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A RESEARCH rocket which was partially-built by a group of apprentices was launched yesterday.

Apprentices from Darwen firm WEC were among the groups who helped build parts for Skybolt 2, which is exploring the potential for space tourism.

The research rocket was successfully launched yesterday morning from Otterburn training camp in Northumberland.

The 27-foot craft reached a height of 4000 ft and maintained a four-minute flight before returning to earth with a parachute.

The project was managed by Starchaser Industries, a privately-held, high technology group of companies that specialises in the development, operation and commercialisation of space related products and services.

The group approached WEC to sponsor the project and assist with the rocket’s construction.

Apprentices from the training academy who were taking part in their advanced five-year apprenticeship were given the chance to be part of the project.

The apprentices manufactured a range of major parts for the research space rocket, including the rocket propulsion systems, as well as the launch pad.

The rocket is reusable and project managers hope it will will pave the way for manned tests of Starchaser’s planned “Space Tourism” rocket.

The rocket was sent up with cargo that contained a number of video cameras and a stuffed toy dog called Sam, courtesy of Morecambe Bay Primary School who were present at the launch.

Training and Development Manager at WEC, Kris Mercer said: “Our apprentices manufactured major parts for the rocket as well as the launch pad and we’re delighted it was a success.”

Although designed to fly more than 100km, to the edge of space, the maximum altitude for the first flight was capped at 4000ft to avoid interfering with commercial air traffic and to ensure a safe landing in within the Otterburn Danger Area.

The rocket was created by Tameside based Starchaser Industries, a group of companies that specialise in the development, operation and commercialisation of space related projects and services.

Mr Mercer said: “It has been an interesting apprenticeship project. They have been able to learn a lot in the two years they have been working on it.

“We are extremely proud to have been involved.”