BRITAIN'S FIRST SPACE ROCKET

The story of the Skylark


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 1958 Dec 03
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The Skylark SL11 sodium burners as positioned under the nose cone. (National Archives of Australia: D891, N58/1361)

Summary: SL11 was the first to carry a new type of scientific payload, a sodium vapour experiment that involved ejecting several kilograms of sodium at height. The bright yellow glow provided information about atmospheric density and wind speeds. This experiment originated with David Bates, a distinguished professor at Queen's University of Belfast, and was probably the first chemical release from a rocket.

Preparation:  To observe the sodium glow, SL11 had to be launched at twilight, when the sun was at a depression of six degrees. This was achieved within two minutes of the optimum time, a considerable feat.  

Flight: SL11 was the first to use the extended Skylark launch tower. An apogee of 129 - 137 km (80 - 85 miles) miles) was achieved.

Recovery:  Presumably successful, but no details known.  

Results: Most successful. "...an impressive glow did indeed occur, much to the delight of the popular press, which ran headlines hailing the arrival of 'artificial moonlight' ". With others, Professor Bates went on to write papers "...that are the foundation of research on global change today as we seek to understand the response of the atmosphere to the damage we inflict upon it." (Dalgarno, 1997)

Seq. Nos

Launch date

Ref.
(sponsor)
launch site

Configuration

Apogee km
(miles)

Experim-enters

Experiments

Result

12
(8)

3 Dec
 1958

SL11
(UK)
Woomera

Unstabilised,
Raven 2A

129-137
(80-85)

Belfast
RAE

Neutral atmosphere: density & winds > 60 km using sodium vapour
Test: magnetometer & photocells

S

 


S

More:
Brand, R. H. (2014), Britain's First Space Rocket, pp.117-118 & 613.
Massey & Robins (1986), History of British Space Science, p.30.
Dalgarno (1997), Sir David Robert Bates 1916-1994, p.49. (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol.43 Nov.1997)

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