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RAF Fylingdales Shakespearean satellite 50th anniversary

'Prospero,' the first British satellite to be launched on a British rocket.  Images courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

This year is the 50th anniversary since the launch of the satellite Prospero; the first British satellite to be launched on a British rocket. 

The satellite now orbits the earth every 103 minutes, passing the Solid-State Phased Array RADAR at RAF Fylingdales five times a day.  RAF Fylingdales provide a continuous ballistic missile early warning service and space monitoring programme to the UK and US Governments; keeping space safe 24/7.  

Desert environment
Black Arrow launch pad in Woomera, South Australia.

The satellite was built by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, in Farnborough, to study the effects of space on communication satellites.  It was successfully launched on the Black Arrow rocket, on the 28th October 1971, in the desert town Woomera, South Australia, despite taking damage to one antenna, after colliding in orbit with the rockets body.

The first stage of the Black Arrow rocket fell to Earth and was recovered by Skyrora – this is currently on display in Scotland.

Initially, the satellite was scheduled to launch months earlier, under the name ‘Puck’, after the Shakespearian sprite from A Midsummer Nights’ Dream.  However, the British government cancelled the space rocket programme, to utilise the United States rockets for sending satellites into orbit instead.

Puck was then renamed ‘Prospero’, after the wizard who lost all his power in the Shakespeare play, The Tempest.

50 years later and the UK Space Programme continues to thrive with the recent launch of UK Space Command.  RAF Fylingdales is one of its two founding units and has contributed to the defence of the UK and its allies, since 1963.

Read more on the UK Space Command page.

Follow RAF Fylingdales on Twitter @RAFFylingdales.

3D graphic model of the Black Arrow rocket.
Woomera Museum, displaying a model of Black Arrow Rocket at the launch pad in South Australia.

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