West Midland Branch events

The West Midlands branch of the British Interplanetary Society continues its programme of space lectures during these difficult times of lockdown.

“Space Elevator Climber” by Peter Robinson

Saturday 16 May 2020 between 2pm and 3.15pm, via Zoom

Peter shares his talk about the engineering requirements for a Space Elevator Climber using different technologies, previously presented at the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) conference in Seattle in August 2019.

Peter walks us through the essential and secondary functional requirements for Climbers using various friction drive and magnetic drive options. He then looks at other design considerations such as Centre of Gravity, Steering and ‘Descender’ climbers.

This is a must-attend for anyone interested in the mechanics of the future of space launchings.

Peter Robinson MA, FBIS

Peter is the Lead Project Engineer with the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).




“The BIS Von Karman Line Buster” by Ian Johnston

Saturday 20 June 2020 between 2pm and 3.15pm, via Zoom
The trajectory a rocket takes in flight can be predicted with reasonable accuracy using various software packages. Some of these require a high level of expertise, but others can be relatively straightforward. Some of the packages, aimed at the hobby rocket market are surprisingly rigorous. You may be familiar with Apogee’s “RockSim”, but I would like to introduce you to a similar package called “OpenRocket”. Unlike RockSim, OpenRocket is free and can be downloaded from
• The link is a Dropbox link and it implies you have to register, but you don’t need to. Just click the “No Thanks” button at the bottom!
• The link takes you to a version of the software which has some elements of Java included in the install. Other versions of the software are available but may not work on all computers!

Ian plans to take you on a tour of OpenRocket to design a vehicle (single stage, sounding rocket 10 – 15 kg Payload to 120 Km, fin stabilised, no recovery of motor) to break through the Von Karman Line. This will be a single stage vehicle, but if time permits, we can extend it to 2 stages.

If you want to join the session, we suggest you download the software (via the link above) and we can work through it together. 

Look forward to meeting you all again in cyberspace

Ian Johnston

After travelling in the Middle East for a couple of years I started working for the MoD in 1978 at what was then the Propellants, Explosives and Rocket Motor Establishment at Westcott. I was involved in the Polaris Improvement Programme (Chevaline) and later as a member of the Design and Assessment Group. Here I learned page 1 of how to design a successful solid propellant rocket motor. From Westcott I moved to Royal Ordnance Bishopton, near Glasgow where I worked on the design of charges for large calibre guns – that was a very noisy couple of years. Then after a year at BAJ, Weston Super Mare making rocket motor hardware BAJ were bought out by Meggitt and I was made redundant.

I saw out the last 25 years of my career at Summerfield at what is now Roxel. Still working on the design, analysis and modelling of solid propellant motors I like to think that after more than 40 years in the business I have reached the end of the first chapter – rocket motors are awkward little rascals.

Since taking early retirement from Roxel 6 years ago I work with the Falcon Project back at Westcott in what is now a Venture Park and also as a rocket propulsion consultant.



“India’s Forgotten Rocket Pioneer” by Gurbir Singh

Saturday 18 July 2020 between 2pm and 3.15pm, via Zoom
Start Time: 14:00
End Time: 15:15

Gurbir Singh will speak about his new book – India’s Forgotten Rocket Pioneer. It is an account of the work and life of Stephen H Smith who was probably the BIS’s first member from India.Stephen H Smith was testing solid-fuel rockets in Calcutta during the 1930s and 1940s. He joined the BIS in late 1934 and corresponded with BIS Vice President Leslie Johnson in Liverpool. Recent research in archives in Switzerland, London, Liverpool and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC reveals the for the first time the global reach of Smith’s rocket experiments.

Gurbir Singh

Gurbir Singh is a UK based space writer. He studied science and computing and holds a science and an arts degree. Once keen on aviation, he has a private pilot’s licence for the UK, USA and Australia. He was one of 13,000 unsuccessful applicants responding to the 1989 advert in the UK “Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary” to become the first British astronaut, for which Helen Sharman was eventually selected and flew on the Soviet space station MIR in 1991. He is also the publisher of www.astrotalkuk.org, a not-for-profit astronomy podcast established in 2008.His most recent book, India’s Forgotten Rocket Pioneer, was published in April 2020. The book traces the life and work of Stephen Smith who was experimenting with solid-fuel rockets in Calcutta during the 1930s and 1940s.



Conference Call and Q & A sessions will be recorded (which may capture your name, picture, voice or video) and made available via the West Midlands Facebook group and possibly via the BIS HQ website. You consent to this by registering for the Conference Call/Q & A sessions.

Be sociable; support the BIS!