Re: To Infini
>...some left pondian pressure...
The only Left Pondian involvement was an offer - prior to cancellation - from NASA to launch British payloads for free. An offer withdrawn after cancellation. It may have had an impact on the cancellation, but on the whole, I doubt it. Black Arrow's payload to orbit was insufficient for any communications satellites, and commercial applications at the time were virtually non-existent. The RAE had only one further payload planned after Prospero, so Black Arrow would never have had an economic launch cadence. And even buying launches using the US Scout rocket would have been cheaper. So the only justifications at the time were purely chauvinistic, for national pride. R0's failure was acceptable, but the subsequent R2 launch failure also added pressure to cancel. Industry was consulted and their feedback would inform the final decision.
It's worth tracking down the Penney Report (author William Penney was part of the Tube Alloys team, and leader of the British delegation to the Manhattan Project) which is very detailed and thorough. One of the things it recommends is to push forward supporting industry to develop an indigenous satellite design and manufacturing capability in preference to launcher development. It concludes that:
"The disappointing performance of Black Arrow launcher R2 in September 1970 was not due to poor project management, bad fundamental design, or low grade effort. We know we were taking a gamble in trying to make do with so few test launches, and the gamble went against us.
The cost of launching of the X3 satellite on the R3 vehicle is almost fully incurred, and the best policy would therefore be to launch X3 in July 1971 as planned. But in spite of all the work being done to follow up the R2 failure, we cannot be sure that the gamble will not go against us again on R3. The Ministry has neither the time nor the resources to build up greater confidence in Black Arrow before X3 is ready for launch.
It is probable that with the present launch rate of one Black Arrow a year, we will still not be fully confident of its reliability by 1974 when we are planning to launch X4, the second major technological satellite. Even if the Ministry agreed to fund an increase in the launch rate, only one or two extra Black Arrows could be built and launched by 1974.
There is a three-year gap between X3 and X4, but Black Arrows are being built at the rate of one a year. This mismatch between the production rates of launchers and worthwhile satellites may well continue beyond X4, and cannot easily be remedied by adjustments to the launcher programme which is already running at about the minimum level for efficiency.
The current programme gives us too few Black Arrow to establish the vehicle as a proven launcher in a reasonable timescale, and too many to meet our requirements for satellite launches. It is therefore not a viable programme at present, and there is no easy way out of the dilemma.
Black Arrow has no alternative use, and the nation would have much to gain and little to lose if it were cancelled in favour of American launchers. We would be abandoning a certain political independence and a guarantee of commercial security payments, but on these two points satisfactory safeguards should be available from the US authorities.
Unless a formal approach is made quickly to the inhabitants on the availability of Scouts and other launchers for our technological satellite programme, further commitments will have to be made on Black Arrow vehicles as an insurance move.
As soon as we are satisfied that we can get the launchers we need from the Americans on acceptable terms, the Black Arrow programme be brought to a close as soon as possible. However, the launching of X3 on the R3 vehicle should proceed, and there may be a need for a further launch if problems arise with X3/R3.
I therefore recommend that:
The Ministry should make a formal approach to the US authorities as soon as possible about the availability of launchers for X4 and subsequent satellites in the National Space Technology Programme, and terms on which they can be provided.
Commitments on R5 and subsequent Black Arrow vehicles should be kept the minimum possible level while the Americans are being approached, and all work on them should be stopped as soon as satisfactory arrangements have been made for the supply of US launchers.
The X3 satellite should be launched as planned on the R3 Black Arrow vehicle in July 1971; the R4 vehicle should be completed in all major respects and used as a reserve for R3 up to the launch. If X3 goes into orbit successfully and functions as planned, the Black Arrow launcher programme should be brought to a close without further launches.
If X3 fails to go into orbit successfully or fails to work in orbit, the Ministry will have to decide whether to bring the launcher programme to a close at that point or repeat the X3 experiments by launching the X3R on the R4 vehicle. Unless they are sure that the R4 vehicle has a better chance of success than the R3, and it is worth spending £1 million to repeat the satellite experiment, a further launch should not be sanctioned.
The X4 satellite should be launched on Scout; and Scout or Thor Deltas should be bought as necessary for later satellites in the series.
The Ministry should determine at a high level the views of British industry on the value of a technological satellite programme. If no such value can be identified the programme should be brought to a stop. If it is established that the programme is worthwhile, a plan should be drawn up for a series of future satellites so organised as to give the maximum benefit to British firms in their attempts to win contracts in the international market."