Black Brant (rocket)

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A Black Brant XII launching from Wallops Flight Facility.

The Black Brant is a family of Canadian-designed sounding rockets built by Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Over 800 Black Brants of various versions have been launched since they were first produced in 1961, and the type remains one of the most popular sounding rockets ever built. They have been repeatedly used by the Canadian Space Agency and NASA.


Black Brant was the result of research at CARDE during the 1950s into the nature of the upper atmosphere as part of ongoing research into anti-ballistic missile systems and very-long-range communication. In 1957 CARDE contracted Bristol to produce a simple rocket fuselage, called the Propulsion Test Vehicle, for studies into high-power solid fuels. The resulting design, by Albert Fia, was quite heavy, as it was designed to be able to accommodate a wide variety of engine burning times, propellant loadings and launch angles in keeping with its role as a test vehicle for ABM systems development. The first test flight took place only two years later from Fort Churchill in September 1959.

CARDE's attention later turned to long-distance communications and they found the Propulsion Test Vehicle system useful as a sounding rocket. To better suit this role, Bristol modified the design to be lighter and more tailored to the sounding rocket role. This became the Black Brant. CARDE launched a number of Black Brant rockets over the next few years, both the original Black Brant I design which could place a 68 kg (150 lb) payload to 150 km altitude, as well as the larger Black Brant II which first flew in October 1960, and the smaller but higher-altitude Black Brant III.

In July 1963 the much larger Black Brant V first flew, which was also used as a booster stage for the Black Brant III to make the Black Brant IV. The IV first flew in 1964, but failed, as did the next test launch. Aside from these two launches, which were corrected for, the Black Brant has never had another failure, making it one of the most reliable rockets in history. Since then it has undergone continual evolution, and the current versions are the XI and XII, consisting of Black Brant V used as an upper stage, with Talos and Terrier boosters as lower stages. They have reached altitudes of more than 1,500 km, which is above the ionosphere and well above the orbits of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

The propellant designs developed by CARDE in the Black Brant program were the highest performing solid fuels of their day. Bristol then placed this propellant in a new 70 mm (2.75 in) rocket to form the CRV7, the first rocket capable of penetrating standard Warsaw Pact aircraft hangars. The CRV7 has since gone on to become the de facto standard rocket for most Western-aligned militaries.

In the present day, due to its 98% success rate, it remains one of the most popular sounding rockets ever built. The rockets have been used repeatedly by the Canadian Space Agency and NASA. There is a 1:1 scale model of the Black Brant 9 rocket in front of the head office of the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, east of Montréal. A full-scale Black Brant VC is on display in the Science Gallery of The Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

On September 19, 2009, a Black Brant XII that was launched to study clouds caused numerous calls from the northeastern U.S. reporting "strange lights in the sky". NASA reported that the light came from an artificial noctilucent cloud formed by the exhaust particles of the rocket's fourth stage at an altitude of about 278 km (173 mi).


Size comparison of various sounding rockets, including several versions of the Black Brant

Black Brant I[edit]

Black Brant II[edit]

  • Payload: 68 kg[citation needed]
  • Maximum flight height: 274 km
  • Thrust: 89 kN
  • Mass at launch: 800 kg
  • Diameter: 0.44 m
  • Length: 8.45 m

Black Brant III[edit]

  • Payload: 18 kg[citation needed]
  • Maximum flight height: 177 km
  • Thrust: 49 kN
  • Mass at launch: 286 kg
  • Diameter: 0.26 m
  • Length: 5.50 m.

Black Brant IV[edit]

  • Two-stage rocket consisting of Black Brant VA + Black Brant IIIA or IIIB[citation needed]
  • Payload: 100 kg
  • Maximum flight height: 1,000 km
  • Thrust: 111 kN
  • Mass at launch: 1,356 kg
  • Diameter: 0.44 m
  • Length: 11.06 m

Black Brant V[edit]

  • Single-stage rocket consisting of one Black Brant VA, VB, or VC[citation needed]
  • Payload: 68 kg
  • Maximum flight height: 387 km
  • Thrust: 111 kN
  • Mass at launch: 1197 kg
  • Diameter: 0.44 m
  • Length: 8.15 m.

Black Brant VI[edit]

  • Maximum flight height: 72 km[citation needed]
  • Thrust: 7 kN
  • Mass at launch: 100 kg
  • Diameter: 0.12 m
  • Length: 2.80 m.

Black Brant VIII[edit]

  • Maximum flight height: 340 km[citation needed]
  • Thrust: 196 kN
  • Mass at launch: 2,000 kg
  • Diameter: 0.44 m
  • Length: 11.90 m

Black Brant IX[edit]

  • Status: Active[1]
  • Gross Mass: 2,200kg (4,800 lb)
  • Height: 12.20 m (40.00 ft)
  • Diameter: 0.46 m (1.50 ft)
  • Apogee: 300 km (180 mi)
  • First Launch: 03/16/1982
  • Last Launch: 08/28/2014[2]
  • Next Launch: 07/07/2015[3]

Black Brant X[edit]

  • Payload: 90 kg
  • Maximum flight height: 900 km
  • Thrust: 257 kN
  • Mass at launch: 2600 kg
  • Diameter: 0.44 m
  • Length: 14.50 m

Black Brant XI[edit]

  • Three stages:Talos as 1st stage, Taurus as 2nd stage, and Black Brant V as 3rd stage.[4]
  • Payload: 230 kg to 700 km, or 590 kg to 250 km
  • Maximum flight height:
  • Thrust:
  • Mass at launch:
  • Diameter:
  • Length:

Black Brant XII[edit]

  • Four stages: The rocket consists of a Talos first stage, Terrier second stage (pre 2013 Taurus motors were used), Black Brant V third stage and Nihka fourth stage.[5][6][7]
  • Payload: manufacturer rated from 110 – 410 kg
  • Maximum flight height: Approximately 1500 km, dependent on payload
  • Thrust:
  • Mass at launch: Approximately 5300 kg, dependent on payload
  • Diameter:
  • Length: 15 m

See also[edit]


External links[edit]