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King-Hele, Desmond George, 1927-2019 (physicist and author)



  • Existence: 1927 - 2019


Desmond King-Hele was educated at Epsom College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough from 1948-1988, and was Deputy Chief Scientific Officer of the Space Department there from 1968-1988. At RAE he developed the mathematical theory of Earth satellite orbits. By analysing actual satellite orbits, he led the world in determining more accurately the shape of the Earth and the properties of its upper atmosphere.

He was a member of the International Academy of Astronautics from 1961, and chairman of many committees, including the Satellite Optical Tracking Committee, Royal Society (1972–97), the History of Science Grants Committee of the Royal Society (1990–93), the British National Committee for History of Science, Medicine and Technology (1985–89), and the Advisory Panel for Culture of Science, Technology and Medicine at the British Library (1992–2002). He was President of Birmingham and Midland Institute in 2002.

King-Hele also worked on literary and historical subjects. He published a study of the poet Shelley in 1960, before turning his attention to the life and work of Erasmus Darwin, and his many mechanical inventions. King-Hele wrote the standard biography of Darwin, edited a 685-page collection of his letters and in 2014 published a book covering his role in biological evolution.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Desmond King-Hele: papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS King-Hele
Scope and Contents The collection comprises professional correspondence with scientists, publishers and colleagues in Britain and abroad, papers relating to King-Hele's career at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), particularly research into satellite orbits and observations of the Sputnik satellites in the late 1950s, committee papers, draft versions of various publications, literary and scientific, and papers relating to lectures, conferences and events. The collection covers all of King-Hele's...
Dates: 1945 - 2003
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (