Category Archives: Latest News

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.

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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 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?

Blue Origin’s Bezos links the past to the future

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Jeff Bezos at the Seattle Museum of Flight unveiling the F1 engine

Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon and rocket company Blue Origin, recently gave a gift to Seattle’s Museum of flight which is a piece of America’s spaceflight history – Apollo rocket engines recovered from 14,000 feet beneath the Atlantic ocean.

This incredible bit of history was recovered by a team funded, and led, by Bezos himself, and a restored engine donated to the museum at his request. This would be an amazing act in itself, made more so by the fact that Bezos, through his company Blue Origin, is at the cutting edge of rocket technology today.

The Apollo F-1 cone-shaped engines, arrayed in a cluster of five at the base of each rocket, each delivered 1.5 million pounds of thrust and burned 6,000 pounds of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen every second. 600px-SaturnF1EngineDiagram

The massive engines, each more than 18.5 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter, burned for just a few minutes, long enough to boost the 50-ton Saturn V rocket to the edge of space.

Then the first stage, including the engines, fell away and plunged some 40 miles back to Earth and into the Atlantic, as NASA planned. What is perhaps surprising is how these engines, which afterall were designed by an ex-German 2nd World War officer Werner von Braun, are still so incredible even by today’s standards.

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A British policeman examines the wreckage of Von Braun’s early work on the streets on London during World War II
Saturn V engines
The Saturn V with 5 of the F1 engines. Credit: NASA

“This is still in some ways the most remarkable rocket engine ever engineered” says Jeff Bezos

Then he added, “That’s a little embarrassing. It’s 2015.”

But Bezos has less to be embarrassed about than most, as Blue Origin has been quietly getting on with the job of working on efficient engines, and recoverable rocket boosters. At its first attempt in April this year (2015) the rocket successfully flew to 58 miles, and the capsule landed well, however the booster was not recovered okay on this occasion. For Bezos and Blue Origin thought, its still early days, and there’s a great deal more to come from this exciting venture.

Thanks to Seattle Times and Bezos Expeditions for some material 

Great Events at the Science Museum

Experience some great events for space enthusiasts at the Science Museum in London.

Wednesday 25 November, Science Museum London
19.30 (Groups Entrance to museum open from 18.45)
IMAX Theatre. Tickets £15, with 20% discount for Mars Society Members

As part of this month’s Maths-themed Lates, join us for a one-off screening of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar in IMAX 70mm, preceded by a discussion between the Science Museum’s Director of External Affairs Roger Highfield, Science Museum Fellow of Modern Science Harry Cliff and Interstellar’s Oscar-winning Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin.

Roger is a noted science writer and the co-author of the acclaimed biography The Private Lives of Albert Einstein. Harry is a particle physicist at Cambridge and the Large Hadron Collider.

interstellar-movie-chris-nolanThe panel will talk about the film and about Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the centenary of which we commemorate this year. Covering space, time, gravity, black holes and the origin and fate of the universe, scientists are still grappling with its implications a century after its publication.

Interstellar is based on the theories of physicist Kip Thorne, one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s theory. A mindbending sci-fi epic, the film follows a team of explorers on the most important mission in history, as they journey through a wormhole in space in a desperate attempt to save humanity.

£15 – over 18s only (Join the Mars Society and receive your exclusive discount of this and other events!)

Information for your visit

  • This film is showing in 70mm IMAX and is not in IMAX 3D
  • As this takes place during our adult Lates event, the screening is for ages 18 and over
  • Entry is via the Group Entrance on Imperial College Road
  • Please allow plenty of time to reach the IMAX Theatre
  • Seating is unreserved

Why see it at our IMAX Theatre?

  • Director Christopher Nolan designed and captured Interstellar for true 70mm IMAX film viewing, meaning you’ll see 40% more film image on our screen than on those found at large cinema chains that use digital IMAX technology
  • Our screen is one of the largest in the UK. It’s almost double the size of those found at large cinema chains, measuring 16.8m from floor to ceiling and 24.3m from wall to wall. That’s the height of four double-decker buses or a car park for 64 taxis
  • Experience 10 times the image quality, resolution and sound than you would at a conventional digital cinema, making you feel like you’re part of the action


If you haven’t already encountered this, RocketSTEM is an excellent project, a media foundation who say their goals are:

  • Inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts.
  • Keep educators informed on space developments and help them better work STEM lessons into their classrooms.
  • Raise awareness of the benefits of space exploration.
  • Encourage international cooperation in space exploration.

RocketSTEM-july-2015-front-coverSounds good to us!

You can find their most recent edition here and you’ll find their website an excellent educational resource, and informative and fun for yourself too, we highly recommend that you check them out.


