Post-war Britain's nuclear weapons armament was initially based on free-fall bombs delivered by the British V bomber force. It soon became clear that if Britain wanted to have a credible nuclear deterrent threat, a ballistic missile was essential. There was a political need for an independent deterrent, so that Britain could remain a major world power. Britain was unable to purchase American weapons wholesale due to the restrictions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946.
From the early days of the Polaris program, American senators and naval officers suggested that the United Kingdom might use Polaris. In 1957 Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh Burke and First Sea Lord, Lord Louis Mountbatten, began corresponding on the project. After the cancellations of the Blue Streak and Skybolt missiles in the 1960s, under the 1962 Nassau Agreement that emerged from meetings between Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy, the United States would supply Britain with Polaris missiles, launch tubes, ReBs, and the fire-control systems. Britain would make its own warheads and initially proposed to build five ballistic missile submarines, later reduced to four by the incoming Labour government of Harold Wilson, with 16 missiles to be carried on each boat. The Polaris Sales Agreement was signed on April 6, 1963.
There were initial plans to use missile launchers at RAF Upavon in Wiltshire, but this soon proved to be impractical due to the need for a silo. The silos could only be built at RAF Spadeadam in Cumberland (now in Cumbria), would be too expensive and inevitably hated by CND. It would be test launched at Woomera Test Range in Australia due to the large open spaces available down under.
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten had spent considerable effort arguing that the project should be cancelled at once in favour of his Navy being armed with nuclear weapons, capable of pre-emptive strike.
It was to be the second and third stage of the Europa satellite launch vehicle. The rocket was a 3 stage type that would have launches British, Australian and New Zealand space satellites if it had go ahead. The body consisted of Belgium, Britain, France, W. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, with Australia as an associate member.
A section of the propulsion bay, engines and equipment can be found at the Solway Aviation Museum, Carlisle Lake District Airport.
Only a few miles from the Spadeadam testing site, the museum carries many exhibits, photographs and models of the Blue Streak programme, having inherited the original Spadeadam collection that used to be displayed on site.
Aside from Black Prince Rocket, a range of other proposals was made between 1959 and 1972 for a carrier rocket based on Blue Streak, however, none of these were ever built in full and today only exist in design.
In 1959 de Havilland suggested solving the problem of the Blue Streak/Black Knight geometry by compressing the 10 by 1 metre (30 by 3 foot) Black Knight into a 10-foot-diameter (3.0 m) sphere. Although this seemed logical, the development costs proved to be too high for the limited budget of the programme.
Following its merger with Saunders Roe, Westland Helicopters developed the three-stage Black Arrow satellite carrier rocket, derived from the Black Knight test vehicle. The first stage of Black Arrow was given the same diameter as the French Coralie (the second stage of Europa) in order to make it compatible with Blue Streak. Using Blue Streak as an additional stage would have increased Black Arrow's payload capacity. To maintain this compatibility, the first stage diameter was given in metres, although the rest of the rocket was defined in imperial units.
Black Arrow carried out four test launches (without an additional Blue Streak stage) from Woomera between 1969 and 1971, with the final launch carrying the satellite Prospero X-3 into orbit. The United Kingdom remains the only country to have successfully developed and then abandoned a satellite launch capability.
In 1972, Hawker Siddeley Dynamics (HSD) produced a brochure for a design using Blue Streak as the first stage of a two-stage to orbit rocket, with an American Centaur upper stage. The Centaur second stage would have either been built in the UK under licence or imported directly from the USA. Both the Centaur and Blue Streak had proved to be very reliable up to this point, and since they were both already designed development costs would have been low. Furthermore, it had a payload of 870–920 kg to a geosynchronous orbit with, and 650–700 kg without the use of additional booster rockets.
In 1959, a year before the cancellation of the Blue Streak as a missile, the government requested that the RAE and Saunders-Roe design a carrier rocket based on Blue Streak and Black Knight. This design used Blue Streak as a first stage and a 54 inch (137 centimetre) second stage based on the Black Knight. Several different third stages would be available, depending on the required payload and orbit.
The cost of developing Black Prince was estimated to be £35 million.
It was planned that Black Prince would be a Commonwealth project. However, since the government of John Diefenbaker in Canada was already spending more money than publicly acknowledged on Alouette and Australia was not interested in the project, these two countries were unwilling to contribute. South Africa was no longer a member of the Commonwealth. New Zealand was only likely to make "modest" contributions.
Footage from the Blue Streak launch was briefly incorporated into The Prisoner's final episode, "Fall Out". A part of the Blue Streak rocket launched on 5 June 1964 from Woomera, Australia, found 50 km SE of Giles in 1980 (c.1000km) is on display at Giles Weather Station. Another piece was located in 2006, but its exact location has been kept secret by the finders. The titanium structure of a German third stage was, for some time, sited on the edge of a gravel pit in Gloucestershire. Images of the Blue Streak 1 are incorporated in the 1997 film Contact.