about a Black Arrow launch was the lack
of such fire and fury. Without thunder or smoke it rises apparently
effortlessly with no wasted energy. Launching small satellites
cheaply with little pollution was an achievement ahead of its
time. There was not perceived to be a market for such a product.
The 30th anniversary of the launch of Prospero offers a chance
to celebrate a British Space achievement in the year 2001. Such
celebration need not be entirely backward looking since British
expertise in Hydrogen Peroxide motors is now in demand, mostly
by American companies.
3.2 The Black Arrow programme was an example
of a successful alliance of contractors with establishment scientists.
The project was characterised by the dedication and flexibility
of those involved. Flexibility, innovation and the dedicated support
of the entire workforce allowed first class engineering to be
created on a shoestring. Britain's one attempt to produce a big
launcher, Blue Streak, foundered amidst the difficulties of a
European co-venture. Among the series of technical failures of
the French second stage, German third stage and Italian fairings
there was one constant, Blue Streak never failed. Blue Streak
can claim a 100 per cent record of successful launches. First
class engineering, a skilled workforce and an extraordinary attention
to quality can only explain this extraordinary record. The cancellation
of Blue Streak led to Ariane. It should be noted that Ariane was
constantly criticised by the French Treasury and came very close
to cancellation. It is a national disgrace that a Blue Streak
lays rotting in a car park at RAF Spadeadam.
3.3 It is possible to castigate failures
of past Governments and illustrate it with a long list of poor
decisions by individuals and organisations. Conversely a list
can be composed of British commercial and technical successes.
Such superficial analysis can support a variety of partisan viewpoints
and illustrates the need for the preservation of the records of
past project and for careful study. Government organisations and
contractors have both cavalierly destroyed primary source historical
materials. Statutory responsibilities have been ignored and material
of undoubted historical value has been consigned to the skip and
4.1 Space is an immensely challenging and
dangerous environment. The challenges and the risk are immensely
attractive to youngsters. Space can be an effective means of turning
children on to Science. The glamour of the courageous Astronaut
or Cosmonaut does not conceal but rather enhances the need for
sophisticated science and disciplined engineering and management.
It is immensely sad that the older child bombarded by information
from NASA may come to believe that aspirations to work in the
Aerospace industry are the prerogative of American children. Britain
may not have a manned Space programme to provide inspiration,
but there are engineers and scientists untrumpeted and largely
ignored. R J Mitchell and Sydney Camm may not have fought in the
Battle of Britain but they are still an inspiration. We do not
suggest there is employment for all those children inspired by
Space with the British Aerospace industry but an early enthusiasm
for Science must benefit the scientific education necessary for
5. SPECIFIC PROPOSALS
5.1 We would like to propose that BNSC be
required to lead an initiative with other parties to preserve
and exploit British Space Heritage. The year 2001 would be an
appropriate focus for such an effort. One component of such an
initiative should be to make available to schools teaching aids
celebrating the achievements of British Aerospace companies, engineers
and scientists through posters, texts, videos and Internet sites.
5.2 The High Down site on the Isle of Wight
has not been exploited for its cultural value. The site is one
of extraordinary interest with regard to the Scientific and Engineering
interest of this country. The Saunders-Roe Company on the Isle
of Wight has produced a unique series of products including a
satellite launcher, rocket-powered aircraft, helicopters and hovercraft.
The design offices in the stables of Osborne House and the test
facilities at High Down where the rocket motors were tested on
the side of the chalk cliffs represent a remarkable cluster of
5.3 The Spadeadam Blue Streak, rotting in
a car park in a restricted area hidden from the public, represents
a significant financial effort by the British government and a
huge personal effort by thousands who worked on the project. To
treat their efforts with such contempt is really a national disgrace.
5.4 We would therefore propose that a National
Archive be created to collect Space related historical material,
perhaps with the assistance of the British Library and that the
Oral History of this exciting period be recorded and made available
through the British Library National Sound Archives.
5.5 We would also be happy to elaborate
on any of these issues in oral evidence if you wished to consider
28 February 2000