Not just the Titan being retired..

From: Max White (
Date: Fri Apr 29 2005 - 20:19:21 EDT

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    ...this from the BBC...but we tend not observe such items!
    Last launch for UK skylark rocket
    A hugely successful and largely unsung British space programme is about to 
    draw to a close with the final launch of a Skylark sounding rocket.
    The vehicle, which first flew in 1957, became a very inexpensive but 
    effective way of carrying scientific experiments into suborbital space.
    It lost official UK government support in the late 1970s but sufficient 
    motors were left to continue research flights.
    The 441st and last Skylark will blast off from Sweden on Sunday.
    The launch window at the Swedish Space Corporation's Esrange site, near 
    Kiruna, opens at 0600 BST (0700 CET).
    Hugh Whitfield, of Sounding Rocket Services Ltd, which has operated the 
    Skylark vehicles since 1999, told the BBC News Website: "This is a 
    50-year-old programme - it began in 1955 and we will conclude in 2005. At 
    one stage, it was a very big programme with over 200 people working on it.
    "The Skylark is a classic. Back in the '50s, Britain was very advanced on 
    the capabilities of aircraft and they were coming up to launch satellites; 
    the country was Europe's leading light and we were up there with the 
    Americans and Russians.
    "It wasn't until later in the '50s and '60s that governments started cutting 
    back on programmes."
    The final mission, Maser 10 as it is known, has been organised under the 
    European Space Agency banner, and will carry five experiments.
    They include a biological investigation of the muscle protein actin, and a 
    study of turbulence in evaporating liquids.
    The tests will experience about six minutes of "weightlessness", allowing 
    their scientists to examine the physical processes at play that would 
    otherwise be masked by the effects of gravity in a surface laboratory.
    The Maser 10 payload will be recovered by helicopter after it has parachuted 
    back to Earth.
    Early development work on Skylark was done at the Royal Aeronautical 
    Establishment at Farnborough and the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at 
    The vehicle made its maiden flight in the International Geophysical Year, at 
    Woomera, in Australia - where many British rockets were tested in the days 
    when the UK had serious launch ambitions of its own.
    The rockets became very popular with young scientific researchers, as it was 
    possible for a PhD student to design a space experiment, launch it on a 
    Skylark vehicle and then write up the results in just three years.
    "The main thing it has given is a lot of experience for engineers and 
    scientists who have gone on to bigger and better things," commented John 
    Turner, a design engineer who worked on Skylark from the mid-'60s. "It was 
    the place where people cut their teeth in aerospace."
    American future
    All manner of investigations have been done on Skylarks: from X-ray 
    astronomy to crystal growth, from Earth-observation to the study of how 
    frogs eggs are fertilised.
    But despite its success, the UK government ended public funding for the 
    programme in 1977. The expectation was that university departments would 
    want to fly their experiments on the soon-to-launch American space shuttle 
    At that time, it was anticipated the new US orbiter would make frequent 
    trips into space, giving researchers ample space and opportunity to run 
    their tests under much longer conditions of microgravity.
    "It would be very nice if Britain could compete in the space race, but we 
    are now just a bit player in a European agency. We could have been there, 
    but we let the opportunity go," said Mr Whitfield.
    The Skylark programme has persisted despite being shoved from one home to 
    the next.
    The commercial operation was initially handed to British Aerospace, then to 
    Matra Marconi Space, before finally coming out into the small, privately run 
    Sounding Rocket Services company based in Fishponds, Bristol.
    The first Skylark was capable of lifting 45kg to 150km. The final variant, 
    Skylark 12, could carry a 200kg payload to 576km.
    "The 12 was a three-stage vehicle and was the most powerful in the series," 
    explained Mr Whitfield.
    "We actually did a launch in Brazil which reached an apogee of 1,000km. It 
    was a light payload, mind; a German experiment to look at a Southern 
    Hemisphere aurora."
    The Skylark 7 that will be used for the final launch will take its payload 
    to an apogee of 250km. It will be powered by a "Raven XI" main-stage and a 
    "Goldfinch" boost-stage motor.
    SRS will in future launch the American-built Oriole range of sounding 
    rockets. The Oriole is a slightly larger rocket than the Skylark and its 
    newer design offers greater capability despite being more expensive.
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