Crecy's British Secret Projects 5
|$44.95 from Specialty Press|
|Notes:||ISBN 978-1-910809-02-0, 224 pages, over 200 illustrations and drawings|
Many of us often forget, or probably never knew, that the British were heavily involved in developing what later became to be known as the Space Shuttle. In particular, English Electric invested quite a considerable amount of time and talent into designing various vehicles to allow the UK to be a major player in the efforts to provide a reusable space craft.
One has to realize that these efforts were not done in a vacuum, as any design requires a myriad of other components, particularly engines. The number of possible methods of propulsion included things like nuclear engines, ramjets, turboramjets, turborockets, and 'flashjets' which used a hydrogen based fuel. In addition, early designs envisioned a number of basically horizontal take off options that had the final spaceship carried under or atop a hypersonic carrier aircraft. It was this vehicle which would use these exotic engines, with some sort of rocket required to get the carried craft into space.
Needless to say, the designs, while quite feasible in terms of the metallurgy of the day, never came to fruition as the engines were never developed past the initial design stage. To my knowledge, none of these were ever prototyped. It was eventually realized that horizontal deployment would not be a realistic method of launch so the basic focus switched to the now-standard vertical launch.
An issue regarding anything launched from Europe is that one has to be very careful of where to put the launch site. With standard rocket boosters, there is always a possibility of the spent boosters falling on civilians. This is the reason the French launch from Guiana. One way to overcome this would be to develop reusable boosters. In this case, it meant ones that were manned and able to return to the launch site under human guidance once they reached a release altitude of about 200,000 feet. Keep in mind that this was all in the 1963-66 time frame and there were no GPS satellites or methods of remotely operating the returning boosters as we see today with Space-X.
To keeps costs in line, the boosters were basically the same airframe as the spacecraft itself. These could then be stacked as shown on the cover art, or arranged in triple or quadruple lower sections with the spacecraft on the top. So why don't we see an all British space shuttle or even one from an all European space agency? The real answer is funding.
Without giving away too much more, I can tell you that the author did an incredible job researching this book. The depth of the information provided and the insights into the program make for a superb read. I had no trouble understanding what was going on and was able to follow the progression from the start to its conclusion. I learned a lot, which is, I suppose, what everyone wants from a book of this type. I was also impressed by the sheer number of designs that were put forward for this and related projects. In all, it makes for a book that those interested in the subject will want to have on their shelves.
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