Sunday, October 28, 2012
28th November - Anniversary of Britain Launching a Satellite - Unpublished Letter
The 28th of November is the 41st anniversary of the first British space launch becoming the sixth nation to do so. I doubt if many readers know this. Since it was done in spite of government it is almost unreported.
The Black Arrow space rocket was operational at Woomera when its cancellation was announced to Parliament on 29th July 1971. .
With America having promised it would launch British satellites for free (they reneged) and the British government keen to be seen as co-operative Europeans the idea of us actually doing something alone was anathema.
Though he Ministry of Defence cancelled the Black Arrow programme, the development team decided rather than dismantle it they would launch it.. Prospero was launched at 04:09 GMT on 28 Oct 1971 making Britain the sixth nation to place a satellite into orbit It iis still in orbit.
Since then, under all 3 parties, we have continued to be "good Europeans" putting, currently, £275 million a year into the European Space Agency which, on a budget half NASA's but a bureaucracy which ensures every country gets contracts irrespective of ability, has no prospect of launching even one person into space.
Meanwhile the commercial space industry, with government regulation but no help, is worth £10 billion a tear and is our fastest growing industry at 10% a year. By comparison the American commercial space industry is growing at 17%, with a limited amount of government support and quite a lot from private prizes.
Awarding prizes for technological achievements has been the most succesful wat of stimulating technological achievement. In Britain the Longitude prize, won by John Harrison, may be the best investment any English speaking government ever made since it made practical the voyages that discovered Australia and new Zealand.
Experts say that a prize of $500million (£320 million or 14 months worth of what we waste on ESA)) would be enough to produce a commercial space shuttle.
All the traditional parties are opposed to funding a British X-Prize Foundation even though, if it works we would become at worst, the 2nd country in the world's fastest growing industry. If it doesn't no prize is paid which makes it a win/win gamble.
However UKIP has recently endorsed X-Prizes as policy and said that it is "inconceivable" that they could support any government which continued wasting this money. There may yet be a chance for Britain to play a part in the greatest expansion of human development since humanity left Africa (Columbus' exploration was, by comparison, minor).
ref - Black Arrow http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Arrow#Launches
UKIP endorses this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Arrow#Launches