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英国秘密火箭基地重振雄风

更新时间:2018-5-1 10:07:04 来源:千亿千亿国际娱乐官网 作者:佚名

The return of a secret British rocket site
英国秘密火箭基地重振雄风

In a grass-covered ammunition bunker on a former rocket test site in the heart of England, I am handed a push-button igniter for an experimental rocket motor.

位于英格兰中心的前火箭实验基地,在草丛掩映的军火库里,别人递给我一个实验性火箭发动机的按钮式点火器。

The man in charge, the flamboyantly mustachioed rocketeer Daniel Jubb, voices the countdown and I press the firing button – almost on time – and I'm left momentarily speechless as a rocket in the unmanned bunker next door fires with a howling whoosh and a dazzling white flash on the mission control screen in front of us.

项目负责人丹尼尔·朱比(Daniel Jubb),这个蓄着有型小胡子的火箭科学家开始倒数,下令发射,我还算及时地按下了点火钮,火箭从隔壁无人看管的军火库呼啸升空,在我们面前的任务控制屏上留下一团耀眼的白光,我一时目瞪口呆。

This was not, however, just a bit of fun set up for BBC Future's benefit: this test firing is a genuine one, in which a novel rocket propellant formula is fired for only the third time. Such tests allow Jubb, founder of rocket maker Falcon Project, to use high-speed video to scrutinise the way the fuel burns.

这可不是专给我们BBC玩玩的娱乐项目,这是真实的点火发射,是一款新型火箭燃料推进剂的第三次点火试验。朱比是火箭制造公司猎鹰项目(Falcon Project)的创始人,他通过这类实验利用高速摄影机监测燃料的燃烧过程。

Falcon Project makes research rockets and specialist fuels for the UK and US militaries but is perhaps best known for prototyping a hybrid rocket motor for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, which is being built in the hope of setting a 1,000mph (1,600km/h) land speed record on a South African lake bed sometime in the next couple of years.

猎鹰项目为英国和美国军方制造研究性火箭和专用燃料,但最出名的是给超音速汽车"寻血猎犬"制造混合火箭发动机,目标是在几年内创造出每小时可达1,000英里(1,600公里)的陆地速度记录,计划在南非一处河床进行。

Falcon Project is far from alone here at Westcott Venture Park in Buckinghamshire, the former site of Britain's Cold War rocket development efforts. The firm is just one of those in a surprising British rocketry renaissance, in which a clutch of rocket firms are setting up in business at Westcott to try and put British rocket engineering back on the map after many decades of decline.

猎鹰项目这样的公司在白金汉郡的韦斯科特创业园不在少数,这里曾是英国冷战时期的火箭基地。英国出人意料地迎来了火箭事业的复兴,包括猎鹰项目在内的许多火箭公司在韦斯科特成立,希望能让英国衰落了几十年的火箭工程业重振雄风。

These pioneering companies include Reaction Engines. It will be testing Sabre, its revolutionary air-breathing rocket engine for future spaceplanes, plus the "precooler" that lets it scavenge liquid oxygen from the air as it powers through the atmosphere.

其他先锋公司还包括反应发动机公司(Reaction Engines),它将测试其革命性产品"佩刀",一个用于未来航天飞机的吸气式火箭发动机,以及在发动机工作中能清除空气中液态氧的"预冷器"。

Also on the site is rocket motor manufacturer Moog UK, whose Leros 1b engine powered Nasa's Juno space probe into orbit around Jupiter last year – using a new motor technology which Moog has also seen flown on Nasa Mars and Mercury probes.

这里还有火箭发动机制造商穆格英国(Moog UK),所制造的Leros 1b发动机去年将美国太空总署(Nasa)的空间探测器"朱诺号"送上了围绕木星飞行的轨道。Leros 1b使用的发动机新技术在Nasa的火星及水星探测器上也有使用。

Last summer, Moog-UK was acquired by a former rival, Nammo, a maker of rocket engines and thrusters – everything from those that separate Ariane 5 rocket stages to those that steer and vector satellites. And Nammo, which also have a presence on the site, is also making the hybrid motor for Bloodhound SSC's record attempt.

去年夏天,穆格英国被前竞争对手北欧弹药公司(Nammo)收购,这家火箭发动机和推进器制造商还负责阿丽亚娜-5运载火箭级间分离,以及控制指挥卫星的部件。北欧弹药公司也驻扎此基地,也在为超音速汽车"寻血猎犬"制造混能发动机,帮它创造速度记录。

The testing site is also home to a rocket and propulsion test services company, Airborne Engineering, some of whose facilities are set to be seriously upgraded as part of an £8m investment in Westcott by the UK Space Agency. They’re hoping it will spark a new British space race – especially with the Space Act now in force, allowing commercial spaceports to launch rockets and spaceplanes from British soil as soon as 2020.

