The History of The Needles
Rocket & Missile Development
By the early 1950's the British Government had successfully exploded both atomic and hydrogen bombs, and now set out to develop a means of delivery; the intercontinental ballistic missile code-named Blue Streak.
A significant part of this activity was the building and launching of a smaller rocket that used the complex liquid propellants but employed hardware and techniques that were immediately available. This rocket was code-named Black Knight. In 1955 Saunders Roe of Cowes were commissioned to develop the missile.
To assemble and test each rocket before shipment to the Australian launch site at Woomera, Saunders Roe required a local test site. The Needles Headland offered a secure site with suitable underground accommodation and in 1955 the Highdown site was leased from the Ministry of War.
Between 1955 and 1971 a top secret Space rocket and missile development centre was built on the site of the old Needles Battery. There were over 2,000 sq ft of control rooms with up to 240 people working there at any one time. They developed the space rockets called 'Black Night' and 'Black Arrow’.
The Black Knight rocket was very successful with 22 test missions launched. Originally, the rocket was purely a test rocket, but in the early 1960s it was used to carry research modules into the upper atmosphere and in 1971 the only all British satellite was launched into orbit.