UK National Propulsion Test Facility

Hot on the heels of UK Moog-UK’s success on the Juno project with their Leros 1b engine, an announcement has been made by the UK Space Agency that promises an investment of £4.12 million in a National Propulsion Test Facility.

This is fantastic news for the UK space industry that has been getting some extremely positive press over recent weeks. The facility is set to be located at Westcott in Buckinghamshire and it will open the door for UK companies and academia to test and develop space propulsion engines. It will be built on existing facilities and a strong heritage in rocketry research. The new facility will result in a new vacuum facility at the site, an upgrade to an existing industry owned test chamber and open the facilities for the community to use.

It is this kind of rejuvenation and improvement that we need to see more of in the UK space sector. Encouraging investment will help to preserve and improve upon the UK’s standing as an important space player and as a key contributor to international missions. Coupled with this investment, Buckingham Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) are investing their own funds into an Innovation/Incubation Centre and a skills training hub that will support the space sector and encourage local talent and young people to pursue their ambitions.

Also announced last week was UK government’s feasibility study into a commercial spaceport. Five industrial teams that all have an interest in a potential UK spaceport have been awarded contracts to explore idea and whether it could be brought to fruition. The contracts have a value of £1.5 million and the big names involved include: Airbus Safran Launchers, Deimos Space UK, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Access associated with BAE Systems and Reaction Engines Ltd and Virgin Galactic. The results of the study should be in by November and this proposal has the potential to bring the UK to the forefront of the small satellite launch market. However, there are a plethora of regulatory hurdles, not to mention ITAR, to be cleared before any progress could theoretically be made.

However, putting all this aside, the UK is heavily engaged in space and there is undeniable potential for growth. It’s encouraging to hear that the government is backing UK space industry expansion and we look forward to seeing where this investment will lead to in the future. This is an important time in the sector’s development, and it is crucial that we are setting our stall out and underlining our potential to the rest of the world.

UK Space: Challenges Ahead

NASA is celebrating an engineering feat as the Juno probe finally arrived in Jupiter’s orbit to begin its mission that aims to find out more about the mysterious planet and how it was formed. It wasn’t just a triumph for NASA, though. Moog, based in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK, played an absolutely critical part in the programme. If it wasn’t for their Leros 1b engine, Juno would not have been able to slow itself down in order to enter Jupiter’s orbit.

It’s yet another demonstration of how the UK is excelling in space. The UK space industry is on a growth trajectory and is truly making its mark on the global space stage. It is a vibrant and fascinating sector and has massive potential. However, making the most of grass roots talent and of the first class expertise and facilities that the UK offers will require more funding dedicated to space. A report released in November 2015 by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, found that the UK space industry could be worth £40 billion but ‘work is needed to boost skills and relax regulation’.

Then, Brexit happened.

The outcome of the vote came as a huge surprise to the nation and now questions are hanging over the UK space sector and the impact that this result will have on the UK’s standing within the global space industry. How will the UK’s changing relationship with the EU affect current and future space programmes?

The UK Space Agency came out post-Brexit and explained that focus needed to be centred on continued investment in conjunction with the private sector. This is going to be key if the UK is set to maintain its growth trajectory. This investment would help to create a ‘level playing field in terms of competitiveness with other nations.’

The UK’s relationship with ESA should remain unaffected. There are currently three Member States that are non-EU members (Norway, Switzerland and Canada). So, fingers crossed, the excellent work with ESA should continue.

The Horizons 2020 initiative has been hugely instrumental in enabling tech start-ups in the UK space arena and supports research and innovation, all funded by the EU. The UK Space Agency has asked the government to seek bilateral agreements on the programmes as they are vital in enabling the future of UK space in a plethora of areas.

The UK has a huge amount to shout about in terms of space talent and capability. However, bringing this talent through and ensuring that the government makes space a priority given all the other challenges it faces, will underpin the future.

Like the UK space industry, Nebula Space is optimistic that a positive outcome can be found that enables space talent from outside the UK to continue to come and work in the country and for UK space engineers to retain the freedom and opportunity to work in Europe. The UK and Europe need to retain working in partnership, to make this happen.

Development of quality trade agreements with Europe and the rest of the world will help move UK space forward successfully. The UK has come a long way. Now we need to secure its future.