Wales in space? Mission control based in a pub? And it's no joke

The Bell pub in the heart of the Powys farming community serves as mission control for the first attempt to put a Welsh rocket in space. But, as Ian Burrell reports, the project is entirely serious.

Max Boyce, the Welsh comedian, once included in his routine a fanciful sketch about the principality's attempts to put men on the moon. Yes, the Welsh aeronauts concluded, it was made of cheese, and yes, it tasted of Caerphilly.

Plans by Newtown (population 11,000), in the hills of Mid-Wales, to style itself as a rival to Houston, Texas, as a centre for launching rockets, might also seem like a joke.

But the team members who style themselves Casa (Cymru Aeronautics and Space Administration), believe they are on the verge of creating history.

No amateur rocket launcher has succeeded in sending a projectile into space, which under the European definition is 100km into the air.

In January, the 15-strong Welsh team will carry out its first test-launches on a 45ft long rocket powered by a mixture of polybutadiene and liquid oxygen. If they are successful, Casa will aim to put its "Dragonfire" rocket into space in the spring, as soon as weather conditions are favourable.

The Bell's landlord, Peter Burt, has been overseeing meetings of the space committee. Mr Burt is a space fanatic, having decorated his hostelry with the prototypes of his earlier, less ambitious, rocket launches. His best effort was a missile with a fibre-glass nose cone which attained 1,500ft in 1995 before descending by parachute.

From behind the bar, Mr Burt serves pints of a new real ale, named Dragonfire, which is brewed locally and helps to raise funds for the space programme. It also fuels the debate among members of the space committee, which includes an industrial chemist, a computer wizard, a trajectory specialist and a member of parliament. Lembit Opik, the local Liberal Democrat MP, is another space enthusiast, whose conversations with the publican while canvassing in the area a year ago sowed the seeds for the Dragonfire project.

Mr Opik said: "Outsiders laugh but ... [local] people take this project very seriously."

The MP moved to reassure people who might be concerned at the safety risks if the launch went wrong. "It's propelled using a relatively safe material which only burns in a stream of high-pressure oxygen, which means there is no risk of it exploding," he said. "If it falls ... the biggest danger is that you get bashed on the head." For which reason, the committee has lined up a remote site at Plynlymon, the second highest peak in Wales.

The team is trying to raise pounds 250,000 from Welsh companies to finance the remainder of the project. A Dragonfire website is set to attract further commercial interest.

"People need to be sure that this is a serious project before they start investing money," he said. "What this venture is about is promoting scientific education in Wales."

Welsh schools have been invited to submit ideas for scientific experiments which can be carried out while the rocket is in space. Firms have already promised to supply diggers, generators and the scaffolding for the launch tower.

Mr Burt said: "We intend to control the rocket on its journey back and return it to its original launch site which is something that not even Nasa has been able to achieve."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices