We have lift off for two Harwell space companies

Two Harwell based companies, Lúnasa and Magdrive have secured a share of £2.7 million provided by the UK Space Agency for 13 early-stage UK technology projects to support the growing satellite launch sector.

The UK is on track to become the first country in Europe to offer commercial launch services to small satellite manufacturers, from a range of spaceports offering both horizontal and vertical rocket launch capabilities.

Funding from the agency’s new Launch UK Technology Investment Programme will support teams from industry and universities to develop technology, products and services that will enhance the UK spaceflight supply chain, strengthen international competitiveness and catalyse further investment.

One project will recycle materials, including natural cork, to create thermal protection solutions for launcher propulsion systems and launch vehicles with a lower environmental impact, while another will develop launcher components out of lighter and more cost-effective metal composites, reducing the risk of creating space debris. Two further projects will follow next year.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, said: “Funding new science and technology developments is crucial to growing the UK space sector and catalysing further investment into our economy.

“While we look forward to marking a major milestone in UK launch capabilities with the upcoming launch from Spaceport Cornwall, projects such as these ensure we have growing pipeline of new technologies ready for lift-off to support our long-term ambitions.”

Launch services are worth a potential £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade. The UK Space Agency is already delivering a programme of spaceflight projects, including Virgin Orbit’s first launch from Spaceport Cornwall, which will carry nine satellites into orbit early next year.

Work is also underway on the construction of spaceports in Sutherland and Shetland, which will host vertical rocket launches from national and international launch providers. Further spaceports are in development at other locations in Scotland and Wales, with the potential to host a wide range of new and innovative launch technologies.

Lúnasa, based at Harwell has secured funding of £216,000 to develop its reusable dual-stage spacecraft that will provide in-space logistics and infrastructure services for small satellites. The first-of-its-kind vehicle will fit the type of launch vehicles planned for use from UK spaceports, offering satellite operators opportunities to reach otherwise unattainable or fuel-exhaustive orbits. This project, funded in partnership with the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell will focus on de-risking the vehicle’s rendezvous proximity operations and docking capabilities.

Magdrive in the BEP0 building at Harwell secured funding of £250,000 for next stage of development for the Magdrive kick-stage for launch, which will allow satellites launched from the UK to reach higher altitudes and new orbits, filling a supply chain gap and building resilience in the UK launch market. The kick-stage uses the Magdrive electric plasma thruster, which can future-proof against the risk of colliding with or causing space debris by rapidly burning.

Other projects which secured funding  include the development, building and qualification of a propellant loading cart (GSE) to service satellites with electric propulsion systems using xenon or krypton by European Astrotech, Westcott. This £54,000 project expands on the firm’s established fuelling GSE to provide a similar, low-cost service to customers using satellites with electric propulsion.

You can read more about the other projects that secured funding here