Watch space pioneer's latest rocket blast off on test launch
'Rocketman' Steve Bennett, from Dukinfield, launched the eight-metre long Skybolt 2 almost a mile up
This is the moment space tourism firm Starchaser launched a rocket which travelled almost a mile into the sky.
The Hyde-based company successfully tested the eight metre-long Skybolt 2 missile before it broke into three pieces and returned to earth.
Steve Bennett, from Dukinfield, Tameside, set up the company 25 years ago.
He said the firm, which is based on Dunkirk Lane, is just a few years away from launching people into space.
“We’re really pleased that the launch went really well, it flew nice and high exactly as it should do,” he said.
“Then it split apart in its separate pieces, which is one of the key tests we were doing, and two of the three parachutes deployed, which is not a bad day.”
While the launch - which took place in Northumbria - was a success, Mr Bennett admits he has bigger plans.
“Next for us is a much bigger rocket, that was an 8.3m rocket but we have a 12m rocket big enough to carry a person and we’ll be launching that within 18 months.”
Inspired by NASA’s Apollo moon landings as a boy, Bennett had built his own home chemistry lab by 13. He was employed as a lab technician before joining the Army in 1983. After postings in the Falklands and West Germany and promotion to Lance Corporal, he returned home.
Through Starchaser, Bennett now builds rockets full time. He also lectures in space science at the University of Salford.
Despite some huge players in the space tourism market, such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, Bennett was confident they would have a part to play.
He said: “One of the things we want to do is make space tourism a reality, we want to be launching people into space and this rocket was carrying various systems and experiments that will allow us to do that.
“Space tourism is a big cake and there’s a slice for everyone.
“There’s some people out there with a little bit more money than us but we’ve got a fantastic team of people, we’ve got the University of Chester behind us and we’re going to make this happen.”
Professor Nick Avis, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research and Knowledge Transfer at the University of Chester, said: “The University of Chester is delighted to support Starchaser and to collaborate on this research project.”
Tameside's Starchaser rocket launches in Northumbria
Starchaser Industries, founded by Steve Bennett from Dukinfield, fired the eight metre-long Skybolt 2 missile almost a mile into the sky before it broke into three pieces and returned to earth. Mr Bennett, who set up the company 25 years ago, claims he is just a few years away from launching people into space and said the tests done on Monday will help him achieve that.
Steve Bennett and the Skybolt 2 rocket
Skybolt 2 takes off
Quelle: Manchester Evening News
Britain's biggest rocket fuelled by burned tyres blasts off in pursuit of space tourism dream
It was launched from a flatbed truck, its sole occupant a teddy bear from the local primary school.
But the successful, if brief, launch yesterday of Britain’s largest rocket paves the way for the UK to take a giant leap in the space race with the development of a three-seater capsule fuelled by recycled tyres.
Entrepreneur Steve Bennett, who founded his own company in a bid to send people into space, believes he is now just two years away from realising his dream.
The next step is the development of the Nova II, a rocket powered by fuel uniquely made partly from recycled tyres, and which he hopes will be capable of lifting a capsule that can carry human beings.
It was all dependant on the success of the Skybolt 2, fired into the atmosphere from the back of a converted truck in Northumberland before breaking up and descending back to Earth by parachute some 30 seconds later.
"We're really pleased with that launch, the rocket went really well, it flew nice and high exactly as it should do," Mr Bennett said.
"Then it split apart in its separate pieces, which is one of the key tests we were doing, and two of the three parachutes deployed, which is not a bad day.
"Next for us is a much bigger rocket, that was an 8.3m rocket but we have a 12m rocket big enough to carry a person and we'll be launching that within 18 months."
It may have been a far cry from the US Apollo missions, but the rocket was the largest Britain has sent into the atmosphere since 1971.
The launch was two years in the making, and the result, a huge boost for Mr Bennett’s Manchester-based Starchaser Industries.
The unmanned rocket carried a payload including video cameras and a stuffed toy dog on loan from Morecambe Bay Primary school, Lancs, as it reached its maximum height of 4,000 feet.
Around 50 people watched the take-off and cheered it on before the rocket landed in three pieces roughly two miles away.
The launch was to test vital electronic systems and a parachute recovery system to ensure the rocket returned safely to earth.
Prof Nick Avis, dean of the University of Chester’s science and engineering faculty, which is supporting the project, said that on the whole, “everything went to plan.”
He told the Telegraph: “It’s fantastic for the UK space industry. Of course, there are bigger players- Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX - but here’s Steve doing it on a shoestring by comparison, building up capabilities and proving credentials.”
Prof Avis said there were two types of motors; solid rocket motors which you “fire like fireworks and can’t control after they’re lit” and liquid fuel-based motors, used by the Apollo programme, in which you control the specific elements.
“Steve is planning to use a hybrid of the two - the solid fuel bit of that is recycled tyres impregnated with aluminium,” he said.
“He is one of the world’s leaders in these solid/fuel hybrids.”
While some of the world's richest billionaires, including Branson, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder behind Blue Origin, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, the PayPal tycoon, are launching a new generation of reusable rockets in the race to take tourists into space, in the UK, it is enthusiasts such as Mr Bennett who are leading the way.
“Steve’s very ambitious. He wants to get people in space within two years, but it’s all dependant on funding,” Prof Amis added.
“He’s got the consummate parts for the Nova II but there is considerable cost involved.”
It is all a far cry from the rockets Mr Bennett made with his chemistry set.
The former Salford University lab assistant was inspired by the Apollo missions and became hooked on science as a young child.
He won sponsorship from sugar giant Tate and Lyle - one of his ideas has been to convert sugar into a fuel - and built a six metre tall rocket called Starchaser 2, which in 1996 qualified as the largest privately built rocket ever flown in Europe.
He eventually gave up his job to focus on building rockets full time and was awarded a £120,000 grant from the European Space Agency in 2007 to investigate the feasibility of a reusable launch vehicle.
The last biggest rocket launched in Britain was 46 years ago when the Black Arrow (R3) launched Prospero X-3.
It was the only British satellite to be sent into space using a British rocket but the project was abandoned under pressure from the Treasury, having undertaken only one mission.