The Skylark Rocket

skylark.jpg

 

SKYLARK originated in 1955 when the Royal Society embarked on a programme of upper atmosphere research associated with the International Geophysical Year of 1957/58. Initially the project called for an unguided, fin-stabilized vehicle capable of lifting a 45kg scientific payload to an altitude of around 100km. By collaboration with the royal aircraft establishment (RAE) at Farnborough this requirement progressed quickly to the design and construction of the first SKYLARK in 1956. At the same time, production of a suitable solid propellant motor was undertaken by the Rocket propulsion establishment (RPE) at Westcott and the Banwell division of Bristol aircraft Ltd. Given the name Raven - in keeping with RPE's ornithological naming system- it was the biggest solid fuel rocket motor then in use, with a specific impulse of 1780 N s kg -1 (sea level) and a burning time of 30 seconds.

Shown left is the Skylark rocket in the foyer of the Physics and Astronomy building at the University of Leicester.

A 30 metre gimbal mounted launch tower made from bailey bridge panels was also designed by the RAE team and was constructed by the Royal Ordnance factory at Woolwich. The complete launcher was erected at the Woomera (South Australia) rocket range by May 1956 and the first SKYLARK - a technological vehicle - was launched on 13 th February 1957. After a further vehicle proving flight, the first scientific experiments were flown in SL 03 in July 1957; these were followed by a series of launches associated with the 1957/58 international geophysical year.

SKYLARK's performance was greatly enhanced in 1960 by the addition of a booster stage (Cuckoo) burning for 4 seconds, giving 80 kN thrust and adding about 40% to the peak height for a given payload mass. Later additions to the SKYLARK motor family were the Goldfinch booster and Raven XI, which when used together gave an apogee of over 500 km for a payload of 100 kg mass.

Another important SKYLARK development was the introduction of a 3-axis stabilized attitude control unit (ACU) developed jointly by RAE and Elliot Automation Ltd., Frimley. The ACU was initially designed as a sun-pointing unit but later versions were available with sun, moon or star pointing sensors. After August 1964, many attitude controlled SkylarK s were launched, gathering much new information about the nature of the solar disk and other Galactic phenomena. Over 300 SKYLARKs were launched for scientific research purposes, yielding a very noteworthy success record.

While SKYLARKs are still in use, their application to astronomical research in the UK came to an end in 1978. Leicester scientists continued their rocket work through collaboration in the NASA sounding rocket programme. These flights made use of the Astrobee-F, of similar capability to the SKYLARK, and the Canadian Black Brant Vc. By 1985, diminishing scientific returns from the short observation times available with sounding rockets no longer justified the costs and involvement in these missions ceased.

However, most recently, we have developed new, much more efficient instruments that allow us to obtain significant scientific results within the time allowed by a sounding rocket flight. After a gap of 15 years, we have twice flown the Joint Plasmadynamic Experiment (J-PEX), a high-resolution extreme ultraviolet spectrometer, on a Black Brant IX rocket. The Black Brant IX is a two-stage system comprising a Terrier booster and Vc upper stage, which allows our heavy telescope to reach an altitude of 280km.

Shown is a summary of SKYLARKs and other rockets used by the University of Leicester X-ray and Observational Astronomy group in their research programme since 1961.

SKYLARK

Experiment

Stabilisation

Year

SL 37

SL 40

SL 42

SL 45

SL 46

SL 47

SL 83

SL 84

SL 85

SL 103

SL 104

SL 105

SL 106

SL 114

SL 115

SL 118

SL 119

SL 126

SL 127

SL 128

SL 129

SL 132

SL 133

SL 138

SL 301

SL 302

SL 303

SL 304

SL 305

SL 306

SL 307

SL 403

SL 404

SL 405

SL 406

SL 407

SL 408

SL 605

SL 723

SL 724

SL 802

SL 804

SL 812

SL 901

SL 904

SL 972

SL 1002

SL 1010

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Telescope

X-ray Camera

X-ray Spectrometer

X-ray Spectrometer

X-ray Spectrometer

X-ray Spectrometer

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Spectrometer

X-ray Spectrometer

First X-ray Sky Survey

First X-ray Sky Survey

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Camera

X-ray Spectograph

X-ray Spectograph

X-ray Spectograph

X-ray Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

X-ray Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

X-ray Pinhole Camera

X-ray Pinhole Camera

Extra Galactic Survey of M87

X-ray Pinhole Camera

X-ray Pinhole Camera

X-ray Pinhole Camera

X-ray Pinhole Camera

X-ray Pinhole Camera

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Large Area Sky Survey

Large Area Sky Survey

Modulation Collimator Detector

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Survey of Norma X-1 & Cen X-3

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Background Survey

Large Area Sky Survey

Lunar occultation of GX3+1

Low energy survey

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Moon Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Unstabilised

Unstabilised

Sun Pointing

Sun Pointing

Star Pointing

Sun & Sco X-1 Pointing

Sun Pointing

Spin Stabilised

Sun & Sco X-1 Pointing

Sun Pointing

1961

1961

1961

1962

1963

1964

1961

1963

1963

1963

1963

1965

1965

1962

1963

1967

1967

1963

1963

1964

1964

1964

1964

1964

1964

1964

1965

1966

1967

1965

1966

1968

1969

1966

1966

1967

1968

1969

1968

1968

1970

1970

1971

1970

1970

1970

1971

1973

 

SKYLARK

Experiment

Stabilisation

Year

SL 1011

SL 1101

SL 1105

SL 1112

SL 1202

SL 1206

SL 1304

SL 1306

SL 1611

Modulation Collimator Cir X-1 & Cen X-3

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Low energy mapping of Vela

Low energy interstellar gas abundance

Lunar occultation of GX5-1

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Lunar occultation of Crab Nebula

Very large area mapping of Cyg X-1

Dust Halo 2-D imaging (cancelled)

Star Pointing

Sun Pointing

Magnetic & Moon Pointing

Star pointing

Sun pointing

Sun pointing

Sun pointing

Sun pointing

Inertial Platform

1973

1971

1975

1975

1972

1973

1974

1976

1978

ESA Payloads

S26

S41

S55

S69

S89

X-ray Spectroscopy

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Bragg Crystal Spectrometer

Unstabilised

Sun pointing

Sun & Sco X-1 pointing

Sun pointing

Sun pointing

1967

1967

1971

1970

1972

NASA Payloads

Astrobee-F

Astrobee-F

25.040 A'bee-F

21.069 BB Vc

21.070 BB Vc

36.162 BB IX

36.195 BB IX

Imaging X-ray Telescope (Cygnus Loop)

Imaging X-ray Telescope (Puppis A + Crab + IC433)

Wide Field Ultrasoft X-ray Camera

Wide Field Ultrasoft X-ray Camera

Wide Field Ultrasoft X-ray Camera

J-PEX High Resolution EUV Spectrometer

J-PEX High Resolution EUV Spectrometer

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

3 axis stabilised

1977

1978

1981

1982

1985

2000

2001

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