Liquid Hydrogen Designs

Liquid hydrogen rocket motor being tested at RPE Westcott

Research into liquid hydrogen as a fuel was being carried at at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment [RPE] at Westcott, Buckinghamshire as early as 1954.

This is an undated picture of a test firing of a liquid hydrogen chamber: as can be seen, the flame is very clean, and the shock diamonds show up very clearly. Barry Ricketson was one of those who worked in this field, and he said that one of the advantages of the clean flame was being able to film the interior of the combustion chamber itself during firing trials.

Here is another view of a firing:

Liquid hydrogen rocket motor being test fired at RPE Westcott

Test combustion chambers are one thing; a vehicle to put them in was another matter. As part of this section, I want to outline three projects that were worked on in the early 60s.

One was associated with Black Prince, the abortive indigenous launcher based on Blue Streak. Initial thoughts were for HTP/kerosene upper stages, but The RAE realised the potential for a liquid hydrogen third stage, and gave Saunders Roe the brief to design one. This they did, with their usual thoroughness.

Other launchers were beased on a Black Knight first stage, and the trouble with those is that Black Knight is really too small for the purpose.

Bristol Siddeley, who were responsible for the engines for Blue Steel, Black Knight and Black Arrow, also wanted to be involved in liquid hydrogen work, and produced various designs. But in the PRO file dealing with liquid hydrogen, there is an endearing handwritten marginalia:

"Downey thinks we must be nuts to bring yet another firm into the space business."!

(Sir William Downey was one of the senior civil servants at the Ministry of Aviation)

But here are further details:

H.G.R. Robinson' seminal paper on a liquid hydrogen launcher based on Black Knight;

The Saunders Roe design;

The Rolls Royce RZ-20;

The RAE designs;

and detailed drawings of the RAE Black Knight proposals.

2nd February 2000 revised 15th July 2002.

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