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Starchaser Industries

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Starchaser Industries

Starchaser Industries Ltd
Starchaser mission badge
Motto The sky is not the limit
Formation 1992
Legal status Private company
Purpose/focus Commercial Space Access/ Space Tourism and Educational Outreach
Location Unit 7, Hyde Point, Dunkirk Lane, Hyde, Greater Manchester, SK14 4NL
Region served UK
Chief Executive Steve Bennett
Website Starchaser Industries

Starchaser Industries is a privately owned company based in the UK whose principal aim is to become a viable business in space tourism. Formed in 1992, the company has designed and built several rocket systems - all prototypes - to investigate the feasibility of producing a space tourism vehicle. Starchaser's rocket NOVA 1, launched in 2001 from Morecambe Bay, still holds the UK record for the biggest successful rocket launch ever fired from the British mainland.[1] Since 2002, Starchaser have operated an Educational Outreach Programme that has grown steadily to become a now major aspect of the company. This arm of the company aims to take traditionally difficult and abstract areas of physics and chemistry and explain their use in rocket building.


It began in 1992, when Steve Bennett, of Dukinfield, was a toothpaste and soap powder laboratory technician at Colgate who sponsored the project initially. By 1998 Steve was teaching at the University of Salford as a professor of Space Physics and had students help out on several of Starchaser's early rockets. The first rockets were powered by sugar; in fact the company was sponsored by Tate & Lyle until March 1996,when it became known as the Starchaser Foundation.

By December 1998, the company changed again and become a private limited company now known as Starchaser Industries. Engines were tested in 1999 at the Altcar Rifle Range in Merseyside. It moved to new premises in Hyde in January 2001; previously they had been assembled in his garage in Dukinfield. By this stage the company was sponsored by Microsoft and the Discovery Channel and employed twelve people.

On 22 November 2001, NOVA 1 was launched from Morecambe Bay as a full scale test of all rocket systems. It was never intended to be a full flight into space (above 100 km) as the UK Civil Aviation Authority restricts any rocket testing on the UK mainland to below 10,000 feet.

NOVA 1 flew to a height of approximately 5,000 feet before parachuting back down into the bay. The mission was a complete success and became at the time the biggest rocket ever fired from the UK mainland.

In 2002 work began on NOVA 2, the pregenitor rocket system to Starchaser's Space tourism Vehicle Thunderstar. The aim of this mission was to focus on the capsule and life-supporting systems of the rocket. In 2004 there were successful tests of the NOVA 2 capsule's landing gear to investigate methods of recovery of the capsule by land. On 1 July 2008, the 57-foot Nova 2 was unveiled to the public and did extensive touring around the UK. NOVA 2 still sits unlaunched, however a launch may be likely in the near future.

Another smaller project is the Skybolt sounding rocket. Completed in 2006, this rocket is another fully reusable space rocket capable of sending up to 20 kg of cargo to a maximum altitude of 83 miles.[2] This rocket is also testing an entirely new Starchaser engine, the STORM engine; capable of generating 7 tonnes of thrust and achieving a maximum speed of nearly mach 5.[3] The rocket has since been used regularly in the Educational Outreach Program as an example of Starchaser's work.

Manned spaceflight

Starchaser hopes to launch manned missions from the UK, but as this outcome is unlikely in the foreseeable future Starchaser have bought land at Spaceport America in New Mexico, next to the White Sands Missile Range, where the company owns 20 acres of land with buildings. It is likely any near future space flight rocket tests will have to be carried out here due to the UK CAA flight restrictions and the superior space-faring infrastructure already present in the US.

It had originally hoped to provide manned spaceflight by 2003. In June 2001, the company unveiled the 33 foot Nova manned rocket which if modified, could fly one person into space. Later, by 2005 the plan was for the manned rocket to be called the Thunderstar, launching from New Mexico. By 2007, the un-manned Skybolt rocket was unveiled, as a prototype for the Thunderstar.


