Oral history of British science

Parkinson, Bob (Part 11 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Aeronautical Engineering; Space Science and Engineering

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Parkinson, Bob, 1941- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 11: Comments on work activities connected with space platform: differences to current working practices; design calculations; running small team; computer tools and spreadsheets changing BP's life; division of work into practices; matrix organisations; project management organisation, technical and administrative managers; meetings; [07:00] public relations. Story about first time BP was on television, connected with HOTOL and a trip to Zurich. [11:15] Story about the curious editing arrangements connected with an Ariane 5 interview of BP and Wubbo Ockels. Remarks on: translating science into layman terms; view graph data, slide and overhead projectors; importance of picture used in space platform public meeting to visualise the abstract. [18:40] Comments on design process of a space vehicle, with reference to ENVISAT: Ariane 5 launch capability; purpose; power; propulsion; communications; cooling; BP responsibilities over process; calculations; BP's current design spreadsheet. [26:10] Description of design process output: operating environment, connection of systems and design descriptions; philosophy of margins to allow changes in design. [30:30] Comments on: long time-scales involved in space work, with example of 17 years on ENVISAT, but quick work on standard satellites; problems caused by changing requirements, with remarks on success of SR-71 aircraft; reflections on variable and inconclusive nature of future project work. [37:40] Discussion of HOTOL: meeting Alan Bond and John Scott-Scott in Culham; original idea for single stage earth of orbit vehicle; PC support for HOTOL after learning from AB about project; early conception differing to later plans, due to BP limited experience of supersonic aerodynamics and planning to use Barnes Wallace style swing-wings; [43:20] assistance of Filton's Concorde office in aerodynamic design of shape; increased financial support from GP. [48:00] Story about ITN reporter Frank... breaking the secrecy around HOTOL on TV just as BP was about to go on holiday. [52:20]  Comments on: Frank Crowhurst and Concorde team at Filton help resolving difficulties whenever HOTOL appeared overweight; arrangements for financing and support, with reference to Raymond Lygo, GP, JSS. [56:20] Comments on HOTOL vehicle: reaction to Ariane 5; economic model behind reusable space plane; [1:02:50] launch vehicle megalomania. Comments on payloads: communication satellites, with reference to underlying business model and Arthur Clarke; space station applications and 1980s manufacturing in space concepts; Electrophoresis; market changing faster than engineering, with reference to 1990s IRIDIUM communication satellites. [1:10:20] Remarks on: nature of HOTOL as a real project; all future projects being treated as real, even if unlikely; feeling surprised when project was made public and finding himself involved in PR. [1:12:30] Comments on classification of HOTOL engine by MOD: fears of Russian interests in AB's heat exchanger; causing problems talking with ESA. Description of HOTOL jet-rocket hybrid engine and heat exchanger, comparison of small amount of new technology in design compared to American efforts; AB founding Reaction Engines to further develop technology. [1:21:20] Remarks on: keeping HOTOL technology economical; naming of HOTOL by PC, with the idea that they would have a 'Blue Peter' competition to find a better name later; Raymond Lygo's status as 'one of the good guys', in favour of innovation. [1:26:30] Remarks on financing of HOTOL: meeting with GP and Lygo; HOTOL spin-offs, such as interplanetary trajectory calculation work and spreadsheet design methods; ESA funding for studies; British positive feelings about space in 1980s, Roy Gibson, GP. [1:32:35] Comments on British space policy in 1980s: withdrawal from launcher work; rapid progress of Giotto mission, originally proposed in BIS magazine rather than by ESA's Roger Bonnet; later 1980s problems, difficulties caused by differences between French and British approaches and costings; Kenneth Clarke's attitude destroying European support for British initiatives, with reference to Jack Leeming insight into civil service thinking; BP finding himself explaining that not all Britons were trouble makers. 

  • Description

    Interview with aerospace engineer Dr Bob Parkinson.

  • Related transcripts

    Dr Bob Parkinson interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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