Blue Origin Develops BE-4 Engine Further

Blue Origin, the secretive rocket company based in Kent, WA, announced that they have completed more than 100

Blue Origin BE-4 Rocket Engine. Click for larger image, Credit: Blue Origin.
Blue Origin BE-4 Rocket Engine. Click for larger image, Credit: Blue Origin.

staged-combustion tests in the development of their new BE-4 engine. The series of tests combined to achieve a crucial milestone in the engine’s development. These tests provided measurable performance data in advance of the forthcoming Critical Design Review (CDR).
“We tested a number of injector element designs and chamber lengths at a variety of operational conditions,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin. “Rigorous component testing ahead of full-engine testing significantly increases confidence in the development schedule and projected performance.”According to a release issued by the company, the staged-combustion testing configuration included a representative BE-4 preburner and regeneratively cooled thrust chamber using multiple full-scale injector elements.

The tests were performed and then compared to the company’s pre-test predictions for the engine. Among the tests were checks for injector performance, heat transfer, and combustion stability. Data gathered during testing was used to refine the design of the preburner and main combustion chamber injector elements, preburner and main combustion chamber sizing, and the regenerative cooling configuration.

The construction and operation of the test components also demonstrated the critical manufacturing processes for the thrust chamber and nozzle, including the use of additive manufacturing (3-D printing).

Blue Origin BE-4 engine undergoing staged-combustion test. Photo Credit: Blue Origin Read more at

The BE-4 uses liquid oxygen (LOX) for the oxidizer and liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the primary propellant. This combination produces a rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf (2.45 MN) of thrust at sea level.

Jeff Bezos, who is known for creating online retail giant, recently unveiled a new Blue Origin rocket that will use the BE-4 as its principle propulsion. At a press conference held at the Cape, Blue Origin announced plans to build and launch this new orbital vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Additionally, the BE-4 will be used on United Launch Alliance’s next generation Vulcan launch system. That rocket system is designed to serve national security, civil, human, and commercial missions. Vulcan will use two of the BE-4 engines for each first stage.

In late 2014, Blue Origin signed an agreement with United Launch Alliance to co-develop the BE-4 rocket engine. The Vulcan Next Generation Launch System is planned to succeed the Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. Currently, the Atlas V relies on Russian-made RD-180 engines. The need for a new engine arose with the geopolitical uncertainty in acquiring more RD-180s after Russia’s military actions in Ukraine in 2014.

Find out more at Blue Origin

See What Space X Astronauts Will See

People have likened it to a promotion that a car company would use to promote a new luxury model; so maybe executives at Space X are learning a lot from sister company, Tesla Motors.

It is very cool, it’s a bit like “if Mercedes made spaceships” however…there are 4 windows for the astronauts to see out into space, and back towards earth.

SpaceX tested out the Crew Dragon’s ability to keep astronauts safe in May. The company is developing the ship for NASA as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which aims to bring “cost-effective access” to the ISS, as well as pave the way to develop ships for manned missions to Mars in the 2030s.

According to SpaceX, the ship will have a climate-control system that will allow astronauts to set the temperature in the Crew Dragon between a very comfortable 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. What about somewhere to charge your phone, and perhaps a deluxe cup-holder?

The support structure at the back of the seats look like something that could be found in a race car. SpaceX said that were anything to go wrong, the Crew Dragon’s emergency escape system would “swiftly carry astronauts to safety” with the same amount of G-force found on a ride at Disneyland.

Interior of Dragon. Credit: Space X
Interior of Dragon. Credit: Space X

The Dragon Crew will be self-driving, rather like the Tesla Model S, but astronauts and mission control will both be able to take control if need be. Hopefully astronauts won’t mistakenly press the “Deorbit Now” button when instead trying to depressurize the cabin, though.

Space X’s Falcon Heavy is a go for launch in Spring 2016

Lee Rosin, vice president of Space X for mission and launch operations, has said that the company is aiming for a “late April early May time-frame” for the first launch of the long awaited Falcon Heavy. After Space X’s high-profile failure of a Falcon 9 on it’s mission to the ISS, eyes and ears are eagerly trained towards this news from Space X.

Rosen also explained that the crew is finishing renovations to the Falcon Heavy’s launch pad for the initial test flight. That’s the Pad 39A that’s designed to handle launches of both the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9.

Launch pad 39a. Photo credit: NASA
Launch pad 39a. Photo credit: NASA

The rocket was first announced back in 2011 with a launch planned for 2013 that didn’t pan out. And this summer’s Falcon 9 disaster push things back even further. After the first test launch, the Falcon Heavy is scheduled to carry a load of 37 satellites for the Air Force in September 2016. As a refresher, the spacecraft uses 4.5 million pounds of thrust to launch and is capable of carrying a payload of 53,000 kg (116,845 lbs.) into low Earth orbit