Below is a list of key rocket tests Starchaser has undertaken as well as their outcome.[4]

Launched Rockets

  • Starchaser 1–1 November 1993 from Bickerton, Cheshire - Flew to 2,400 feet, where its parachutes failed to open and ended in a crash.
  • Starchaser 1A - 23 May 1995 from Sarn, Wales - An upgraded Starchaser 1 rocket and fully completed its objectives. Recovered by parachute.
  • Starchaser 2–2 February 1996 from Otterburn, Northumberland - This was then the largest civilian rocket ever launched in Europe, and reached 1,890 feet; below the 3,000 feet planned. It was powered by sugar and sponsored by Tate & Lyle. Operated correctly
  • LEXX (Starchaser 3) - 7 February 1997 from Otterburn, Nothumberland - Starchaser 3 was sponsored by Pearson New Entertainment to promote their "Lexx" science fiction series. LEXX reached an altitude of 15,673 feet and became the first Starchaser rocket to break the sound barrier. Achieved all of its objectives.
  • Starchaser 3–20 March 1998 at Okehampton, Devon - A rocket motor misfired shortly after launch and the rocket impacted the ground shortly after take off.
  • TEMPEST - 5 March 1999 at Altcar, Mersyside - Tempest became the first Starchaser rocket to have a marine recovery. Successful launch and completed all objectives.
  • Starchaser 3a - 20 August 1999 from Morecambe Bay at Cartmel Wharf - A height of 22 feet and reached an altitude of 20,000 feet with nine rocket motors; this was in close co-operation with the University of Salford. Generated over 4 tonnes of thrust. Completed all objectives.
  • Sharp 1–2 May 2000 from Morecambe Bay - Flown to a height of over 18,000 feet and had nearly 5 seconds of supersonic flight. Recovered safely.
  • Discovery - 6 July 2000 from Morecambe Bay - The world's first privately funded fully re-usable two stage research rocket. Sponsorship for this rocket came from The Discovery Channel. Flew to a maximum altitude of 19,000 feet and was recovered safely.
  • Starchaser 4 (NOVA 1) - 22 November 2001 from Morecambe Bay - NOVA 1 is a 37 foot long craft, capable of transporting one person beyond the 100 km space threshold. The test had NOVA fly to 5,000 feet;[5] at which point it became the largest rocket launched from British soil

Unlaunched Rockets

  • Skybolt - Unveiled in 2006, this functions effectively as a scale model of Starchaser's Space Tourism Vehicle "Thunderstar". It is powered by a single STORM engine, generating over 7 tonnes of thrust. Capable of a maximum altitude of over 83 miles and achieving nearly Mach 5. Currently Skybolt tours with the Outreach Team at events and schools until a launch date is announced.
  • NOVA 2 - Starchaser's newest rocket to date. At over 42 feet long and slightly wider in diameter than NOVA 1, it is Starchaser's biggest ever rocket. With an extensively tested capsule, NOVA 2's mission is to develop Starchaser's life support systems for its capsules. It is a direct precursor to the Space Tourism Vehicle.


Churchill Series

The first engines developed by Starchaser were liquid propellant engines all named after wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill.[6] All Churchill operate using liquid Oxygen and Kerosene.

Churchill MkI

Starchaser's first attempt at designing a rocket engine, and generated approximately 500 kg of thrust. Used oxygen and kerosene with nitrogen to pressurise the engine.

Churchill MkII

Six times as powerful as its predecessor, the MKII had a maximum thrust of 3000 kg and used the same gas mixture to pressurise the system.

Churchill Mk III

The MkIII massively improves on the MarkII again; this time by a factor of five. Around 15,000 kg of thrust could be achieved from this engine; making it the most powerful engine Starchaser have. The pressurising gas was this time Helium.

Other Engines


The Storm engine is basically a scaled down Churchill MkIII for use in the Skybolt rocket.[7] Able to produce around 7000 kg of thrust it acts as an operational successor to the Churchill research engines.


The company operate an Educational Outreach Programme for schools and other similar entities in the UK. Using real examples of rockets and scientific principles, the programme aims to excite and inspire pupils to get interested in Science and Engineering. The outreach side of Starchaser contributes extensively to their much-needed funding. From 2005 onwards, due to the amount of money needed to continue research and development on the rockets increasing rapidly, the tour of schools became a more important part of the company.

Legal issues

In 2002 the owner of Starchaser Industries took legal action against the BBC in response to a 2001 BBC News Online article, claiming that the article contained a number of errors and false allegations.[8] Just before court action, scheduled for July 2003, Starchaser withdrew their action. The BBC paid Starchaser's costs but stood by its article and issued no apology.

See also


External links

News items

  • September 2010
  • BBC Manchester in September 2008
  • Radio Manchester in September 2006
  • Visiting a welsh school in April 2005
  • Hereford & Worcester in September 2003
  • Starchaser Discovery in July 2000
  • Starchaser 3A in August 1999
  • Starchaser 3 in August 1998

Video clips

  • Starchaser YouTube channel
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