The Black Arrow lands in Penicuik

Skyrora CEO Vladimir Levykin, Derek Mack, Mike Kelleway, Daniel Smith at the Black Arrow Unveiling in Penicuik.
Skyrora CEO Vladimir Levykin, Derek Mack, Mike Kelleway, Daniel Smith at the Black Arrow Unveiling in Penicuik.

The UK’s only successful orbital launch rocket was last week brought 10,000 miles home from the Australian outback and unveiled in Penicuik.

Almost 50 years since its original launch, the Black Arrow rocket was unveiled at Bishop’s Move last Friday after Edinburgh-based rocket developer Skyrora transported the vehicle back to the UK from its landing site to be used for educational outreach.

The Black Arrow programme completed three launches between 1969 and 1971, with the third flight from Woomera, Australia, serving as the first and only UK-led orbital launch.

Skyrora, which will commence testing on its own orbital vehicle’s upper stage engine in the coming weeks, also arranged for two of the project’s original engineers, Derek Mack (86) and Mike Kelleway (78), to attend the event.

Mr Mack, who was the programme’s senior trials engineer, said: “As soon as I saw Black Arrow again, it was like being reunited with an old friend. I spent 10 weeks straight working on the project before the launch, so to see it again really is remarkable – the fact that the rocket is still in such good condition after all this time shows it was built to last.

“That Skyrora will be using technologies and in particular a fuel oxidiser inspired directly by Black Arrow is also a source of great pride – and means that our old rocket remains so relevant today.”

Involved in inspecting the rocket’s engine prior to the launch, Mike Kelleway joined Derek on the trip north from the Isle of Wight.

He said: “It’s great to be able to see Black Arrow again, something neither Derek or myself thought would happen.

“I volunteer to lead trips around the test sites at High Down and it’s great to think that Skyrora’s efforts to bring Black Arrow back to the UK will make more people aware of the programme and encourage them to visit us on the Isle of Wight.”

Cancelled before its fourth and final launch, the Black Arrow programme - that famously launched the Prospero satellite – has achieved ‘cult’ status among the space community.

Skyrora, which is just 20 months old has already developed a large team comprising 120 people with headquarters in Edinburgh and six workshops around Europe. The company is currently searching for a permanent engine testing site in the Lothians.

Daniel Smith, director at Skyrora, said: “Black Arrow serves as a testament to Britain’s space legacy. We’re incredibly grateful that two of the engineers from the original project have been able to join us for the unveiling.

Smith added: “It’s our hope it will be reminder not only to our own team, but to everyone that’s part of the new commercial space race of what’s been accomplished before.”

Black Arrow was shipped across land and sea, making the journey from the Australian desert to Bishop’s Move in Penicuik, where the rocket was unveiled. Kenny Janczyk, branch manager at Bishop’s Move, said: “It’s been great to have the local community involved in the project, especially being able to run an arts competition with nearby schools and have the winning pupils join us at the unveiling.

“We’re really proud to have hosted the event at Bishop’s Move – hopefully some of the youngsters will have been inspired to get involved in the industry in the future.”

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 their 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.