The E.L.D.O. Convention came into force on 29th February, 1964, but since November 1961 an agreed programme of work has been in progress in member countries.
A first attempt to fire the Blue Streak was made on Monday last week but was frustrated by weather. A second attempt on the Thursday had to be postponed because of a minor defect in an electronic component. By the time this was repaired, the weather had again deteriorated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Do not knock the project.
A third attempt was made yesterday, at which I was present. The count-down went satisfactorily to within three seconds of launch, when a negative signal on the checking-out system brought the firing to a halt. It has now been definitely established that automatic stop action was initiated by check-out equipment when one of the break-up system receivers, which is located on the far side of the rocket from the ground transmitter, ceased to indicate required response to transmissions. As examination has revealed no faults in either ground or rocket equipment, the authorities at Woomera have come to the conclusion that this receiver dropped out owing to fall in signal strength caused by irregular transmission conditions which are known technically as anomalous propagation. There is evidence in support of this view from the behaviour of other equipment. Steps are being taken to ensure that such effects on the receiver in question will not again cause stop. The next firing attempt is planned for Friday, 5th June, that is, Friday this week.
The first firing of the complete rocket is scheduled for the autumn of 1966.
Are not these technical delays rather disappointing, after the expenditure of £100 million and years of work on the project? Is not the Minister aware that there is widespread disappointment among British scientists that it is not a purely British launcher development? Is he delaying and restraining British scientific effort in this respect purely to ingratiate himself with the Common Market countries?
In suggesting that we should be worried about these postponements, the hon. Gentleman entirely misunderstands the nature of rocket development. The Black Knight programme, about which a great deal less has been said, encountered a great many difficulties of this kind. The first two Atlases blew up on the pad in the United States, and so did the first Thor. The kind of difficulties we have encountered so far have been weather for the best part of last week and two minor defects in the electronic components. There has been no question of any failure of the test, and I am personally confident that the test will show, and show quite soon, that the Hawker Siddeley-Rolls Royce designs are valid and that the telemetric and radar observation facilities at Woomera are valid.
The hon. Gentleman will realise that one of the reasons why the rocket has not been launched over the past weeks is not that it could not be but that, with the cloud cover as it was, it was not possible to follow the rocket in all its phases, and the value of the test would be greatly reduced unless we had absolutely clear sky for the occasion. We had absolutely clear sky yesterday. I was there. We thought that it would go off, and the test went down to 3 seconds count-down, but, as I have said, a minor electronic defect postponed it. I know of no basic reason why it should not work next week, but time alone will show whether I am right or not.
As to the morale of our scientists, I was with them on the spot yesterday. It remains extremely high.
May we have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman is not to pay a second visit to Woomera? At the same time, will he inform the House—this is very important—what was the cost of his visit to Woomera and how long he remained there? Will he also inform the House what this device is intended to achieve? Is it to be part of the British independent nuclear deterrent, or what is its purpose? Is it not, in fact, going to prove just a white elephant?
My visit to Woomera, which was, indeed, long overdue—I tried to go there a year ago—was only a part of a visit I was paying to my colleague Mr. Alan Fairhall, the Australian Minister of Supply, many of whose functions overlap with mine. I took the occasion to go to Woomera. I heard that the launch was likely to take place, so I tried to be present at it.
As to the incidental expense of my additional time at Woomera, I cannot measure this at the moment, but it would be very small.
As to the purpose of Blue Streak, the concept is that, together with our French, German, Dutch, Belgian, Italian and Australian friends, we should be able to put a payload into orbit for commercial or scientific purposes, as may seem best to the Governments concerned. What we are trying to do at the moment is to develop the launcher. Blue Streak is to be the first stage of this launcher, and the Woomera range, with all the facilities built up by Australia and Britain over the last 12 years and more, is to be the essential testing ground for this experiment.