Saunders-Roe, an Isle of Wight company based at East Cowes, had, in the 1950s, gained an extensive knowledge of rocket engines. This was through working with rocket engines and high speed aircraft structures from the SR-53. The SR-53 was a high-speed jet and rocket powered aircraft, the first of which flew in 1957.
In July 1955, Saunders-Roe started work on building the Black Knight single-stage rocket. The rockets were built in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, tested at High Down, Isle of Wight, near the Needles, and launched at Woomera, Australia.
The first Black Knight was launched into space on 7th September 1958, and after the ninth, the rest were two-stage
rockets. In the end, twenty-two Black Knights were launched between 1958 and 1965, all of which were successful, making the British Space Program the most efficient in the world.
There was a period when it was decided to convert the Blue Streak weapon delivery system into a satellite launcher using Black Knight technology, the three-stage rocket codenamed Black Prince, but it never happened. Instead, in 1966 a new rocket was developed, the Black Arrow. It was a three-stage rocket. It was built at the site of J. Samuel White's old East
Cowes shipyard1. The Black Arrows were also tested at High Down and launched at Woomera.
Four Black Arrows were launched, and on the 28th October 1971, the Isle of Wight company put the Prospero satellite into a Polar orbit. "Prospero" was an all-British satellite, built by Marconi, launched from an all-British rocket, making the United Kingdom one of only five countries in the world to have launched their own satellite with their own technology - along with the USA, the former USSR, China and France.
The End Of The Programme
It had been the British Government who had financed the launches. In 1971, despite foreseeing the amount of demand there would be for satellite technology considering the imminent explosion in demand for international telecommunications satellites, and satellites for other uses, the Government decided to stop all research into this extremely profitable business. The last Black Arrow was never launched, but is an exhibit at the London Science Museum. Britain, which had the most efficient space program in the world by not having a single failure, ended its space program just when it was becoming commercially successful.
In 1972, British Hovercraft Corporation 2 were contracted to build twelve AP135 Falstaff single-stage solid fuel rockets. The first was fired in 1974, and the last in 1978. Only six were launched in the end as the series had proved even more successful than anticipated. BHC managed to build the French Diamant B launchers, and tried to secure work on the European Space Programme's Ariane 5 satellite launcher project, in conjunction with the British National Space Centre. The British Government, though, realising that they were still involved in something useful for the future, decided to close the British National Space Centre and withdraw from ESA, and this prevented any further work related to Space.Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900-1919Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920-1945Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1946-1960Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1960-2000