First rocket launched from UK into space – bet you missed it!

In October 2015, the first rocket launched from the UK left earth’s atmosphere and entered into space. “What!?” I hear you cry “how on earth did I miss it?”

Above is what a Terrier-Orion rocket launch is like when it’s not a secret military operation!

Well, certainly don’t beat yourself up, everyone missed it, and it’s not due to a space program, but rather the a UK military test with the American military. The Terrier-Orion two-stage rocket was launched from the Hebrides missile range in the Western Isles, and blown to pieces by the USS Ross over the Atlantic.

southuistapparatus C Greg
Launch apparatus at the missile range. Photo Credit Greg Morss 

The Terrier component is the booster, originally from a surface to air US navy missile, and the Orion is a sounding rocket developed at the NASA Goddard Wallops facility. The Orion component on its own would have a ceiling of 85km, but with the Terrier booster the improved Terrier-Orion can reach 200km with a payload of between 90 – 360kg.

Terrier-Orion
Terrier-Orion rocket. Photo credit NASA

Okay, so less exciting to space enthusiasts that this was a military test, however does it set any kind of precedent for the UK? Well yes it is a first, and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t possible to launch things like that from the UK. However, the difference with the kinds of rockets you and I are interested in, is that we want them to come down too!

There are several Scottish sites in the running to become Spaceport UK, however that facility if it’s built won’t facilitate vertical launch, only horizontal, so it’s banking on the success of people like Virgin Galactic to get their act together, XCor to make great strides, and Skylon to some day be operational from the UK.

Could northern Scotland be the UK’s Cape Canaveral?