Snowdonia could soon become the launch site for small and micro-satellites

Snowdonia could soon become the launch site for small and micro-satellites

B2Space and Snowdonia Aerospace Centre could create over 90 new jobs in the area by 2020 and wider opportunities for supply chain if the project is a success.

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 in 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 that is estimated to be worth $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 into 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, providing communications to remote areas, or supporting natural disaster management.”

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.

The stratospheric balloon takes small and micro satellites to near earth orbit.

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.

“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.”

The Snowdonia Aerospace Centre considers the development of a dedicated, low cost satellite launch operation will become 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.

John Idris Jones, Chair of Snowdonia Enterprise Zone, said: “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 will 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.”

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 viable. 

Initially the assembly, testing and development of the system will be undertaken from facilities in the region and within three years, manufacturing of system components would be brought in house.

B2Space, which is currently based in Bristol, is committed to relocating the business to Llanbedr if the bid is successful.

The project comes after 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.