Why that’s my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee: But thou shalt have freedom: so, so ,so.
Prospero, The Tempest, Act V
At 18:00:16 GMT on 26th April 1962 UK-1, better known a Ariel, escaped to the freedom of orbit aboard a Thor-Delta rocket. So began the history of Britain in space. For 50 years the UK has had a toe-hold in orbit which all began with the Ariel program.
“This thing of darkness…” The Tempest Act V
It was a successful program that saw 6 satellites launched over 17 years, each of which carried out a range of science and astronomy experiments that help further our exploration of space. Ariel 2 was the first spacecraft built for radio astronomy. Ariel 3, the first entirely UK built space craft, looked at the thermosphere and lightning radio noise. Ariel 4 conducted ionospheric research while Ariel 5 launched 3 years later was an X-ray space observatory. The last spirit servant, Ariel 6 was designed for X-ray astronomy and cosmic ray research.
It all ended in February 1982 almost 20 years after the program began and the last of Britain’s early cosmic explorers decayed and burnt up in 1990.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” The Tempest, Act IV
Since Ariel we have been to comets, surveyed the sky and Earth and touched the surface of Titan. The UK space program has none of the drama of Apollo or the aesthetic of Voyager, it is small, it is quiet but it does amazing work and has furthered human knowledge.
That is 50 years worth celebrating.
UPDATE since I posted this yesterday the UK Space Agency has posted a great video looking at the 50 years of Uk Space. Go watch!