All systems... GO! Cover Story

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For amateur and professional alike, rocketry is challenging, inspiring, educational and above all else, fun! By Mike Richardson.

Start the countdown: Five … Race into space tourism could soon be a reality. Four … Amateur rocketry is fascinating and much more challenging than it first appears. Three … Hobbyist rocketeers are developing electronics that parallel those used in the professional world. Two …. It’s a great way to introduce children to a range of engineering based disciplines. One … Not forgetting the immense fun and enjoyment it provides both adults and children. Blast off! To really get off the ground however, it’s worth tracing the history of the UK’s rocket technology which first came to prominence with the work of William Congreve during the early 19th Century. At this point Britain led the world in rocket technology but fell behind in the 1930s when liquid propellant technology was developed in Nazi Germany. “After World War II, Britain developed a series of rocket engines using hydrogen peroxide as an oxidiser,” explained British Rocketry Oral History Programme (BROHP) director and historian David Wright. “This technology - developed by Walther in Germany - led to the Gamma engines used by the UK’s Black Arrow rocket for launching the Prospero satellite.” Wright claims that British rocket technology went into decline after the decision to cancel the UK developed Blue Streak and buy missiles for nuclear deterrent instead. Without the kind of subsidy provided to other countries, the UK struggled to support a civilian launcher programme and was finally cancelled in 1971. However, even then some politicians argued that it would be more profitable for the UK to develop satellites rather than rockets. The Astrium facility at Stevenage which used to manufacture Blue Streak now produces some of the largest and most expensive satellites ever built.