On April 26, 1962, Britain launched its first satellite, Ariel 1
This made the United Kingdom the third country to have a satellite in orbit after the U.S. and the Soviet Union — but they didn’t launch it themselves. Ariel 1 launched on an American Thor-Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was also built at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Britain’s Science and Engineering Research Council provided all of the experiments. Five of the six experiments onboard studied the relationship between solar radiation and Earth’s ionosphere, and one was dedicated to studying cosmic rays. Just 10 weeks after Ariel 1 launched, it was damaged by an explosion during a high-altitude nuclear test conducted by the U.S. military. Its solar panels broke, and it was unable to transmit any more useful data after that.
Editor’s Note: This was an important turning point in the British space history as Great Britain became a space power after the launch of Ariel 1 and continues to be a space power to this day.