提供火箭及推进器测试服务的空降工程公司(Airborne Engineering)也在这个火箭基地设立大本营,英国太空署(UK Space Agency)在韦斯科特园区注资8百万英镑,这家公司的部分设备将因此而大幅升级。英国太空署希望这笔注资能激活新一轮的英国太空竞赛,特别是经已生效的《太空条约》,容许商用航天站(太空港)最早2020年就能从英国发射火箭及航天飞机(太空梭)。

That investments such as the space agency's are needed is pretty evident on a drive around the sprawling Westcott site: due to its age and abandonment some of the old facilities are in a state of disrepair. Originally a World War Two training base for bomber crews, RAF Westcott became the Guided Projectile Establishment in 1946, and was renamed the Rocket Propulsion Establishment (RPE) a year later.

开车绕着荒草丛生的韦斯科特转转就知道,类似英国太空署的各种投资很有必要:由于年代久远废弃多时,很多设施年久失修。韦斯科特皇家空军基地本是二战期间轰炸机人员的训练场所,1946年改为导弹基地,次年又更名为火箭推进基地。

One of RPE's initial roles was to study seized Nazi rocket planes and rockets – like the Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet, the V1 Doodlebug and the V2 ballistic missile – and also learn what they could from captured German rocket scientists, some of whom stayed on as employees and worked at the site until the 1960s. "As an apprentice at Westcott I well remember seeing a V2 rocket in its trailer, a Messerschmitt Komet and a Saunders-Roe rocket plane," says Ed Andrews, a Westcott veteran who now helps look after the historic site.

火箭推进基地初期的一项工作是研究缴获自纳粹的火箭动力飞机和火箭,譬如梅塞施密特Me-163 彗星战斗机、V1飞弹(英国人戏称为超级赛车)以及V2弹道导弹,同时向俘获的德国火箭科学家学习,有些德国科学家留在基地工作一直到1960年代。安德鲁(Ed Andrews)曾在韦斯科特工作,现在负责看管园区。他说:"我当时是韦斯科特一名学员,我还清楚记得曾见到V2火箭架在运输车上,还见过梅赛施密特彗星号和一枚桑德斯-罗伊公司的火箭。"

Through the Cold War years, the Rocket Propulsion Establishment contributed significantly to most of Britain's rocket programmes, including developing and testing the Raven and Cuckoo engines for Skylark, the British suborbital rocket that undertook an astonishing 450 space science missions between 1957 and 2005. "Skylark is an unsung British hero really," says Doug Millard, curator of spaceflight at the Science Museum in London.

冷战期间,火箭推进基地对英国大部分火箭项目都有重大贡献,譬如为"云雀号"开发并测试了"乌鸦型"及"杜鹃型"发动机。"云雀号"是英国一颗亚轨道火箭,在1957年到2005年间执行了多达450个太空科学任务。英国科学博物馆航天馆的馆长米勒德(Doug Millard)形容"云雀号"是英国一位真正的幕后英雄。

But Skylark was a rare success: Britain's history in rocketry is one characterised by inveterate penny-pinching. Its attempt to build the Blue Streak ballistic missile was abandoned in 1960, for instance, ultimately in favour of America's Polaris submarine-launched missile system. And after developing Black Arrow, its own low-Earth-orbit rocket, which successfully launched Britain's Prospero space environment monitoring satellite from Woomera, Australia, in 1971, the UK space programme was cancelled by the government.

但"云雀号"的成功是仅有的个案,英国在发展火箭方面向来舍不得花钱。1960年叫停了"蓝条纹号"弹道导弹建造计划而转投美国"北极星号"潜射导弹系统。自行开发的"黑箭号"近地轨道火箭1971年在澳大利亚伍默拉成功将英国"皮洛斯皮罗号"空间环境探测卫星发射升空之后,政府就取消了英国的太空项目。

So although Britain became the third nation in space - it simultaneously became the first nation to successfully develop an indigenous rocket launch capability and then abandon it. This has left the UK a maker of satellites and space probes – an industry worth £12bn ($17.1bn) per year – but lacking that most muscular of geopolitical spaceflight capabilities: the ability to launch its own rockets.

英国虽然是第三个进入太空的国家,却也是第一个自主掌握火箭发射技术但弃之不用的国家。英国制造了许多卫星和空间探测器,这行业一年价值120亿英镑(合171亿美元),但却不具备地缘政治对抗的航天竞赛中最显示其实力的部分:自主发射火箭。

The effect on Westcott was to leave its huge rocket test stands, like K site, idle – and it's now definitely on the shabby side, despite it being a listed building of historic interest. The only signs that show it was ever used is the deeply scorched blast shields outside the buildings.

韦斯科特基地受此影响,许多大型火箭实验台,譬如K站就此荒废,现在虽然被列为历史建筑,但也是斑驳破败,只有从外面那层烧焦的防护层能看出来这个基地曾被使用过。

"K site was allegedly built to test solid rocket motors up to the size of Polaris. But to my knowledge it never did," says Andrews. At another decaying test stand, a cylindrical tank about 4m (13ft) in diameter was used to test underwater rocket motors for their submarine launch capabilities.

