A U.K launch site for Blue Streak?

During the negotiations with the French and with other European nations that led up to the formation of ELDO, it was not always clear whether the Australians would make Woomera available at a reasonable cost. During a difficult part of the negotiations, the Minister of Aviation, Peter Thorneycroft, asked the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics [CGWL], Sir Steuart Mitchell, whether Spadeadam was make a suitable lauch site. Here is his reply.

[Spadeadam is in Cumbria, in the NorthWest of England, close to the Scottish border, and midway between Carlisle and Newcastle. It was set up to develop the Blue Streak engines and test out completed vehicles.]

Use of Spadeadam for Space Firings.

The following are hurriedly prepared views on the above.


Spadeadam would certainly be feasible, and in nearly every way technically would be better than everywhere else.

2. Costwise. (Capitol plus operating) Spadeadam would be as cheap as Woomera, and cheaper than anywhere else.

3. Method.

Trajectory about north 15 east

Overflies Kelso. Crosses over Eyemouth

Pass 25 miles east of Aberdeen, and 100 miles west of the Norwegian coast.

Down range station, very well placed, would be in Spitsbergen, (Norway, open all year round). Alternative would be at Tromso, which is possible but not so well placed.

First stage impact 200 miles off Norwegian coast abreast Namsos. (This is west of the Narvik-North Sea ore traffic lane).

Second stage impact on the polar ice cap.

4. Risks.

Quick and Rough estimates are:-

1. The chance of having to cut the missile down on to UK territory beyond the Spadeadam Range Area is approximately:-
1/2 % to 2 % during the Development period.

2. The chance of a missile having to be cut down and then landing in a "populated area" is approximately:-

1/50 % to 1/5 % during the Development period.

3. The chance of killing a person is approximately 1 in 10,000 per round fired in the development phase.

4. The risk to Norwegian territory is negligible. The risk to shipping is negligible.

5. Nature of the Risk.

The cut-down risk is numerically greatest within the first mile. Thereafter it diminishes rapidly. The Spadeadam Range Area extends to just over a mile from the launch.

A missile cut down within five miles would have a considerable fire risk from fuel and oxidant. Outside five miles a cut-down missile is primarily a fragment risk not a fuel oxidant risk.

6. Comparison with Aircraft Risks.

Aircraft crashes in the U.K. over the last 5 years average about 90 per annum. The probable total damage to lives and property of persons on the ground per annum from firings from Spadeadam is estimated to be about 1/10 of that from aircraft crashes in the UK per annum.

One Boeing 707 crashing near take off from London Airport with full tanks and 128 passengers, or two Boeings colliding over London would be far more serious than any conceivable accident with a space launcher.

7.Black Knight Experience

None of the total of eleven firings so far done with Black Knight would have landed in U.K. territory if they had been fired from Spadeadam.

8. Conclusion.

Spadeadam is technically both feasible and attractive.

From the cost point of view, it is approximately the same as Woomera, and is much cheaper than any other alternative.

It must be accepted, however, that some cut-downs on to U.K. territory would inevitably occur if we fire from Spadeadam. The chances of serious damage to life and property from such cut-downs are numerically small.

The risk of damage to foreign countries, or to shipping, is negligible.

The crucial point is the political acceptability of the risk in the U.K. Hitherto this has been regarded as unacceptable, and it would be no less now than when previously considered. My advice is that the risk is appreciable and should not be accepted.

27th October 1961.

Handwritten over top of this paper are comments from Peter Thorneycroft, Minister of Aviation:

Have a minute prepared and ready to send to P.M. if the Australian answer is unsatisfactory - it should set out these facts and conclude that the ... illegible ... and advise Cabinet on ... illegible ... is acceptable or not. P.T.

... back to the Blue Streak page ...