Space and the next era of manufacturing in Cornwall
As the UK’s manufacturing industry rapidly evolves – partly to meet the demand generated by the increase in space and aerospace activity – opportunities to localise supply chains and develop vital infrastructure have never been so abundant.
Manufacturers across the UK are racing to capitalise on the opportunities, but there’s one standout location: Cornwall. With its strong manufacturing scene and historic ties to the industry, Cornwall’s Space Cluster is making big waves, by pushing the boundaries of engineering, technology and manufacturing.
One such company is advanced composite specialists Piran Composites, who have recently opened a new site at the Aerohub (Cornwall’s Enterprise Zone) next to Cornwall Airport Newquay. This expansion, which takes full advantage of the increased space activity in the area, has more than one benefit. Not only does it enable Piran Composites to increase their aerospace operations, it brings a huge (and much needed) investment into the infrastructure of the industry.
As one of two key suppliers of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre structures, Piran Composites has already created 30 new jobs in the last 12 months and it won’t stop there. Having manufactured key aerostructure sections of the PHASA-35 (an unmanned, solar powered pseudo-satellite) in Cornwall, they’ve started production on the complete aerostructure for the next stage in PHASA-35’s development. Although this low-cost, highly innovative future tech (designed in partnership with BAE systems) is not yet manufacturable in high volumes, the market for this sector is rapidly growing, bringing more opportunities to our UK manufacturers.
Advanced composites aren’t the only products progressing the development of the country’s aerospace industry. There is a breadth of Cornwall based businesses, producing products and services which are positively contributing to the localisation of the space supply chain within the UK.
As a start-up company with offices in Cambridge and Cornwall, Exobotics use the latest advancements in robotics, materials, structures and AI to enable low-cost space flight for missions to the moon – and beyond.
With their diverse and experienced team of experts in mechatronics, materials, software and machine learning, they develop and manufacture scalable and modular software and hardware that is tuned for the operational challenges of extra-orbital environments.
Exobotics has created the world’s first low-cost, portable thermal vacuum (TVAC) testing system which is revolutionising access to space by reducing the complexity and costs of space operations.
Now that SmallSats, CubeSats and NanoSatellites form the majority of payloads launching into space, it’s time to bridge the gap between the rapid development of this tech and the underdevelopment of current testing facilities. We can combat the resulting issues (higher costs and longer lead times) by localising the supply chain – manufacturing satellite components and launching them from the UK.
For over sixty years, Flann’s specialist engineering team has been serving companies such as NASA and the Met Office, with solutions to waveguide problems for the space, telecoms, automotive, health and education sectors.
Demand for high-speed data services, from individuals and businesses alike, is driving a revolution in satellite technology. Traditional large satellites weighing several tonnes and orbiting 22,236 miles above the equator are making way for nanosatellites and CubeSats, which can be as small as 10cm cubed and weigh as little as 1.4kg.
They’re small enough to be launched as additional payloads on large missions or in clusters of up to 100 at a time, as well as from a single rocket and even the new class of vertical and horizontal space launch systems being developed in Cornwall and Scotland. This makes them very cost effective and more than 350 of these satellites were launched in 2018.
In order to maximise the greater data capacity (bandwidth) offered by these systems, they require much higher frequency microwave switches to transmit data to ground antennas: a W-band switch, which has not yet been developed for aerospace use. However, in 1980 Flann first designed and manufactured a W-band switch for ground use, making them well placed to create a new smaller, lighter switch to enable faster and more accurate communication with satellites.
This new era of space exploration, with its focus on making space more accessible and launches more sustainable, has given rise to the frequent use of small satellites, reusable rockets and commercial subsystems. It’s great to see Cornwall based businesses spearheading the research, development and production of this innovative tech within the UK.