安德鲁说:"当时建K站是为了测试与"北极星号"同体量的固体火箭发动机,但据我所知从没用上过。"另一个废弃的测试站有一个直径约4米(13英尺)的圆柱形水箱,曾经用来测试水下火箭发动机的潜艇发射能力。

Just like the World War Two codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park, some 24km (15 miles) to the north east, the Westcott site seems heavy with a brooding atmosphere – one you could almost cut with a knife. "This was the UK's main rocket development site during the Cold War, with all sorts of important programmes centred here. But as time passed things fell away," says Millard.

跟东北方24公里(15英里)外的二战时期的密码破译中心布莱切利园一样,韦斯科特基地也笼罩着一股沉重的氛围,你恨不得想用刀子去划破它。米勒德说:"这里曾是英国冷战时期最主要的火箭研发基地,汇集了各种重要项目,但繁华已随时间而去。"

It's changing for the better now, however. "There is certainly a certain Cold War ambience here but with the new rocketry activities now taking place here there is a new sense of energy, the place is taking on a fresher character," says Jubb.

不过如今情况已有所好转,朱比说:"这里肯定会有些冷战气息,但随着新火箭项目展开也有了新活力,有了鲜活劲儿。"

"The atmosphere is getting back to what it once was, with regular rocket firings taking place," he says.

"现在有定期的火箭发射,昔日的气氛又回来了。"

Rising out of the trees in the middle of the lush, leafy Westcott park is a bizarre-looking, five-storey-high corrugated aluminium shed, called the P2 site. Its purpose? "Drop testing," says Andrews – to see if a fuelled, ready-to-fire rocket motor could be safely dropped in an accident.

在枝叶密布的韦斯科特园区中央,有一栋奇怪的建筑立在树丛中,它有五层楼高,外面用一层瓦楞铝片包着,名为P2站。它是干什么用的?"坠落试验,检测一枚加了燃料预备发射的火箭,比如"蓝条纹号"导弹如果出现意外能否安全坠落。"安德鲁说。

"A crane on top of P2 was used to lift up the item being drop tested. They had to be sure that while in transit they could protect and contain the contents in the event of it being dropped or involved in an accident," he says.

"P2站顶上有吊机吊起测试物体。科学家要确保在发射过程中如果出现坠落或是意外,能够保护火箭,保留内部零件。"

In addition to such safety concerns, Westcott's new rocketeers will have new environmental concerns to worry about, not least because the site is a bit of a wildlife haven – with kestrels, rabbits, deer, red kites and bats amongst its occasional inhabitants. "We have had to relocate some bats from some old buildings to make sure they are kept happy," says Mark Thomas, chief executive of Reaction Engines.

除安全考量外,韦斯科特新一代火箭研究员还有新的环保问题要考虑,尤其因为这里像是野生动物的天堂——时不时会有红隼、兔子、鹿、赤鸢和蝙蝠之类的跑来安家。反应发动机公司行政总裁托马斯(Mark Thomas)说:"我们不得不重新安置部分老房子里的蝙蝠,得保证这些蝙蝠有愉快的新家。"

"We've also done a huge amount of work on noise reduction. The five-metre-high wall around our Sabre test stand is for noise suppression and we expect a remarkably low level of noise as a result. But tests will only run for short periods in any case," says Thomas. That'll please the neighbours: former Prime Minister Tony Blair's country pile is next door.

托马斯说,"我们也做了大量工作来减少噪音, "佩刀" 的测试场外围建了5米高墙用来降噪,我们预计噪音将降到很低,而且每次测试时间都很短。"这样邻居们会满意,前首相布莱尔的乡村宅邸就在旁边。

Whether British-based rocketeers can create a resurgence at Westcott remains to be seen. But at least they now have a chance. Just last week Reaction Engines secured a massive £26m ($35.9m) investment from aircraft and rocket maker Boeing and jet engine maker Rolls-Royce.

英国的火箭研究员能否让韦斯科特重振雄风还有待观察,但至少有了希望。就在上星期,反应发动机公司拿下了飞机及火箭制造商波音公司和喷气式发动机制造商劳斯莱斯公司2,600万英镑(合3,590万美元)的巨额投资。

"It's cheering to see Westcott starting to hum again, there is some really exciting work going on in rocketry here," says Millard.

米勒德说:"看到韦斯科特恢复活力令人振奋,这里有很多激动人心的火箭项目正在进行。"

Britain has such an amazing heritage in rocketry and for many years we have let it languish. The future is what it is all about now – and you couldn't find a better place in which to plan the future than here."

"英国在火箭领域本是硕果累累,但多年来我们却任其衰落。如果现在决定着未来,那韦斯科特园区就是规划未来的不二之选。"

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