Desmond King-Hele

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Desmond George King-Hele FRS (3 November 1927 at Seaford in Sussex – 25 December 2019)[1] was a British physicist, poet and author who crossed the divide between the arts and science to write extensively about the life of Erasmus Darwin, whom he linked with the romantic poets Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. In 1957, together with Doreen Gilmour, and as part of the Guided Weapons department of Royal Aircraft Establishment, he wrote a report proposing the use of the Blue Streak missile and Black Knight as a satellite launcher. See also Blue Streak Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Life and career[edit]

He was born in Seaford, Sussex, the son of Sidney G. and Bessie (née Sayer) King-Hele and was educated at Epsom College[1] and Trinity College, Cambridge.[2]

He joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough in 1948 and stayed there until 1988, researching the gravity of Earth and its upper atmosphere by satellite orbit determination. He was awarded the Eddington Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1971 for his work on the geophysical application of the study of the orbits of artificial satellites. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in March 1966.[3]

He is considered "one of the pioneers of space geodesy".[4] Based on satellite geodesy, King-Hele refined the estimate for Earth's pear shape, finding a 45 m difference between north and south polar radii.[5][6]

He married Marie Newman in 1954; they had two daughters.[7]

He won the Chree medal and prize in 1971.

In 1973, he correctly predicted that Skylab would re-enter Earth's atmosphere in 1979.

King-Hele died on 25 December 2019.[8]


  • Satellites and Scientific Research 1962
  • Shelley: His Thought and Work 1962
  • Erasmus Darwin 1963
  • Theory of Satellite Orbits in an Atmosphere 1964
  • Doctor of Revolution 1977
  • Observing Earth Satellites 1983
  • Shelley: His Thought and Work 1984
  • Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poets 1986
  • A Tapestry of Orbits 1992, 2005
  • Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement 1999
  • Erasmus Darwin and Evolution 2014

He is also the author of two books of poetry, and of various articles published in journals, such as "Shelley and Science", Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Jul., 1992), pp. 253-265.


  1. ^ a b Merchant, Paul (15 March 2010). "NATIONAL LIFE STORIES AN ORAL HISTORY OF BRITISH SCIENCE Desmond King-Hele Interviewed by Dr Paul Merchant" (PDF). British Library. Retrieved 7 November 2012. recommended me for a special scholarship to Epsom College, the large public school on the eastern outskirts of Epsom, and the college headmaster had agreed this.
  2. ^ "Desmond King-Hele - Voices of Science". The British Library. Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Desmond King-Hele". The Royal Society. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  4. ^ Capderou, Michel (23 April 2014). Handbook of Satellite Orbits: From Kepler to GPS. ISBN 9783319034164.
  5. ^ KING-HELE, D. G.; COOK, G. E. (1973). "Refining the Earth's Pear Shape". Nature. Springer Nature. 246 (5428): 86–88. doi:10.1038/246086a0. ISSN 0028-0836. S2CID 4260099.
  6. ^ King-Hele, D. (1967). The Shape of the Earth. Scientific American, 217(4), 67-80. [1]
  7. ^ "King-Hele, Desmond (Part 5 of 21). An Oral History of British Science. - Oral history of British science - Oral history". Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  8. ^ King-Hele

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