The space age has entered a new focus with the launch of a multi-million-pound site dedicated to engineering, research and innovation.
More than 250 delegates ranging from local business leaders to top global space scientists visited the Westcott Space Cluster 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, Buckinghamshire, is the result of a £30m 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 fueling 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:
Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said: “The Satellite Applications Catapult is excited to be at the heart of the new Space Cluster at Westcott. We are committed to providing innovative ways to stimulate the growth of the UK space sector and the Westcott site is a unique opportunity to achieve that goal.
"The Catapult has two centres at Westcott, our new 5G Step-Out Centre and the Westcott Business Incubation Centre, which is for companies working in 5G, rocket propulsion and autonomous vehicles. Next year, we will open the Westcott Innovation Centre, which will enable companies that have been incubated on the site, to move into larger office space whilst still having access to the great range of business support that the Catapult can offer. With all the support from our partners we are confident that Westcott will develop into a leading centre for space industry innovation over the next 5 years."
Dr Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: "The launch of the Westcott Space Cluster is an exciting step for the growing space sector in Buckinghamshire and indeed the UK. This is a sector which underpins industries worth more than £250bn to the UK economy.
"Our £4m investment in a new National Space Propulsion Test Facility at Westcott will allow companies and academia to test and develop medium-sized space thrusters in an environment that replicates high altitude space. This new facility will help the UK be more competitive in the global market and support our ambition to capture 10% of the global space market by 2030."
Richard Harrington, Chief Executive of Buckinghamshire Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (BTVLEP), added: "Westcott is an important development area for BTVLEP, one which encompasses our Aylesbury Vale Enterprise Zone and we enthusiastically support the launch of the Westcott Space Cluster.
"We are proud to provide Local Growth Funds to help establish the Westcott 5G Step-out Centre and Innovation Centre at the site. This investment links closely with the aims of our Local Industrial 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."
View BBC news coverage here, or read more about this launch on the Sky News website here.