Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics

Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics

The Association in Scotland to Research into Astronautics Ltd. (ASTRA), is a spaceflight and astronomical society which adopted its constitution on November 20 1963, when originally called the "Association in Scotland for Technology and Research in Astronautics", later changed to "to Research into Astronautics" at the insistence of the Companies House.

ASTRA registered as a charitable company limited by guarantee in 1976 when Companies House forced the name-change.

ASTRA holds meetings, events, invited guest speaker lectures, and more, in Glasgow and Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, Scotland. Catering for complete beginners, interested amateurs and those with a more academic slant, the membership is wide-ranging across age (from schoolchildren to coffin dodgers!), gender and expertise.

ASTRA's aims are, from Article 3 of the Memorandum of Association, "to promote the advancement of knowledge and the spread of education and particularly the dissemination of knowledge on space activities and all branches of science pertaining to such activities, and to stimulate public interest therein".

In 2006 the UK National Lottery gave a grant for an outreach project, free to schools, or any public body, for 3 months on the subject of Astronomy, concentrating on "Earth & Space" with particular regard to the curriculum in Scotland. This was accessed by a large number of Primary Schools in North Lanarkshire.The National Lottery repeated this grant in 2007.


The Waverider reentry vehicle was devised by Professor Terence Nonweiler of Queen's College, Belfast, and was intended to be the manned spacecraft in the British space programme based on the Blue Streak missile. The programme was cancelled by the Macmillan government, but work on Waverider continued at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough - mainly with a view to establishing Waverider's potential as a Mach 6 airliner. During this period (1960 - 65) at least one Waverider was tested at the Woomera Rocket Range. There were rumours that free-flight tests were also conducted at this time. The nearest thing to it seems to have been tests of X and Y-winged projectiles - in effect, four or three Waveriders mounted back-to-back - at NASA's Ames Research Center.

Professor Nonweiler became a member of the precursor to ASTRA just after he became Professor of Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics at Glasgow University, and kept his membership after ASTRA's independence. He moved to New Zealand in July 1975 to become Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Wellington. At the ASTRA AGM in 1974 Professor Nonweiler was nominated for Honorary Membership by the Ian Downie, and he accepted from New Zealand.

When Duncan Lunan spoke on "Man and the Planets" at the View from Earth symposium in California in 1984, it attracted the attention of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, whose Dr. Jim Randolph attended the first ever rocket launch of a Waverider to free flight, at Brisbane Glen outside Largs, in September 1985 shortly after ASTRA member Gordon Ross solved the problem of subsonic flight stability.

In May 1988 Professor Nonweiler came back to Glasgow for a two-day conference with Jim Randolph, because by that time Waverider was a serious contender to be the carrier vehicle for the NASA/JPL Starprobe mission to send an instrumented vehicle to within four solar radii (3 million km) of the surface of the Sun. In theory the mission could be accomplished by Jupiter slingshot, but the radiation hazards and the very long flight time made that unpromising. Aerogravity manoeuvres in the atmospheres of the inner planets could put the probe into a trajectory giving solar encounters every two to three months, but would require a carrier with a very high lift-to-drag ratio at high Mach numbers - for which Waverider seemed the best candidate, as Jim Randolph confirmed on his third visit to Scotland in April 1990.

In 1989 Gordon Ross completed a radio-controlled flying model, test-flown (another first for ASTRA) by Richard Newlands until it was crippled in a hard landing. It was rebuilt as an exhibition model, and it and the other surviving models from the 1980s are now in the care of Glasgow's Museum of Transport.


ASTRA traces its roots back to 1953 when Oscar Schwiglhofer, a member of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) (and a former student of Hermann Oberth, who was ASTRA's first honorary member), started a Scottish branch, leading to great success. This success was met with resistance from BIS London.

In 1963 the society formally became ASTRA as the members had had enough of the BIS in London. Although no such animosity lives today!

In the 1970s, ASTRA was holding discussion meetings concerning how best to use the resources within the Solar System, for example by mining the asteroids. Out of these discussions, three books were written by Duncan Lunan, part of their sales proceeds going to ASTRA. In order to receive the sales proceeds it was decided to make ASTRA a registered charity, which in those days meant you had also to become a company, which ASTRA still is. Although these books are now out of print, they were translated into numerous languages and sold well in their day.

In 1976 ASTRA registered as a charitable company limited by guarantee.

In 1977 the Waverider shape was incorporated into a new ASTRA logo.

In 1978, ASTRA saved Airdrie Public Observatory, atop Airdrie Public Library, from being scrapped – the previous curators had not taken great care of the observatory and it had suffered badly in a storm. ASTRA offered to repair the telescope and drive if the then Monklands District Council would repair the dome. This they duly did and ASTRA has been running the observatory, now on behalf of North Lanarkshire Council, ever since.

In 2003 the 25th anniversary of ASTRA managing Airdrie Public Observatory was celebrated, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society.

External links

* [ ASTRA official site]

* [ North Lanarkshire Council]

* [ Airdrie Public Library]

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