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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 professional working life, and reflects his interests in poetry, the history of science, and science archives. As much as possible, King-Hele's original file titles and arrangement of material has been retained.


  • Creation: 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 (

Biographical / Historical

Desmond King-Hele, born in Seaford, East Sussex, in 1927, was educated at Epsom College and Trinity College, Cambridge. He worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough from 1948 until retirement in 1988, and was Deputy Chief Scientific Officer of the Space Department at the RAE from 1968. At the RAE he pioneered the mathematical theory of Earth satellite orbits to determine more accurately the shape of the Earth and the properties of its upper atmosphere.
King-Hele also worked on literary and historical subjects. He published a study of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1960, and also researched the life and work of Erasmus Darwin. King-Hele wrote the standard biography of Darwin, edited a 685-page collection of his letters and in 2014 published a book on Darwin’s role in biological evolution.
He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1966. 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) in addition to editing ‘Notes and Records’, the journal of the Royal Society.
King-Hele died on 25 December 2019.


0.9 cubic metre(s) (45 archive boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to Cambridge University Library by Desmond King-Hele in several tranches between July 1993 and March 1996. One further box and a notebook were donated in April 2008.

Related Materials

Papers of Desmond King-Hele held at the Royal Society including scientific research, work relating to Percy Shelley, King-Hele's poetry, student notebooks, personal account of life and career, papers relating to the Royal Society and other administrative papers: see Royal Society archive catalogue, ref: DKH.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

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