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Steve ready for big lift-off

Steve Bennet and NOVA
SET for lift-off : The NOVA rocket.

by Emma Fitzgerald

The unveiling of NOVA takes rocket man Steve Bennett one step closer to a space world first. He is aiming to win the X Prize Competition where £6.25m is being offered to the first non-governmental organisation in space. He says his company Starchaser Industries Ltd is on schedule to compete for the prize by 2003 with Thunderbird an advanced version of NOVA.


Steve Bennet

It was billed as 'the last piece of the puzzle' and was a moment Steve Bennet has been counting down to for the past nine years.
The grand unveiling of NOVA - the world's first private piloted spaceship - had been a long-awaited moment for Dukinfield's rocket man.
After launching Starchaser Discovery above Morecambe Bay in July last year, £100,000 NOVA - his 14th and biggest rocket to date - will be heading for the stars later this year.
But before Steve steps into the 33 foot rocket - capable of carrying one person 62 miles into space - NOVA will be launched unmanned from an undisclosed site, probably abroad.

Daring challenge: The scientist chosen for NOVA's first manned flight will be at the controls in this capsule. Right: Dukinfield rocket man Steve Bennett.

Two tickets have already been sold for Thunderbird to an anonymous couple for a mere £250,000 each. Steve described how his dream of producing NOVA became a reality. "About this time last year I remember sitting in the office sketching it onto a piece of paper," said the father-of-two. "Then I got the technical drawing people to turn it into what you see now. It feels really good to actually see it and I'm going to get a real buzz when it's launched." He said the unveiling -at a warehouse in Hyde - was 'time to show the world just what we have built'.

Ready to go : Steve discusses plans with one of the ground crew.

"It's OK unveiling something and saying this is what we're going to do, but we've built this and we will fly it," said a confident Steve, aged 37. And before he embarks on his first solo manned flight - which will take him 10,000 ft up - he admitted there's a lot of preparation. "I've been sky diving to practice how to escape from the rocket if all doesn't go to plan and I want to get 100 jumps in before the flight. "I've also been doing centrifuge training where you're spun round on the end of a long arm to make you times your body weight - similar to how you'll feel when the rocket accelerates."

Steve said just sitting in the capsule - which will come back down by parachute with Steve inside- takes a lot of getting used to "It's like sitting on the roof of a house, it's small and cramped. It sways and creaks so it's important whoever goes up is used to the enclosed space so they don't freak out before the launch." NOVA will be the star attraction at the 'Tomorrow's World Live Event', in Earls Court London, until July 1.

Starchaser Steve hopes blast off into history books at last!

by Emma Fitzgerald in Morecambe Bay. Pictures by Andy Bellis

We have lift off. The Nova launch in Morecambe Bay reaches for the skies and (inset) the rocket prepares for lift off.

As the world's first private spaceship soared above the Morecambe skyline, its creator once again upped the ante of the space race.
Nova is Steve Bennett's latest rocket - five times bigger and five times more powerful than Starchaser Discovery which he launched successfully last July.
Dukinfield's very own rocket man used the same launch pad - Cartmel wharf in Flookburgh, Morecambe - but this time the stakes were much higher.The 37ft tall Nova RLV - reusable launch vehicle - was billed as the 'last piece of the puzzle' before Steve attempts his goal of winning the X Prize Competition - where £6.25m is being offered to the first non-governmental organisation to launch three people into space.
It's Steve's 14th and biggest rocket to date and is capable of carrying one person 62 miles into space. He's planning one more unmanned flight before stepping in the rocket himself for a trip next spring.
As the crowds of press and spectators waited patienfly for the 10-second countdown, we were warned it was 'an experiment', and told to stay well behind the spectators' rope. Many wondered whether this would be the launch to put a stop to Steve's ambitious plans.
But as we saw the £100,000 spaceship blast off in a cloud of black smoke, reaching a speed of 500mph in under six seconds, we soon realised the former laboratory technician's dream was not so out of this world.
The rocket split in two as planned and the capsule - the top bit where Steve will be when he attempts his manned flight - brought down safely by parachute.
The booster-the biggest part of the rocket - had 3 parachutes, but two became tangled, leaving only one bringing it down at 35mph, more than double the planned speed. Apart from two fins breaking off during the heavy landing, the whole rocket can still be reused.
Steve, aged 37, said Nova was 'substantially bigger' than anything he'd done before. He said it was capable of going all the way into space, but explained why they kept it to an altitude of less than 6,000ft.
"If you're going to build a boat to sail around the world, you sail it round a marina first to check what it's capable of," said the father-of-two. "We need this test flight to see if it meets its objectives."

Back to Earth: The Nova rocket hits the ground with a bump after the parachutes fail to open and (inset) Steve Bennet.

Checking the new mobile launch tower, the capsule parachute descent, the booster system and onboard computers were just a few of the flight objectives. Nova was Steve's fifth launch at Morecambe Bay and possibly his last in the UK. 'After this I want to launch it to higher altitudes, but we're restricted with how high we can go with this in the UK," he said.
"The higher you go the bigger launch area you need." Steve runs his own company - Starchaser Industries Ltd - from Salford University and earlier this year opened a new Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in Hyde.


He'll soon be opening another office in America - Cape Canaveral was his obvious choice! He now has 12 permanent staff and 25 part-time volunteers.
And with sponsorship from the likes of Microsoft and the Discovery Channel, he's certainly not short of investment.
The space fanatic reckons he has the best chance of winning the X Prize and is hoping to do so with Thunderbird - an advanced and 30 per cent bigger version of Nova - by the end of 2003.
But the prize - for which 21 other teams are competing worldwide - is just part of his ultimate aim to 'open up the space frontier'. He reckons regular passenger flights aboard Thunderbird-type space ships could start as early as 2006.
"Space tourism will be worth $10bn by 2010 and we've got to make sure we have a piece of that pie," he said. "I've always dreamed of flying into space - flying aboard a rocket, now we've got one. There are a lot of doubters out there and we've just proved them wrong. We have just physically demonstrated in the most dramatic way possible that we have what it takes to deliver "There are a lot of people out there talking about it, but we're out here walking the walk and making it happen." [The Advertiser 29/11/2001]

Let's take pride in rocket man Steve

Editor - The Starchaser project based in Hyde is set to go for another big target with their latest rocket. In the past, the exploits of this talented team of local engineers has put a series  of projectiles high into our skies.
On a single occasion they had a problem,and inevitably that's one that gets the mention in the media.
In truth this is a sophisticated project,which deserves the acclaim since its successes have in fact been as good as many national or European financed rocket efforts.
The image of Steve Bennett and the Starchaser team of being a garden shed bunch of amateurs is way off the truth and you all know it!
It's high time our local media portray these people in a way that shows pride in their amazing feats,and acknowledge what an asset they  really are here in Tameside.
John Howard
Lodge Lane

[The Advertiser 5/7/2001]

HE MAY be known nationwide as 'the rocket man', but nobody's followed Steve Bennett's success story more than those closest to home. And to congratulate his achievements so far, the dad-of-two was presented with a public service award by the people of his home town Dukinfield. Steve has high hopes of winning the £6.25m X Prize Competition by being the first independent rocket maker to launch three people 63 miles into the atmosphere. In November he launched Nova - his 14th and biggest rocket to date - above Morecambe Bay Nova is capable of carrying one person 62 miles into space and Steve is planning one more unmanned flight before stepping into the rocket himself for a 10,000ft trip this spring. The space fanatic reckons he's in with the best chance of winning the prize and is hoping to do so with Thunderbird - an advanced version of Nova - by the end of 2003.
The award was presented to Steve at Dukinfield's district assembly by chairman Cllr Brian Wild who praised his success. "Steve told me in 1996 that he'd gone full time to promote his rocket," said the former mayor "It's a great achievement what he's doing. Every time Steve's on TV he puts Dukinfield on the map and it's a great pleasure to give him this award." Steve, aged 37, said: "It really is an honour and a privilege to receive this award. It was completely unexpected. It's nice to be recognised, I've put a lot of work into this and it's started to pay off." He added: "We've now got a factory in Hyde which is employing local people and we're starting to put something back into the community "We really do want to put Dukinfield back on the map."
[The Advertiser 24/11/2001]

Aliens have landed!

He said 'Klingon' and I said 'Cyber'

THE aliens have landed to give people an out of this world experience. Visitors to Ashton on July 28 need not be alarmed if they see the odd Star Wars character or Klingon roaming the streets - as they are just guests for the Sci-Fi day.
Characters from movies and cult TV shows will beam down to the market ground where there will be a chance for shoppers to have their picture taken with their favourite character. Town Centre manager Peter Hawley said: "Darth Vader will be in town, along with storm troopers and several other characters from the classic movie series."
Pictured: Peter Hawley with a Cyberman.
[The Advertiser 19/7/2001]

I told you I didn't think he was part of Sci-Fi Day

Aliens invade town centre

Close encounter: Ten-year old Zoe Waterhouse with a new alien friend.
Space fans were also given the chance to see an exclusive exhibition on the work of local rocket man Steven Bennett and his Starchaser project Town centre marketing manager Peter Hawley said: "As far as I am concerned the day was a complete success.
"We must have had a couple of thousand people wandering through the exhibition and it was as much fun watching people's faces as anything as we took the Daleks around the shops and stores."
It is also expected that around £200 has been raised for Willow Wood Hospice from donations given by people having their photograph taken along with their favourite characters.
[The Advertiser 2/8/2001]
SHOCKED shoppers were given an extra-terrestrial treat when aliens came to visit. Ashton centre was invaded by Daleks, Star Wars characters and monsters on Saturday as the market place and shopping centres were taken out of this world for a special Sci-Fi day.
As well as a squadron of storm troopers running around with Darth Vader, visitors also had to he on the alert for the odd Cyberman from the cult Doctor Who series and the occasional Star Trek character.

No one can hear you scream

Sally Eyden ventures into space with Sam Neill as guide to the BBC's new odyssey

Remember the space programmes of yesteryear when Sir Patrick Moore squinted through untamed brows to point out the  Plough to the public? But now,after 40 years of space education via the Sky At Night,things are about to change at the BBC. 
The corporation has decided that 2001 is the year to unveil its latest space odyssey with actor Sam Neill at the helm of Space,a very different sort of galactic journey. Where Moore only had a shaky, standard issue telescope and a BBC window which opened out onto the stars, Space has an apparently bottomless budget and an infinite number of special effects including a nifty contraption called a Virtual Space Zone - a futuristic gizmo set deep in the mountains of New Zealand. This allows Neill to interact directly with a virtual universe throughout the six-part series.

In the first programme,Neill holds a swirling star in his hand and steps into the cosmos to shed skin and muscle to become a talking skeleton. The series is meant to inspire young and old to contemplate the mysteries of the Universe. "What would you think if I told you that everyone came from outer space?" Neill says with the drama usually reserved for celluloid capers.
You may think that Neill,a big screen actor not a scientist,is a strange choice to present the BBC's small screen venture in space,but he claims he was "compelled" when approached by the producers. "When I was sent the material,I was  somewhat sceptical about it - it didn't seem to be my area at all - then I read it and it made me sit up, I thought,'I haven't really done anything like this before,why not give it a go and see if I can pull it off?'"
This he has done with the same sort of expertise and panache that made his Hollywood films such as Dead Calm ,The Hunt For Red October,and The Horse Whisperer so successful.
Neill also admits he has gained a thirst for space facts."Did you know that for every grain of sand on our whole planet,there are a million stars in our universe?" he asks.
"I'm now quite happy to be a dinner party bore with all kinds of space related facts.
He and the rest of the production team hope others will become as inspired as they did during the filming. Producer Richard Burke Ward explains "Space is about our relationship with the universe - how the things going on up there affect our lives on Earth. If you think the universe is a big irrelevance,Space will make you think again."
It certainly does. The series is awe-inspiring eye-candy which combines computer wizardry with stunning cinematography shot in picturesque and diverse locations. Subjects as far ranging as the Big Bang to black holes are explained by leading experts,along with riveting experiments - one which re-creates an exploding star in a laboratory. The sky's no limit.

Rocketman Steve inspires launch of new space song

by Sam Lister

FORGET Lennon, Hendrix and Bowie - Denton duo Bynatone have shunned the rock and roll hall of fame in favour of space man Steve Bennett.
Electro pop pairing Rachel Elwell and Alan Lewinsky were so impressed with the Dukinfield scientist's bid to launch into space they have written a song about him.
Starchaser, named after Steve's rocket project, is a space-sounding track made using an Omega computer and a theremin. It's the band's debut single and came out on the Arden City College-sponsored record label Raw Fish.
Alan aged 26, said: "I read about him in the Advertiser a couple of years ago and was just amazed by what he's doing.

Roland Microcomposer
Song writers:Alan Lewinsky and Rachel Elwell have written and performed a song dedicated to Steve Bennet.


