New ‘green’ rocket company set for take-off at Westcott

03/08/22 | Tenant News, Park News, Sector/Industry News

A company which is helping to revolutionise rocket technology has moved to the Westcott Space Cluster.

URA Thrusters specialises in the use of water as fuel for rocket propulsion in space and is soon to carry out testing having spent the last nine months refurbishing the old R site at Westcott.

Emily Dingle, Head of Programmes and Operations, said: “Westcott gives us the space and the capacity to carry out testing safely. It provides the room we need to expand and allows us to be sustainable in line with the goals of Westcott.  It also allows us to work alongside colleagues in the space sector, bouncing ideas off each other and we can grow as a company because of that.”

URA was established in 2019 and is a spin-off company from AVS UK which designs and develops complex and critical equipment for a variety of space and science clients including Airbus and Virgin Orbit.

Emily added: “URA delivers the propulsion systems for spacecraft such as satellites using water which is a much more sustainable fuel source. We split it into parts of hydrogen and oxygen and use that to propel the spacecraft.” 

URA started with three staff but has expanded rapidly and now employs more than 20 people. That figure is expected to expand to 150 within two years.

“Our ambition is to take URA from the R&D stage to have five propulsion test chambers, three at R site and two in the Westcott Innovation Centre. We are going to be testing our thrusters to take them to the commercial phase within 18 months,” explained Emily.

The old R site now known as the TESTA facility, had not been touched for decades and had no electricity or water supply.

The test cell has been rewired and LED lighting and security cameras installed. An R&D ‘design cave’ has also been created with the test cell connected to the main control room building via an underground tunnel. Electric vehicle charging points have also been installed.

Emily said: “URA thrusters is delighted to be moving to the Space Cluster here at Westcott.  Our delivery of sustainable, water based, propulsion systems, will be enhanced by being here on site where we can test these systems alongside our innovative R&D here in the Westcott Innovation Centre.”

Project funding came from the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency while in 2021 URA won a £250,000 Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership Getting Building Fund grant towards the development of its ICE thrusters.

Another Green Building Grant for the LED lighting has been granted by the Local Enterprise Partnership while a £250 grant from the Department for Transport went towards the EV charging points.

Emily concluded: “Our company motto is very clear, we deliver sustainable propulsion systems, and our vision is to become the most sustainable Space propulsion company, and the top propulsion employer in the world.  We look forward to doing that here at Westcott.”

Nigel MacKenzie, Development Manager at Westcott said: “URA Thrusters is a perfect fit for Westcott where many of the rocketry companies specialise in green rocket propellants and technologies.  Westcott provides URA with a secure and sustainable environment to research and commercialise its business operations and we can accommodate its ongoing growth throughout its lifecycle.

“The rejuvenation of R site is particularly significant as it highlights how Westcott has come full circle in its importance as a research facility and developer of rocket propulsion. It will breathe life back into the former R site test stand which has been out of use for decades.”

Richard Harrington, CEO of Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The ongoing site regeneration of Westcott is great news for Buckinghamshire as it opens up the next stage in the evolution of the Westcott site to attract new business and investment to this world-class centre of excellence in space propulsion.

“Westcott is an important development area for Bucks LEP, one which encompasses our Buckinghamshire Enterprise Zone and we are proud to provide Getting Building Funds to help establish URA Thrusters at this site. 

“This investment links closely with the aims of our strategy to act as a catalyst for working our economic assets harder with a view to creating more opportunity, more collaboration between sectors and more productivity.”

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