The space age has entered a new focus with the launch of a multi-million-pound site dedicated to engineering, research and innovation in Buckinghamshire.
More than 250 delegates ranging from local business leaders to top global space scientists visited the Westcott Space Cluster at Aylesbury to witness the official opening by Torben Henriksen, head of the mechanical department at the European Space Agency.
They were able to see a static firing of Airborne Engineering’s rocket, the Lunar Hopper and enjoyed tours of two of Westcott’s newest facilities, the 5G Step-Out Centre and Business Incubation Centre, which are both run by the Satellite Applications Catapult.
The Space Cluster, based at Westcott Venture Park in Aylesbury, is the result of a £30 million investment at the site by government and industry and is particularly significant as it highlights how Westcott has come full circle in its importance as a research facility and developer of rocket propulsion.
Originally created as a base for training bomber crews, the Westcott site became a Government-backed Guided Projectile Establishment in 1946.
Major missile propulsion programmes were developed such as the Blue Streak and Black Knight which were the pre-cursor to the Ariane rockets, and the top-secret Chevaline but Westcott’s rockets have also been used for space exploration such as the Mars Global Surveyor mission to Mars in the 1990s.
The airfield has been largely unused for the last 30 years after investment in the UK space programme dried up but, under the management of PATRIZIA, rocket propulsion testing is back on the agenda along with wider research and development across the space sector.
Rod Mordey, head of UK asset management at PATRIZIA, on behalf of the owners of the business park, Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust said: “Westcott Venture Park is currently going through a major transformation from historic testing site into UK centre of excellence for technology.
“Once the centre of the UK’s Cold War Rocket Research, Westcott is now home to a thriving nucleus of space companies and there is some really exciting work going on in rocketry here. Our pride in Westcott’s heritage has driven the desire to embrace the future. Rockspring Hanover’s investment in the creation of the Westcott Space Cluster, which is all happening at the heart of the site, underlines our commitment to the sustainable growth of the Park.
“Westcott is a place for businesses to secure their future within a community of technology innovators and in a location that offers unrivalled security and space to grow.”
Companies at Westcott continue to play a key role in providing rocket engines for interplanetary missions such as the JUNO Mission, Rosetta probe and fuelling the Galileo Satellites.
The site is already home to NAMMO, European Astrotech, Airborne Engineering to name just a few, while the event celebrated the creation of five new facilities:
- Reaction Engines SABRE Test Facility which is being built to demonstrate and test the revolutionary SABRE engine core. The firm recently announced a £26.5m investment including backing from global aerospace companies Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Rolls Royce and has also received over £20m in investment from BAE Systems.
- Westcott Business Incubation Centre which offers specialised business and technical support for up to 20 early-stage companies dedicated to the areas of rocket propulsion, 5G communications and autonomous systems. It recently signed up its first three businesses, Valerann UK, SteamJet Space Systems and Stratian. The Centre is supported by the European Regional Development Fund, Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust, Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (BTVLEP) and the Satellite Applications Catapult which also runs and manages the centre.
- Westcott 5G Step-Out Centre, a 5G facility to test and develop new services and products by accessing the latest wireless applications service equipment and satellite data without the need to invest in expensive infrastructure. The site will be key to unlocking the potential of 5G technology across markets ranging from healthcare to entertainment.
- UK Space Agency’s National Space Propulsion Test Facility (NSPTF) – a £4m government investment giving the UK a brand new facility for testing rocket thrusters up to 1.5kN. This site is scheduled to be completed by late 2019.
- Westcott Innovation Centre – providing networking and office facilities to foster innovation and growth. It is anticipated to be in place by 2019.