UK Space Agency invests £4m in National Propulsion Test Facility

UK researchers will be able to test and develop space propulsion technologies at a new National Propulsion Test Facility that is to be based at a key location for British rocketry research.

The UK Space Agency is investing £4.12m in the new facility that will be located at Westcott in Buckinghamshire, a location with a strong history of propulsion research for defence and space development.

Government funding will help create a new vacuum facility at the Westcott propulsion test site. When used together with the existing industry owned rocket firing test cells, this will allow the simulation of high altitude testing of thrusters up to 2kN. The funding will also help to upgrade an existing industry owned test chamber to improve capabilities in the 25N thrust range.

The UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), through its RAL Space facility will act as an independent broker for facility access. The European Space Agency (ESA) will be advise and oversee the initial detailed design phase before a review in the autumn to move to full implementation.

One of the industry stakeholders in the project, offering their facilities as part of the National Propulsion Test Facility, is Moog-UK whose LEROS 1b engine placed NASA’s Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.

Katherine Courtney, interim CEO of the UK Space Agency said “Our investment in a National Space Propulsion Facility will add several new capabilities to the UK space sector and build upon what is already a world-class UK space propulsion sector.

“Opening these facilities up to UK companies and academia will allow them to develop and test future propulsion engines. We hope this will develop the UK’s competitive edge in space propulsion and produce the next generation of propulsion engines. We hope that UK companies will continue to make successful contributions to international missions, such as the LEROS 1b engine involved in JUNO.”

In a related development, Reaction Engines has signed a €10m development with the European Space Agency which has triggered £50m from the UK Space Agency.

According to the Financial Times, the funding will allow Reaction Engines to build a ground-based demonstrator of its Sabre engine.