Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Blue Streak missile

The Blue Streak missile was a failed British ballistic missile development programme of the mid to late-1950s. A continuation of the Black Knight programme.

Postwar Britain's nuclear weapons armament was initially based on free-fall bombs delivered by the V bomber force. It soon became clear that if Britain wanted to have a credible threat a ballistic missile would be essential. There was a political need for an independent deterrent, so Britain could remain one of the major post-war powers. The use of any American missile would have appeared to hand control to the US.

In April 1954 the Americans proposed a joint development programme for ballistic missiles, the United States would develop an ICBM of 5000nm range, the United Kingdom should develop with the United States support a MRBM of 2000nm range. The proposal was accepted as part of the Wilson-Sandys Agreement of August 1954 - which provided for collaboration, exchange of information and mutual planning of development programs. The decision to develop was influenced by what could be learnt about missile design and development in the US.

De Havillands won the contract to build the missile, and it was to be powered by an uprated Rocketdyne S3D engine, developed by Rolls-Royce, called RZ2.

However doubts rose as the estimated cost rose, from the first tentative figure of 50m submitted to the Treasury in early 1955 to 300m in late 1959. The programme was crawling along compared with the speed of development in the US and the USSR.

Eventually the project was cancelled due to its lack of credibility as a deterrent. Before it had been deployed it was obsolete. Using a liquid oxygen-kerosine fuel and operating from fixed sites, meant that the delay in launch due to fuelling compared to probable warning time was too high for the missile to respond in time to a Russian attack. Also the Chiefs of Staff were unanimous that Blue Streak as a first fire weapon was unacceptable. Around 60m had been spent.

The government transferred its hopes to the Anglo-American Skybolt missile, before that too was cancelled and the British had to wrangle Polaris from the Americans.

After the cancellation as a military project, there was relutance to cancel the project outright because of the huge investment that had taken place. So the missile development continued under the auspices of ELDO, the European launcher development organisation. Blue Streak became the first stage of a satellite launcher known as Black Prince, the second stage was a Black Knight missile, and the orbital injection stage was a solid fuel motor.

The Blue Streak first stage was successfully tested several times at the Woomera test range in Australia, but the complete rocket was never flown.

A final attempt to employ the Blue Streak was in the Europa I launcher, which again retained the Blue Streak as the first stage, but used French and German second and third stages. Although several launches were made the French and German components proved unreliable leading to the projects final cancellation, and the end of Blue Streak.

As a footnote in the eleven Blue Streak test launches, there was not a single failure, a feat only equalled by the Saturn V.