British rocket which launched satellite in 1971 returns home

The Black Arrow rocket was developed on the Isle of Wight but had remained at its crash-landing site in South Australia for almost 50 years.
The Black Arrow rocket was developed on the Isle of Wight but had remained at its crash-landing site in South Australia for almost 50 years.

The UK’s only rocket to successfully launch a satellite into orbit is to be unveiled in Scotland after a 10,000-mile journey back home.

The Black Arrow projectile had lain at its crash landing site in the South Australian outback for more than 48 years.

Over time it was damaged by extreme weather and vandalism, but then space technology firm Skyrora stepped in to return it home.

The rocket – described as “the most important artefact” of the UK’s space industry – is to go on display in Penicuik, Midlothian, later this month.

Daniel Smith, director at Skyrora, said: “This is quite feasibly the most important artefact linked to the UK’s space history.

“While our engineers have been working on our own launches, our STEM ambassadors have been arranging all of this in the background.

“We’ll be unveiling it in Penicuik later this month, not far from our headquarters and workshop in Edinburgh.

“With the UK Government aiming to make us a launch nation again, it seemed like the perfect time to bring Black Arrow back.

“We really hope the rocket will help to inspire current and future generations of scientists and engineers.”

The UK Space Agency has previously announced £2.5 million of funding for a proposed vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland.

Developed and tested on the Isle of Wight, the Black Arrow programme completed four rockets between 1969 and 1971.

The third flight was the first and only successful UK-led orbital launch, but the programme was then cancelled.

This is said to have given the rocket “cult status” among the space community.

Black Arrow rocket
The rocket has been vandalised and damaged by extreme weather over the years (Skyrora/PA)

The Black Arrow’s journey home saw it transported across land and sea – making the trip from the Australian desert to Edinburgh via Adelaide.

Skyrora has also commissioned a plaque to be placed where Black Arrow had lain.

Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Black Arrow is testament to Britain’s longstanding heritage in the space sector which continues to thrive today.

“The Government’s Spaceflight Programme includes a series of education and outreach activities which I hope will play a major role in inspiring the next generation of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.”

Skyrora successfully completed its inaugural sub-orbital test launch north of the border last year.

The company’s next rockets, Skylark Micro and SkyHy, will allow its team to gain more valuable launch experience, with the latter capable of reaching the edge of space – a feat never accomplished by a private company launching from the UK before.