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Black Arrow

by Jean-Jacques Serra
listing by Gunter Krebs


Origin: Black Knight experimental rocket


In 1957 the UK Royal Aircraft Establishment began the development of the Black Knight rocket to study atmosphere reentry of ballistic warheads.

The Black Knight was a long cylinder surmounted by a conical rounded head with 4 ribs equipped of stabilization rockets. It was powered by a Gamma 301 made by Bristol Siddeley; its thrust increased from 74 to 106 kN. On its first launch at Woomera in September 1958 it broke the world altitude record with 564 km. It was fired 22 times successfuly between 1958 and 1965.

Black Arrow


The development of the space launcher Black Arrow began in 1964 under direction of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. It was 3-stage rocket of only 13 m high weighing 18.1 tons at takeoff time with a LEO payload capacity of nearly 100 kg.

The first stage weighed 14.1 tons and measured 5.9 m high for 2 diameter. It was equipped with a Gamma-8 motor that featured 8 combustion chambers (gimbaled nozzles). It fired during 125 seconds providing 218 kN thrust and 251 kN in vacuum. Second stage was 3.55 m high per 1.37 m diameter and weighed 3.5 tons. Its Gamma-2 motor featuring 2 combustion chambes (gimbaled nozzles) consummed the same propellant and delivered 69 kN thrust during 120 seconds. The third stage was underthe 1.37 m diameter cap and layed on a spinning table. It was 1.3 m high, 71 cm diameter and 0.5 t weight. This stage was powered by a Waxwing solid fuel motor providing a mean thrust of 21 kN over 40 seconds.

The first ballistic flight which occured in Jun 1969 failed but the second in March 1970 was successful. The first orbiting attempt failed in Sep 1970 when second stage shutdown 13 seconds early. In July 1971 the British government decided to drop the national program although one flight was still to be carried out. Nonetheless it was fired in Oct 1971 and orbited the Prospero satellite.

Black Arrow launches


# Launch id Payload Launch Date Site Type Status/Comment
1 n/a Ballistic flight 29 Jun 1969 2-stage Failure: control lost after 50 s
2 n/a Ballistic flight 04 Mar 1970 2-stage  
3 n/a Orba (X2) 02 Sep 1970   Failure: 2nd stage produced unsufficient thrust
4 71093 Prospero (X3) 28 Oct 1971    

Notes: All launches from Woomera Rocket Range in Australia

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