"I admire his enthusiasm. He will either look like an absolute fool or he will be a hero and will be on the front cover of every newspaper.
"He is a man following his dreams and that's very inspiring. I would love to enter the competition on his website to win a place on the launch, but Rachel won't let me because she doesn't think I will come back down in one piece."
Bynatone got together in May last year, and have played 15 gigs in Manchester. They have even been asked to sign a copy of Starchaser for one of their fans. But their hero has yet to hear the track.
Steve said: "I'm quite keen to hear this song. It's nice to be an inspiration, quite flattering, but I will have to wait until I hear it before I give an opinion. I would encourage everyone to live their dream."
Hear Bynatone perform Starchaser live at Club Suicide, Rockinghams, Manchester, this Saturday from 9pm.
[The Advertsiser Feb27,2003]

Florida bound for Starchaser

by Barbara Canning

THINGS are hotting up in the Tameside space camp as rocket man Steve Bennett prepares for the next stage of his exciting race to the stars.
Pioneering space engineer Steve will be jetting off to America on 10 July as he prepares to take his Nova II rocket capsule on its first ever test flight.
"I've been looking forward to this for quite some time.
"We have been waiting for this from about May and it's taken three months to get it here but now it's finally going to happen," he said.
Steve, who comes from Dukinfield, told the Advertiser that he will first fly to Florida to oversee the final stages of the 1,000 square foot parachute for the Nova II, before travelling to Arizona for the start of the trials on 21 July.
"We're doing a minimum of three drops and the parachute people want to put their test pilots in the first two but I'm hoping to do the third one," he said.
He said once the capsule is dropped from the transport aircraft at 14,000 feet, the pilot will then guide the 200kg capsule to the ground - similar to a glider plane.
But Steve said the trip will not be all work-orientated as he hopes to take in some of the local sites with his wife Adrienne and their kids Max and Tabitha. He added that should the trials go well, he aims to launch himself, the Nova pod and the Nova rocket, 30,000 feet into space by 2004, which will then pave the way for their three-man launch and the $10m X-prize for the first private manned rocket flight.
Space fans can get a chance to see Steve and his rocket before the launch when Starchaser industries open up their doors this Sunday 6 July.
As well as the 11m high Nova rocket, visitors can check out the project's unique engine system, a four-billion year-old meteorite and also get a chance to fire their own paper rockets into the stratosphere.
For your chance to get involved, call in on the team at Unit A, Adamson Industrial Estate, Alexandra Street, Hyde.
The doors open from l0am to 6pm and admission costs £3 adults, £2.50 concessions or free to club members.
[The Advertiser July3,2003]

Did they fly to the moon?

I WOULD like to respond to Mr Britnell's letter on the moon landings (Readers' letters 19 February). There is no real evidence that man actually landed on the moon. I quote from the letter 'The moon landing was successful history and has proved this to be correct'. This is not historical fact. A book I have read on the matter points to the fact that it was a mission impossible. NASA had so many obstacles to overcome. There were a lot of inconsistencies with the photographs taken, and the 1960s could not have achieved such a feat. Why have we not gone back to the moon since the first expedition with all the advancements of today's technology? It's because I believe it was filmed in a studio,just like the film Capricorn One. Also there was the space race between the USA and Russia. Whoever got to the moon first achieved power in the eyes of the world.
Rooney Street, Ashton

IN REPLY to last week's letter about the moon landing I am among those who do not believe we ever landed on the moon and that we were subject to the greatest hoax of the 20th century If you read up on the subject you will find it was almost impossible to achieve, radiation belts, flag waving on the moon etc.
Address supplied

THE moon landings took place on known facts. Neil Armstrong's helmet was peppered with holes seen under an electron microscope caused by cosmic radiation, impossible to fake. Moon rock was also presented to Manchester University as payment for vital equipment. I'm sure the geologists there were satisfied they were genuine. Lastly three astronauts died in a tragic accident whilst practicing for the mission. I can't believe people who knew them would collude at deceit and thus downgrade their ultimate sacrifice.
Broadhurst, Denton

[The Advertiser Thursday,Mar 12 09]

Lots of evidence of moon landings

I READ with incredulity the letters of Mr Pickering and Mr Wood (Letters, 12 March) with regards to the so-called hoax of the Apollo moon landings. One doesn't even need to consider the scientific evidence to disprove the hoax theory. Saturn 5 moon rockets were built and that's a fact. Three of them still exist and are on public display in Alabama, Florida and Texas. The giant rockets launched to the moon were seen by literally millions of eye witnesses. Over half a million people were physically present when Apollo 11 set off on its journey. If they were going to fake going to the moon, why would they fake it nine times? Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 all carried men to the moon and all of these missions were tracked by independent receiving stations all over the world, including our very own Jodrell Bank. Then there's the moon rock that was collected. Any geologist who has ever examined it will tell you that it came from somewhere other than the earth. 'There is no doubt in my mind that NASA did exactly what they said they did; they landed 12 brave men on the surface of another celestial body and brought them home again.
Managing director Starchaser Industries

