BRITAIN'S FIRST SPACE ROCKET

The story of the Skylark


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SL09
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 1958 June 19
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Summary: This was the second of two Skylarks scheduled for the IGY (International Geophysical Year) special 'rocket' interval. The vehicle worked well, and one of the three university experiments was successful for the first time.

Preparation:  SL09 was the 10th Skylark to be launched, and the 6th in 1958. The launch took place from Woomera the day after the similar SL18, which failed four seconds after launch. After SL09, it was two months to the day before SL08 was fired. 

Flight: After the failure of SL18, fingers must have been crossed, but all went well, with an apogee of 149 km (93 miles).

Recovery:  Parachute recovery had not been introduced, and no information about the impact point has been found.  

Results: The UCL and Imperial College neutral atmosphere experiments (using grenades and window/chaff respectively) to measure temperature and wind variation with altitude failed, but Birmingham's dielectric method for measuring electron concentration worked well for the first time. This clearly showed the presence of a narrow shelf of ionisation at near 100 km, caused by sporadic E ionisation. This result came in time for it to be reported by Sir Harrie Massey at an IGY conference in Moscow the following month.


A commemorative envelope marking Skylark's launches during the IGY rocket week 1958

Seq. Nos

Launch date

Ref.
(sponsor)
launch site

Configuration

Apogee km
(miles)

Experimenters

Experiments

Result

10
(6)

19 June
 1958

SL09
(UK)
Woomera

Unstabilised,
Raven 2

149
(93)

 UCL
IC
Birmngham

Neutral atmosphere (grenades)
Neutral atmosphere (window/chaff)
Ionosphere - electron concentration

F
F
S

More:
Brand, R. H. (2014), Britain's First Space Rocket, pp.116 & 613.
Massey & Robins (1986), History of British Space Science, p.47.
Boyd in 2001, CCBH (2005), Skylark Sounding Rockets 1957-1972, p.45, and Prospero (Journal of British Rocketry & Nuclear History) No.2, p.110.

                       New Forest Electronics Tel. +44 (0) 1425 650089                 Issue 3.106    25 July 2023