Westcott, widely considered as one of the oldest rocket propulsion test sites in the world, started its life as an RAF base in 1942. After training bomber pilots for the war effort, 35,000 Allied soldiers were given their first taste of post-war freedom at Westcott as part of Operation Exodus in 1945.
In the years that followed, the site became home to rocket propulsion testing in the UK. Seized German rockets and missiles were studied with help from German rocket scientists whilst The Lizzie, the UK’s first liquid-propellant rocket, was tested here. Westcott is a birthplace of the global space industry and has been at the heart of the UK's space sector ever since.
There’s no place more perfect, it would seem, to have hosted the Westcott Expo – the Catapult’s first large-scale hybrid event. In July 2021, 130 guests travelled to the heart of the Oxford-Cambridge arc (with as many joining virtually) to hear from some of the best talent the UK's space industry has to offer.
The day, supported with funding from the European Regional Development Fund and the Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership (BLEP), began with opening remarks from Westcott Business Incubation Centre Manager, Heni Sanislova before Catapult CEO, Stuart Martin, outlined the collective vision for encouraging growth in the new space era at Westcott.
‘Space Academy’ may sound like a phrase you’d find in a sci-fi novel. But as the new space era gathers momentum, the Catapult aims to support people moving into the sector through skills development, apprenticeships and more, whatever stage they are at in their career. Westcott will be an environment for companies to develop cutting edge technology, utilise the market opportunity, and execute their ambitions effectively.
Yet this would not be possible without support from Westcott Venture Park. PATRIZIA has owned the land since it was privatised in 1995 and have been supporting propulsion testing and business growth ever since. With 650 acres of secure space, businesses can grow and expand within the park itself, future-proofing their operations. "The most important aspect of this land is that we can offer move-on-space, so when companies need to expand, they can do so without leaving the site," said Nigel McKenzie, Project Manager at Westcott.
"You can start in the Innovation Centre, the Business Incubation Centre, a room in one of our multi-let buildings, move to more self-contained space in an existing building, and ultimately a bespoke headquarters."
And for this growth to be achievable, Richard Harrington of the Bucks LEP also highlighted their fundamental role to play. Recognising the potential for Westcott in their Strategic Economic Plan almost a decade ago, the Bucks LEP has been championing the Catapult’s ambitions by providing investment and support. “Westcott is one of the most important innovation assets here in Buckinghamshire”, said Richard. “This collaboration needed a hub. And together with the Satellite Applications Catapult, we were able to provide, through our investment, the refurbishment of an incubation centre. That was very shortly joined by a 5G centre…and that’s been followed by the opening of this fantastic innovation centre, which will be home to national demonstrations for OneWeb, as well as hosting new technology facilities for Health and Agri-tech.”
It was only fitting then, that the day would continue with speakers from each of these exciting new initiatives. Following Richard, Mike Curtis-Rouse, Head of Manufacturing for Space at the Catapult, lead the first of the day’s panels, discussing the new MetalFAB1 3D printer (interestingly, the same model SpaceX use for their rocket manufacturing) and the future of space, with industry experts.
Next, the Catapult’s Health and Wellbeing Business Manager, John Vesey, explored the Healthy Living Lab approach to innovation with a panel of SMEs operating in the health-tech sector, before Business Development Manager for Agriculture, Gina Mercier was joined on stage by leaders in the Agri-tech field, in what was one of the first panel sessions on the Catapult’s Agri Living Lab.
What was clear throughout the talks, is the passion and level of expertise of the individuals operating within each of these fields.
And this passion is perhaps best exemplified by the Expo’s penultimate speaker, Catapult Director of Ubiquitous Connectivity, Kieran Arnold, who in his work at Westcott marries his love for connectivity and flying. Plans for a drone port on-site will support work in a multitude of sectors through autonomous aviation development, with aims to encourage the use of the technology within the UK.
After closing remarks from Westcott’s Area Manager, guests were invited to network over lunch amongst technology exhibitors (many of whom were previous Westcott Business incubates) and speakers from the session. Those present on site were treated to an intimate tour of the facilities, providing the opportunity to discover Westcott’s potential first-hand. Virtual attendees were presented with pre-recorded videos on the facilities.
The day was a resounding success. The Expo is a true milestone in the history of Westcott and should be considered as a sign of great things to come. For a site with facilities that at one time were too secret to feature on maps, Westcott’s future is firmly placed.