[The Advertiser Thursday,Mar 26 09]

Thank you for printing my letter about Neil Armstrong. When my kids were young I used to invent rhymes for them to learn dates and sequences of things. Here's one I wrote about Neil Armstrong:

'Neil Armstrong said,'I'll see you soon.I'm off to the moon,and from his spacecraft we saw him climb in July '69'

GEOFF BRITNELL Broadhurst,Denton

[The Advertiser Thursday,Mar 19 09]

Sent to the Advertiser:

Dear Ed,

I am amazed by the ignorance of your contributors Mr Pickering and D Wood. Do they not know that there is a laser reflector on the moon installed by the astronauts which is now used to measure the distance of the moon from us by a gigantic laser? How on earth (sic) did it get there - aliens? Please can they also explain how one gets the picture "Earthrise from the moon" without someone actually being there?

I am tired of hearing conspiracy theorists run down the achievements of mankind - Jim Lovell and his crew nearly died in Apollo 13 trying to land there,as was shown to us in the film with Tom Hanks. Millions of dollars are not ploughed into building the space shuttle and the space station because the moon landings failed.Mr Britnell is correct - it is an affront to the tragic loss of human life that it took to reach the moon,to suggest that it was faked - some people will pick holes in anything that they think they could not have achieved themselves.

I suggest that your two doubting Thomas's follow the advice I gave Mr Robishaw - come to the library and check the facts.

Lee Borrell
Library ICT Mentor

Over the Moon

Dear Ed,

I was over the moon to see that Steve Bennet had made the same point I was trying to make with respect to the moon landings which have been criticised by Mr Pickering and Mr Wood.But can you please add to Steve and Mr Britnell's evidence, the fact that there is a laser reflector on the moon, put there by the astronauts,which now measures the distance to the moon to the accuracy of a light wavelength,and if possible a picture. I am sure that this will silence dissenters like Mr Pickering. He only needs to Google 'Moon laser reflector' to find the truth of it.

DL Borrell
22 Bamford Grove

Treading where no man has gone before

Rocket man Steve Bennet and the tyre-fuelled engine being testedby Brian Lashley

A SCIENTIST who wants affordable space travel has invented a 'green' rocket fuel. Hyde-based Steve Bennett, who has made it his mission to reach the stars, has developed a powerful new engine which runs on car tyres. With the help of a £130,000 grant from the North West Development Agency; Steve and his team created the unique engine powered by waste material. The group fired up the engine at a test ground in Saddleworth. Although not powerful enough to launch the rocket into space, the team believes the eco-rocket could be used to manoeuvre space shuttles during an emergency. The rocket uses a mixture of highly-flammable hydrogen peroxide and powdered rubber from tyres. Steve, who lives in Dukinfield, said the unique mixture of fuel burned produces virtually no harmful emissions. "The development of an eco-friendly rocket motor system that can be employed to safeguard the lives of astronauts will showcase the very best of British endeavour and innovation," he said. "Our ultimate aim, though, is to carry tourists into space and our eco-engine takes is another step closer to realising that ambition." His firm, Starchaser Industries, is based in Hyde and has already designed and built a number of rockets. Steve plans to make his first manned flight in 2013.
LEFT: Rocket man Steve Bennet and the tyre-fuelled engine being tested


STARRY-eyed about science: Steve Bennett of Starchaser Industries (right) with pupils at Flowery Field primary school and Cllr Phillip Fitzpatrick

Science classes are a blast

SCIENCE classes are going off with a bang in the Tameside Rocket Science Challenge.
The challenge has seen the council team up with Hyde-based Starchaser Industries to get hundreds of youngsters learning more about rocket engines and the science behind them. Many will get a chance to build and launch their own model rockets. They will also be able to enter a competition to name the company's new eco-friendly rocket which will be launched later this year from Morecambe Bay. Cllr Ged Cooney said: "This unique chance to study will place Tameside pupils at the forefront of practical learning about science and space and rocket technology"
Steve Bennett of Starchaser Industries said: "Partnering with Tameside Council will enable us to engage with an unprecedented number of children in the local area, where we will use the excitement of rocketry to turn more youngsters on to science related subjects." Any school interested in participating in the scheme should contact Matt Shewbridge on 0161 882 9922.


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