Westcott is a name that stands for rocketry propulsion engineering, both for missiles, launchers and satellites. Our proud heritage continues to grow as a development and testing zone for some of the world’s most exciting aerospace and propulsion technology pioneers.
The original airfield was built for the Royal Air Force in 1941-42, at the height of the 2nd World War. RAF Westcott, as it was known then, trained Wellington bomber aircrew.
After cessation of hostilities in 1945, Westcott became a clearing centre, where former allied prisoners of war were repatriated in ‘Operation Exodus.’ Some 35,000 landed at RAF Westcott. It’s not difficult to imagine the range of emotions for all those who landed back on safe ground.
The UK’s first liquid propellant rocket engine – known as ‘Lizzie’ was test fired at Westcott in 1946.
The motors on Britain’s first space rocket – known as Skylark – were developed here at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment. In total, the project launched 441 missions into space between 1957 and 2000, becoming a leading platform for space astronomy, earth resources and microgravity experiments.
A series of LOX/Hydrogen engines were developed and tested at A site in the late 1950’s early 60’s that were the forerunner to another LOX/Hydrogen engine, the RZ20, built and tested by Rolls Royce at Spadeadam.
As you enter the Park, you’ll see the English Electric Thunderbird missile. This was a surface-to-air guided missile, in service with the UK Army from 1959-77. Thunderbird was boosted by four solid propellant ‘Gosling’ motors and the Smoky Joe motor acted as sustainer propulsion. Both these motor types were developed and fired at Westcott.
Many of Westcott’s test stands are Grade II listed. Protected status was conferred because of the Blue Streak programme. This was a medium-range ballistic missile proposed as a nuclear deterrent during the Cold War. Although cancelled as a weapon in 1960 Blue Streak flew successfully many times from Woomera, Australia for the ELDO programme. Its rocket engines were developed and tested here and local residents could hear the roar up to 20 miles away.
Crude oil burning
Crude oil burning trials took place at Westcott in 1970 in an attempt to limit the environmental disaster following the wrecking of the oil tanker ‘Torrey Canyon’ in 1967, when the oil tanker was wrecked off the coast of Cornwall carrying 120,000 tons of crude oil. The simulation tests were staged to find a safer method for the dispersal of burnt crude oil.
The level of activity at Westcott was in decline in the late 1960’s but by the end of the decade a requirement arose to improve the Polaris missile capabilities. This turned out to be a huge programme that continued for over a decade and saved Westcott from closure.
Privatisation of the Research and Development Establishments
In a change of strategy regarding Government funding for the R&D Establishments it was decreed that they would be privatised and sold off to industry. After two years, as part of the re-modelled Royal Ordanance factories (RAF’s) Westcott was sold to British Aerospace.
The site became known as Westcott Venture Park
Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust
Rockspring Hanover Property Unit Trust acquired the Westcott site in 1999 and has taken a measured, long-term view in its development of the Park, which is a vital quality for sustainable growth.
New Entrance and Gatehouse
New access road and gatehouse developed to take the main entrance out of the village and to obtain outline planning consent for the solid rocket motor testing area of the site.
First speculative development at Century Court
First speculative development onsite known as Century Court comprising 49,000 sq ft of industrial space across two phases of development. The new scheme has not only attracted new businesses to the park but has also facilitated the expansion of existing occupiers.
In 2016, we celebrated our 70th anniversary as the home of rocket propulsion research in the UK. Here’s to the next 70 years!
The launch of the Westcott Space Cluster and the establishment of the Westcott Business Incubation Centre and the Westcott 5G Step-Out Centre will attract a broad range of high tech companies and start-ups in the propulsion, UAV and communication sectors, with the aim of establishing a powerful ecosystem which will accelerate development in these high growth markets. https://westcottspacecluster.org.uk
National Space Propulsion Test Facility
In 2021 the National Space Propulsion Test Facility was unveiled by Science Minister Amanda Solloway. The facility is the only one of its kind in the UK and allows companies and academics to test state-of-the-art propulsion engines which are used to move small satellites in space. It allows new types of more sustainable propellants to be tested, such as Hydrogen Peroxide and Liquid Oxygen which are more environmentally friendly.