Britain’s forgotten history as a rocket pioneer is to be revived with the construction of a £4 million UK National Space Propulsion Facility.
Engines for interplanetary travel and futuristic space planes will be tested at the centre, to be built over the next year or so on the site of the former Rocket Propulsion Establishment at Westcott in Buckinghamshire.
It was here that early work was carried out on two early British space rockets – Black Arrow and Blue Streak – both of which were eventually scrapped.
The UK Space Agency, which made the announcement, said the £4.12 million project would give UK companies and research organisations “a new facility for space technology testing”.
Katherine Courtney, interim chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Opening these facilities up to UK companies and academia will allow them to develop and test future propulsion engines.
“We hope this will develop the UK’s competitive edge in space propulsion and produce the next generation of propulsion engines.”
The Rocket Propulsion Establishment, set up in 1946, was for many years so secret that it was not marked on Ordnance Survey maps.
Rocket motors for British guided missiles were designed and developed at Westcott until the mid-1990s. The site, eventually taken over by British Aerospace, is now a business park which already houses a number of space technology companies.
The new centre, which will use some existing industry-owned facilities, will have a vacuum chamber to allow rocket testing at simulated high altitudes.
One industry stakeholder donating facilities is Moog-UK, which built the Leros 1b rocket engine that recently placed Nasa’s Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter.
Among the centre’s customers is expected to be British company Reaction Engines, which is developing a revolutionary air-breathing rocket called Sabre for powering reusable space planes.
“The new capability will allow cost-effective development and testing of even more impressive engines for interplanetary travel, as well as for the significant commercial telecommunications satellite market,” said the UK Space Agency.