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Skylark launch.jpg
The final launch of the Skylark at Esrange, Sweden on 2 May 2005
FunctionSounding rocket
ManufacturerRoyal Aircraft Establishment
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Height7.60 m
Diameter0.44 m
Mass1100 kg
StagesInitially 1. Later versions had 1 - 3 stages.
Launch history
StatusRetired 2005
Launch sitesWoomera, Esrange, and others
Total launches441 total,[1] 266 British.[2]
First flight1957-02-13
Last flight2005-05-02
First stage - Skylark
EnginesInitially one RPE Raven 1 total impulse 1450 kNs.[2] Later versions also used Cuckoo, Goldfinch, Gosling, Heron and Raven engines in various marks and combinations.[2]
ThrustInitially 44.00 kN
Burn timeInitially 30 s[2]
PropellantInitially 840 kg of ammonium perchlorate, polyisobutylene binder and aluminum powder (Raven 1)[3]

Skylark was a family of British sounding rockets. The Skylark was first launched in 1957 from Woomera, Australia and its 441st and final launch took place from Esrange, Sweden on 2 May 2005. Launches had been carried out from sites in Europe, Australia, and South America, with use far beyond the UK by NASA, the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO), and German and Swedish space organizations.[4]


The design first dates to 1955, when initial work was carried out by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott. The first vehicles were ready less than two years later, and sent for testing to Woomera during the International Geophysical Year.

During the 1960s Skylark evolved into an excellent platform for space astronomy, with its ability to point at the Sun, Moon, or a star. It was used to obtain the first good-quality X-ray images of the solar corona.[5] Within the UK national programme, the frequency of Skylark launches peaked at 20 in 1965 (from Woomera), with 198 flights between 1957 and 1978.[5]

The first X-ray surveys of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere were provided by Skylark launches.[5] It was also used with high precision in September and October 1972 in an effort to locate the optical counterpart of X-ray source GX3+1 by lunar occultation.[5]

In 1975, The Federal Republic of Germany through the DFVLR (now German Aerospace Center or DLR) agreed with Australia to launch a Skylark rocket at Woomera for scientific purposes.[6] The launch took place on 14 March 1975. This was followed by three more, launched on 22 February, 13 March 1979,[7] and 24 August 1987.[8][9]

Skylarks were built in some numbers into the 1970s, until the UK government decided to end the programme in 1977, thinking that future "low weight" research would be carried out on the Space Shuttle instead. The programme was handed to British Aerospace, who later sold it to Matra Marconi Space, who in 1999 in turn sold it to a small private company, Sounding Rocket Services, based in Bristol.

Beginning in 2018, Skyrora, a British aerospace & launch company, has developed and launched a new series of "Skylark" sounding rockets, reviving the name. They have launched from northern Scotland, where Shetland spaceport and Sutherland spaceport are being built, and also from Iceland. They plan to also develop a satellite launch vehicle which will launch from the UK, which will be a first for the country, which previously only launched satellites from Woomera, Australia.


The basic Skylark is 7.6 metres (25 ft) long, 0.44 metres (17 in) in diameter and has a fin span of 0.96 metres (38 in). Booster stages can increase the height to 12.8 metres (42 ft). The original version was propelled by 840 kilograms (1,850 lb) of solid fuel, which enabled 45 kilograms (99 lb) to be launched to an altitude of over 200 kilometres (120 mi). Improvements were made to the engine and the use of a booster increased the payload to 200 kilograms (440 lb) in 1960. Skylark 12, from 1976, could lift 200 kilograms (440 lb) to 575 kilometres (357 mi) altitude.[2]

Due to its small mass and low thrust, the original version of the Skylark had to be launched from a 25 metres (82 ft) tilting tower to overcome the effects of the wind.[2] Later versions only required a simple trailer.

On display

Skylark Rockets are on display in the following locations:

See also



  1. ^ Millard, Doug (13 November 2017). "Skylark: Britain's pioneering space rocket". Science Museum. Retrieved 20 May 2021. Over almost half a century a total of 441 Skylark rockets were launched, making it one of the longest and most successful programmes of its kind in the world.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Serra, Jean-Jacques. "Skylark sounding rockets". Rockets in Europe. Retrieved 20 May 2021. After twenty-two launches in single-stage configuration, the first two-stage Skylark was launched in April 1960. The Cuckoo booster rocket used to accelerate Raven had the same diameter and raised the overall rocket height to 9.15m. It burned during approximately four seconds with a 364 kNs total impulse. This version of Skylark could launch a 150 kg payload to 200 km of altitude. The Skylark improvements continued in 1962, with the advent of Raven V (1780 kNs) loaded with a new propellant. However Raven II and VA engines were both available to meet different needs. Minor modifications led to VII and VIA versions respectively, then Raven VII loaded with Raven VI propellant became Raven VIII. In 1964, introduction of devices for payload attitude control was another kind of improvement for the Skylark rocket.
  3. ^ Wade, Mark. "Skylark". Astronautix. Mark Wade. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2021. The original basic single-stage Skylark version used a Raven 1 motor (Rook derivative). The RPE Raven 1 burned 840 kg of propellant (ammonium perchlorate, polyisobutylene binder and aluminum powder) in thirty seconds with a 1450 kN total impulse at sea level.
  4. ^ Matthew Godwin (January 2008). The Skylark Rocket: British Space Science and the European Space Research Organisation, 1957–1972. Paris: Beauchesne Editeur.
  5. ^ a b c d Pounds K (2002). "Forty years on from Aerobee 150: a personal perspective". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 360 (1798): 1905–21. Bibcode:2002RSPTA.360.1905P. doi:10.1098/rsta.2002.1044. PMID 12804236.
  6. ^ “Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the Launching of a Skylark Vehicle and Payload at Woomera for Scientific Purposes. ATS 6 of 1975”. Australasian Legal Information Institute, Australian Treaties Library. Retrieved on 20 April 2017.
  7. ^ “Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany concerning the Launching of Two Scientific Payloads from Woomera for Scientific Purposes. ATS 3 of 1979”. Australasian Legal Information Institute, Australian Treaties Library. Retrieved on 15 April 2017.
  8. ^ “Exchange of Notes constituting an Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany on the Launching of Sounding Rockets. ATS 12 of 1987”. Australasian Legal Information Institute, Australian Treaties Library. Retrieved on 15 April 2017.
  9. ^ "Germany". nautica. Retrieved 19 April 2017.[dead link]