The Great British Space Race

The Space Race is credited to have encouraged the highest rate of research and growth the world has ever known. It is said that the state of technology advanced ten-fold, and this contribution is recognised as a key factor in revolutionising industries far and wide.

22 September 2017

Space

The Space Race is credited to have encouraged the highest rate of research and growth the world has ever known. It is said that the state of technology advanced ten-fold, and this contribution is recognised as a key factor in revolutionising industries far and wide.

By Jay Bhatti, Technical Analyst

Industries ranging from systems on modern airliners to efficient solving algorithms can trace a major aspect of their development back to these events.

Launch and re-entry phases continue to be the riskiest periods of a space mission. A rocket itself is a sophisticated bomb, filled with volatile fuels at sub-zero temperatures, that must be carefully managed into a controlled explosion to produce thrust. Due to the high-value nature of technology and associated risks involved, the costs involved are astronomical.

The UK is already a world leader in developing satellite and space robotic technology. However, with the problem of achieving reliable and affordable space flight, British engineers have torn up the rule book and gone back to the basics. New players in the space industry, like Space X, Virgin Galactic and Reaction Engines Ltd are already addressing cutting edge ideas. Space X, in the USA, concentrates on innovative methods of recovering the rocket itself after launching the payload at high altitude, where the remaining part of the rocket falls back to earth in a controlled manner.

Like Virgin Galactic - Reaction Engines Ltd, based in Oxfordshire, have established a radical new design of the Skylon spacecraft; where the propulsion system is half a conventional jet engine and half rocket engine. This promises to change things drastically, allowing the space-craft to take-off like a conventional aircraft from a runway, accelerate and climb to a high altitude, switch to the rocket engine and leave the atmosphere and attain low earth orbit. Further developments from Skylon are being transferred to a sister study, called Lapcat. This follows the same principles, but instead of going into orbit, the aircraft will rapidly reach a high altitude and glide to an intercontinental destination. Studies of Lapcat show a flight from London to Sydney in 4 hours is achievable, which has massive potential for the aviation industry. Recently, Reactions Engines have been awarded a £60m commitment from the UK and EU governments, and partnered with BAE systems.

Multiple players are conducting intense R&D to establish a variety of space vehicles in the UK.  The new developments taking place in the UK have the possibility of massively influencing R&D and application into fields other than space and aviation. With a community of high-tech space companies sprouting up, each one experimenting and testing new ideas - the great British space race is on.