Making contact with the only British launched satellite

28 October 2011

Photo of a model of the Prospero X-3 satellite in London's Science Museum. Photo by geni,

Today is the 40th anniversary of Britain as a spacefaring nation.  On the 28th of October 1971, the UK launched Prospero - a science and technology demonstration satellite - on top of a Black Arrow rocket from Woomera, Australia. This made the UK the 6th nation to demonstrate a working orbital launch capability. However, this launch was to be first and last demonstration of Britain's capability.

To commemorate the anniversary, a team at UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory are attempting to re-establish contact with Prospero, the only satellite ever to be launched by a British rocket.  This comes 15 years after the decommissioning of the Prospero groundstation at Lasham, Hampshire. The MSSL team have re-engineered the ground segment from original documents and satellite know how. 

For the last fortnight, the MSSL team has been attempting to make contact with the satellite, however the age, position and increase in electromagnetic interferance over the last 40 years has made this difficult. The team has detected some signals in the direction of the satellite and are now working to determine if these signals are from Prospero itself. Over the coming months, the satellite's orbit will change so that it will be on closest approach to the Earth over the UK, making the conditions more favourable for contact.

MSSL satellite communications antennae

MSSL Contact: Roger Duthie, rjad [a t]

Happy 40th, Prospero - UKSA

News story on BBC website

Wikipedia entry on Prospero

Coverage on BBC's One Show (Friday 9th September, starting approx 31 mins into show), available until Friday 16th September

Page last modified on 13 sep 11 09:29