I have it on good authority that

The UK intentionally self-nuked its space exploration capabilities in the 1970s, and has only recently starting to recover from this self-inflicted damage.

Question: How so? How did the UK "intentionally self-nuke its space exploration capabilities in the 1970s"?

Related Q&A, several are oldies-but-goodies and may need some updating information

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean with "how"? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ @user2705196 I think (at)Fred's answer explains the "how" nicely: they intentionally self-nuked it "by cancelling it (because the British government couldn't justify spending money of rockets and space exploration)". That's how. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 0:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It was worse than that, @uhoh. British space scientists lobbied the UK government to ban government expenditures on human space flight, thinking that some of the monies that the UK government had spent indirectly on supporting the US Apollo program would come their way. The UK government, looking for anything and everything to cut in those bad economic times, willingly obliged. None of the monies that were cut went toward British space science. Making matters worse, British space scientists had to compete with other sciences, as science. Space science is expensive compared to archeology. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 13:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Britain has a tiny population, most space powers have large populations with a fairly high GDP (but a wide range of wealth per capita). Once India and China reached Soviet-ish levels of GDP they started up space programs. Which leads to a potential answer to this question. The cynical take would be that peaceful space programs are almost always (at least initially) highly tied to military goals. Which is why the UK drops it ; what's the point when the US will just supply you with everything you need. I'd post it as an answer but I don't have good sources offhand. $\endgroup$
    – eps
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ @eps reasonable, common-sense answers based on shared knowledge and historical facts are generally well-received here as additional answers, I think you should write it up! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 0:34

1 Answer 1


On October 28, 1971 the UK launched Prospero via a Black Arrow rocket from Woomera, in South Australia.

When the Prospero spacecraft was launched atop a Black Arrow rocket on 28 October 1971, it marked the end of an era. A very short era.

Prospero was the first UK satellite to be launched on a UK launch vehicle; it would also be the last.

Ministers had cancelled the rocket project in the run up to the flight.

However, as the Black Arrow was ready, the programme team decided to go-ahead anyway.

1971 was a very difficult year for Britain. Edward Heath was elected Conservative Prime Minister in 1970, having defeated the Wilson Labor government.

The newly elected government had to deal with:

  • High employment and inflation - there was a steep rise in unemployment for the first two years of the Heath ministry.
  • Decimal currency was introduced - dispensing with pounds, shillings and pence (L.s.d).
  • Scottish nationalism grew as a force.
  • Much of the government's attention, as well as the media and public opinion, focused on deteriorating labour relations, as the government sought to weaken the economic power of the trade unions.
  • The Northern Ireland "troubles" were a significant issue.
  • Joining the European Economic Community, forerunner to the European
    Union, was a major concern for the Heath government, with the House of Commons voting in favor to join on the same day Prospero was launched.
  • Higher charges were introduced for benefits of the welfare state such as school meals, spectacles, dentistry, and prescriptions.

With all these issues, the British government couldn't justify spending money of rockets and space exploration and the British space programme was cancelled.

By 1972, British government funding of both Blue Streak (missile) and Black Arrow had ceased, and no further government-backed British space rockets were developed. Other space agencies, notably NASA, were used for subsequent launches of British satellites.


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