Future products that will secure UK industries as pioneers in space technology have been showcased by competition winners in a contest run by the UK Space Agency and the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP).
As part of a half-million pound grant awarded to industry and academia to come up with innovative ideas in space technology research and development, 19 teams will carry out work to push their ideas forward in an effort to make them operational and commercially viable.
The winning teams thought up projects such as Tests on ‘green’ propellants for space propulsion, the demonstration of pultruded manufacturing of spacecraft components and a feasibility study into the use of Europe’s new radioisotope power systems for space.
David Parker, Director for Technology, Science and Exploration at the UK Space Agency said: “Yet again the call for submissions for NSTP has unearthed a range of marketable, innovative ideas which will hone the UK’s space technology capabilities. It is fantastic for us to be able to invest in technical developments that will have an economic impact into the future."
Some of the projects are set to project the UK as one of the forerunners in space technology and invention. One is the Pultruded Spacecraft Components project. A great expense that could be reduced in the future if this project is successful is the standardisation of components used in the space industry. Mass-manufacturing techniques will deskill, minimise cost and reduce manufacturing times. A flatpack design developed by Magna Parva Ltd, Leicester, will use a technique known pultrusion (constant cross-sections) which can be transported cheaply, have low assembly costs and are lighter than bespoke materials currently used.
Another winner in the competition comes from Archer Technicoat with the development of a high temperature anti-oxidation coating for next generation rocket thrusters. In essence, this project will replace the chemical spacecraft propulsion that is currently sourced from foreign vendors and replace it with UK-based engine technology that will be highly efficient and more cost-effective. It’s a big move; spacecraft engines haven’t been developed here since the 1980s.
TISICS Ltd will use its share of the grant to evaluate a new space material technology which is used in military and civil aircraft.
The material, silicon carbide reinforced titanium matrix composite (TMC), is strong and stiff but has a low density so it can be operated in temperatures from -100oC to 500oC. The plan is that the TMC will be developed so that it can be made readily available and utilised in the space projects that we will witness in the years to come.
One problem recognised within the space industry is the manufacture of waveguides – hollow metal pipes that carry high frequency radio waves for communication and sound – and how long it takes to construct them. Astrium Ltd plans to change the long-drawn-out process currently used by implementing Additive Layer Manufacturing. This cuts out the lengthy process currently used to make waveguides by slashing design down to just one step and will save time and labour costs.
The Future Technology Pathfinder Programme is part of the £27M NSTP which has already jump-started 50 high tech space projects since its launch in 2011.