B2Space and Snowdonia Aerospace Centre could create 93+ new jobs for the area by 2020 and wider opportunities for supply chain if project successful
Satellites may soon be launching from Llanbedr in a move that would put Snowdonia at the forefront of the UK’s space capabilities and the creation of specialist jobs for the area.
The proposed Vertical Small Satellite Launch Project is a collaboration between Snowdonia Aerospace Centre (SAC) and operators B2Space. Supported by QinetiQ and the Welsh Government, it aims to establish domestic launch capabilities for the small and micro satellite market.
As many as 3,000 microsatellites are predicted to require a launch between 2017 and 2022. The number of microsatellite operators is rapidly growing meaning that more small launch vehicles are being developed to meet the demand of a market already estimated to be worth $2.22Billion in 2016 - and $5.31Billion by 2021.
Valentin Canales, co-founder and Technical Director of B2Space said: “There is compelling evidence that the industry needs small launch vehicles. We want to be the first company to provide consistent and reliable low-cost access for small satellites. Many more companies could soon be able to afford to launch satellites in to space at a much-reduced rate through our project. There are several reasons why they might want to, for example, tracking changes in the environment or the coastline, provide communications to remote areas or support natural disasters management. Providing low cost space access could mean that we use space in a way that hasn’t been considered before.
The partnership is bidding for grants of up to £10M to develop low cost space access from the UK, having already passed the first stage, and presented to a panel of industry experts from the UK Space Agency last month.
The venture would provide an affordable and flexible launching system for satellites under 150kg in to Low Earth Orbit.
The system comprises of a stratospheric balloon with a self-operative platform from which the launcher is deployed. A three-stage rocket will then deliver the satellites precisely to the required orbits.
Mr Canales continued: “Wales is already a centre of excellence for aerospace manufacturing and has the physical and intellectual infrastructure to support the growing space market.
“We expect to subcontract the structural components, as well as equipment and mechanisms, which will bring many opportunities to the wider supply chain.
“Current market estimations expect to achieve thirty launches per year by 2022, giving a yearly spend of around £60M a year in Wales and for the UK supply chain.”
B2Space have clear plans for growing the workforce to meet the demand of running operations. Mr Canales continued: “By 2022, based on 30 launches per year, we expect the projected workforce to be in the region of 93. This is the number of direct jobs we anticipate will be created by B2Space but the number of indirect jobs created could be up to 10 times higher, for example jobs created by suppliers, new companies, housing in the area, catering and so on.”
The Snowdonia Aerospace Centre considers the development of a dedicated, low cost satellite launch operation in a safe environment to be a strategic asset and a catalyst for innovation and technology development. The project would also mark a significant step forward in the creation of high value long-term sustainable jobs in the Enterprise Zone.
John Idris Jones, Chair of Snowdonia Enterprise Zone, said: “There is significant growth in this emerging market and this is an opportunity to grow UK capability in the region. The project has the potential to attract technology, research, and investment from around the world. The development means lots of opportunities for the north Wales supply chain and provide a real boost to the wider Wales Space sector. The benefits are important in terms of job creation, linking to our academic institutions and potential economic impact. We also see strong cross border synergies with the Northern Powerhouse initiative. We are delighted that B2Space have chosen the Enterprise Zone at Llanbedr as their operating base.”
Lee Paul, CEO at Snowdonia Aerospace Centre added: “Our partnership with B2Space will provide a low cost, sustainable offering by customising individual customer requirements. This is in contrast to the current market in which users and manufacturers are restricted by bigger providers working as part of a larger rocket launch operations outside the UK.”
The B2Space system itself is an improvement on an original concept first proposed in the 1950s, the “rockoon”. Now with new developments in micro-electronics, advanced materials, new propellants and an innovative design approach, this concept is now viable.
Initially the assembly, testing and development of the system would be undertaken from facilities at SAC, where B2Space will move its offices. Within three years, manufacturing of system components would be brought in house.
B2Space, which is currently Bristol-based at the moment, is also committed to relocating the business to Llanbedr if the bid is successful.
The project comes hot on the heels of Snowdonia’s bid to become the UK’s first commercial Spaceport. Bids for £10m funding to enable Llanbedr Airfield to commence Spaceport operations and develop spaceflight capabilities were submitted to the UK Space Agency 28 April.