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The Rocket Vault

rocket-vault-1-202.jpgFrom tank busters to rocket motors used to launch satellites into space – see some of the secret rockets worked on at Waltham Abbey in our brand new exhibit.

The exhibition shows the development of rocket motors and propellants from Congreve's gunpowder rocket of the early 19th century through to the guided missiles used in the cold war and Falklands war. Former employees are on hand most weekends to give guided tours and answer any technical questions concerning rockets and propellants.

Twelve new rockets were added to the display in June 2007. Among the exhibits on show are a rocket engine from a V2 that broke up in mid air over Waltham Abbey in 1945, a Gosling motor from a Thunderbird anti aircraft rocket of the cold war era, a Blowpipe ground to air missile from the Falklands war and a model of the Skylark research rocket that provided valuable scientific information over a period of some fifty years.

Also on show are examples of the various propellants used in rocket motors - gunpowder, cordite, plastic and rubber, along with a display showing the preparation of the main constituents of cordite - nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose.

Recently arrived is a Petrel launcher and rocket used for research purposes and later as targets for the Navy, plus a Raven motor used to power the Skylark rocket. Due to space limitations we can only show a small part of our collection at any one time and currently we are replacing our scientific instrument display with a new selection of rocket motors that are due to arrive shortly. These include a 36 inch diameter Stonechat, the largest motor we produced and an Exocet missile.


Petrel Rocket Launcher

In 1959 the Meteorological Office was authorised to create a High Altitude Research Unit to carry out atmospheric studies up to 50 miles (80km). The first rockets used for the research were the Skua Mk1 to Mk4, built by Bristol Aerojet Ltd in collaboration with RPE Westcott. The Skua's were a tube launched rocket system which could send a
16 lb (7.5 kg) payload to around 86 miles (140 km), with most launches taking place from South Uist in the Hebrides.

In 1967 Bristol Aerojet built Petrel 1 to carry out the above task with the first launch being from South Uist on the 8th June 1967. The payload for the new rocket weighed between 40 and 55 lb (18 to 25 kg) and was launched to a height of 86miles using the tube launch system from the Skua program .

In 1977 Petrel 2 was brought into service and could carry a payload of 40 lb (18kg) to a height of 108 miles (175 km), but was also used as a target drone to test anti-missile defence systems. The launcher you see here is portable and could be used to launch from the deck of an Aircraft Carrier or other naval vessel as well as from land bases such
as Woomera in Australia. Since 1979, over 600 successful launches have been carried out in it's target role, with many more in it's atmospheric role.

The more observant may have noticed that both rockets are named after sea birds, Skua and Petrel, while the small booster rockets used to assist the launch are called Chicks .

Production of the Petrel 2 ended in 2002.


Stentor Rocket Engine

Our latest addition to the Rocket Vault.

This liquid fuelled rocket engine was designed to power the Blue Steel cruise missile that carried a nuclear warhead 150 miles beyond the range of the V bombers that launched it. In 1954 the Ministry of Supply had stated that it would be excessively dangerous for a V bomber to fly within 50 miles of a target by 1960. Blue Steel entered service in 1962 and 36 operational aircraft were fitted out. It remained in service until 1969 when it was replaced by Polaris as a deterrent.

The Stentor engine was manufactured by Armstrong Siddeley and is a two chamber design weighing 747lb. The larger chamber burns for 29 seconds with a thrust of 25,200 lbf at 45,000 ft. The smaller chamber produces a thrust variable from 1,000lbf to 6,200 Ibf at 45,000ft. The fuel is kerosene with hydrogen peroxide as the oxidiser along with a silver gauze catalyst. This gave the missile a range of 150 miles with a speed of 2,000 mph.

The small chamber was later used on the Black Knight research rocket and in clusters of up to eight on the Black Arrow satellite launcher.

This engine is currently being restored by the Royal Gunpowder Mills Friends Association.