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Blue Streak missile

From Academic Kids

The Blue Streak missile was a British ballistic missile development programme of the mid to late-1950s, the initial design being based on licensed US technology. Black Knight was a vehicle intended to test the design for a re-entry head by firing it to altitudes of several hundreds of kilometers.

Postwar Britain's nuclear weapons armament was initially based on free-fall bombs delivered by the V bomber force. It soon became clear that if Britain wanted to have a credible threat a ballistic missile would be essential. There was a political need for an independent deterrent, so Britain could remain one of the major post-war powers. The use of any American missile would have appeared to hand control to the US.

In April 1954 the Americans proposed a joint development programme for ballistic missiles. The United States would develop an ICBM of 5000 nautical mile (9,300 km) range, while the United Kingdom with United States support would develop a MRBM of 2000 nautical mile (3,700 km) range. The proposal was accepted as part of the Wilson-Sandys Agreement of August 1954 - which provided for collaboration, exchange of information and mutual planning of development programs. The decision to develop was influenced by what could be learnt about missile design and development in the US. Initial requirements for the booster were made by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough with input on the rocket engine design from the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott.

De Havilland won the contract to build the missile, and it was to be powered by an uprated liquid-fuelled Rocketdyne S3D engine, developed by Rolls-Royce, called RZ2. Subcontractors included the Sperry Gyroscope Company who produced the guidance system whilst the warhead itself was designed by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston.

However doubts rose as the estimated cost rose, from the first tentative figure of 50m submitted to the Treasury in early 1955 to 300m in late 1959. The programme was crawling along compared with the speed of development in the US and the USSR.

Eventually the project was cancelled due to its apparent lack of credibility as a deterrent. The missiles used very cold liquid propellant that could only be kept in the missile for a short length of time before icing became a problem. To fuel the rocket took 15 minutes, meaning it was incapable of being used as a rapid response to an attack. It had been intended to site the missiles in underground silos capable of withstanding a one megaton blast at a distance of half a mile (800 m), silos being an original British innovation later exported to the USA. These silos would have protected the missile from a first-strike attack while the missile was being fuelled. However, finding sites for these silos proved extremely difficult and RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria was the only site where construction was undertaken. The best sites for silo construction were the more stable rock strata in parts of southern England, but the construction of many large underground silos in the heart of the countryside would have carried an enormous political cost.

No site in Britain could have provided enough space for actual test firing and this was reserved for the Woomera site in Australia. Whitehall opposition to the project grew, and it was cancelled on the ostensible grounds that it would be too vulnerable to a first-strike attack. Around 60m had been spent.

The government transferred its hopes to the Anglo-American Skybolt missile, before that was cancelled by the USA as their ICBM program reached maturity and the British instead purchased the Polaris system from the Americans, to be carried in British-built submarines.

Civilian Programme

After the cancellation as a military project, there was reluctance to cancel the project outright because of the huge investment that had taken place. Blue Streak would have became the first stage of a projected all British satellite launcher known as Black Prince, the second stage was derived from the Black Knight test vehicle, and the orbital injection stage was a small hydrogen peroxide/kerosene motor. This launcher never progressed beyond the design stage.

However, this too proved to be too expensive, and so the European Development Launcher Organisation - ELDO - was set up. This used Blue Streak as the first stage, but used French and German second and third stages. The Blue Streak first stage was successfully tested three times at the Woomera test range in Australia as part of the ELDO programme.

Although a total of 8 launches were made of the multi-stage vehicle, the French and German components proved unreliable leading to the project's final cancellation, and the end of Blue Streak. The final launch was made at the French site of Korou in French Guyana.

As a footnote, in the eleven Blue Streak test launches, there was not a single failure, a feat only equalled by the Saturn V.

See also

External link


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