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Last Updated: Monday, 2 May, 2005, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Skylark makes its final launch
One last time: The end of an era for British rocketry

A British-designed rocket has taken off for the last time, ending a successful 50-year-old space programme.

The Skylark sounding rocket was originally due to fly on Sunday but high winds prevented the launch.

The rocket made its maiden launch in 1957 from Woomera, Australia, and has since been used to take a huge range of scientific experiments into space.

Monday's launch finally went ahead at 0700 BST in Sweden and was the rocket's 441st launch.

The final mission, called Maser 10, was organised under the European Space Agency banner and carried five experiments.

These included a biological investigation of the muscle protein actin and a study of turbulence in evaporating liquids.

The tests would have experienced about six minutes of "weightlessness", allowing their scientists to examine the physical processes at play that would otherwise be masked by the effects of gravity in a surface laboratory.

The Maser 10 payload was set to be recovered by a helicopter after it had parachuted back to Earth.

Contribution to science

Despite losing official UK government support in the 1970s, the programme continued commercially.

For the last six years, a Bristol based company called Sounding Rocket Services (SRS) has serviced the launches.

Hugh Whitfield, of SRS, said it was sad to see the programme come to an end.

He told BBC News: "It is the end of a British success story.

"Britain is celebrating 50 years of space research and the Skylark was the originator of the space industry today.

"It has been a very good tool for young scientists but the use rate of Skylark is very small - one a year - and we no longer have the capability in Britain of [producing] these large motors."

Watch the Skylark rocket take off for the last time

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