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Rocket Launch UK - History of Rocket Launches

by Terry Smith (2021-07-19)

You may have already heard news about the successful rocket launch UK. This is the first British satellite into orbit from a private UK company, based in Greenwich. This was the third launch of a geostationary launch vehicle (GML) for the X-ray telescope. It was planned and funded by the UK Space Agency (NSA). The reason for the spaceflight was to develop a new technology for GEO applications. The first ever launch was made way back in 1980 from Plesk, a building designed and owned by The American Elements Corporation. The vehicle was christened Sirscore and later used by the Canadian government as its name for the GSM radio satellite constellation.

A lot has changed since then. Plesk was sold to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) companies and became Hughes Space (operated by Boeing) and then Iridium. All three of these space systems are designed for low Earth orbit (LEO) and are not suitable for placing satellites in geostationary orbit (geosynchronous orbit). Therefore, they are not part of the original contracts with Hughes and NASA for launching GMLs. Nevertheless, all three of them were able to make one successful launch into geostationary orbit. They are all part of the Sky and Earth Network constellation designed to track weather balloons, radios relay satellites, and communications satellites.

Now, the third launch of a GML from a private rocket launch UK company happened on October 29th during an attempt to make a weather balloon and relay it to the International Space Station (ISS). The Stratospheric Radio Relay Satellite (SARS), as this new satellite is called, was launched from Noordwelt, a town in Germany. The rocket and its associated craft were supplied by Rockomail Services of Canada. This was the third failure in a row for a private space company attempting to launch a GML on a UK rocket.

On its way to space, the rocket and its satellite craft had an interesting trajectory which prevented them from hitting the final destination. It went up into a different orbit, one they would not have achieved if they had continued their flight. Had they continued their flight, they most likely would have impacted the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, luck again turned in the rocket's favour and it successfully reached its target.

The rocket and its communications satellite rode towards space and then began their vertical descent. Once they hit the atmosphere, the rocket released its cargo. A spectacular explosion saw the satellite fragments break into the millions and scattered throughout the sky as the rocket crashed back to Earth. It was not, however, the end of the mission; rocket specialists at JPL soon learned that they still had several more minutes of life left in their spacecraft.

It was fortunate then that the rocket was equipped with an escape system that could send its passengers and cargo safely away from the rocket. The rocket was eventually recovered and landed by a parachute team from Exercise Commandos and the first piece of equipment recovered on its re-entry back to Earth was the communications satellite. This amazing feat of engineering was achieved by a team of highly skilled space engineers lead by Geoff Rees. No one was hurt in this amazing rescue attempt and the satellite is back up and operating again. This incredible story just goes to show that sometimes, even with a highly experienced rocket and spacecraft, things can go wrong.

The next rocket launch UK attempted was from a missile base station in Wallops Island, Virginia. A United States Air Force Atlas rocket was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base and deployed successfully. Unlike the rocket launches earlier, this one was a success as the Atlas rocket's main payload, the RSLC (Re-entry capsules) rocket boosters successfully inserted the capsule onto a targeted re-entry path. It was a very successful mission and it was also record setting for the United States Army.

Just recently, another successful test of a reusable rocket booster was completed by the U.S. Navy's USS John Paul Jones. In this test, the booster stage separated from the rocket on its way to a successful landing and the satellite followed. If this successful test is repeated, it will be very interesting to see how this system works. Many space flight enthusiasts and politicians alike are very interested in learning more about reusable rocket boosters. Some believe that this technology will be the key to the future of space travel and allow us to reduce the cost and weight of our astronauts while they are in space.

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