‘Green’ rocket company, URA Thrusters, joins Westcott Space Cluster

URA FI

URA Thrusters, a company hoping to start a green revolution in rocket technology, has joined the Westcott Space Cluster in Oxfordshire.

The firm is developing rocket thrusters which use water as fuel for propulsion in space and, having spent the last nine months renovating the old ‘R’ site at Westcott, will soon begin testing.

Emily Dingle, Head of Programmes and Operations, said: “Westcott gives us the space and the capacity to carry out testing safely. It provides the room we need to expand and allows us to be sustainable in line with the goals of Westcott.

“It also allows us to work alongside colleagues in the space sector, bouncing ideas off each other and we can grow as a company because of that.

“URA delivers the propulsion systems for spacecraft such as satellites using water which is a much more sustainable fuel source. We split it into parts of hydrogen and oxygen and use that to propel the spacecraft.

URA Thrusters began life as a spinoff from AVS UK, a company based on Oxford’s Harwell Campus which designs and develops complex and critical equipment for a variety of space and science clients including Airbus and Virgin Orbit.

Starting out with three staff, the business has expanded to now employ more than 20 people, with hopes to expand to 150 within two years.

Emily added: “Our ambition is to take URA from the R&D stage to have five propulsion test chambers, three at R site and two in the Westcott Innovation Centre. We are going to be testing our thrusters to take them to the commercial phase within 18 months,”

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The old R site, now known as the TESTA facility, had not been touched for decades and had no electricity or water supply.

The test cell has been rewired and LED lighting and security cameras installed. An R&D ‘design cave’ has also been created with the test cell connected to the main control room building via an underground tunnel. Electric vehicle charging points have also been installed.

Emily said: “URA thrusters is delighted to be moving to the Space Cluster here at Westcott.  Our delivery of sustainable, water based, propulsion systems, will be enhanced by being here on site where we can test these systems alongside our innovative R&D here in the Westcott Innovation Centre.”

The project received funding from both the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, along with a 2021 Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership ‘Getting Building Fund’ grant of £250,000.

The LEP also granted the firm a Green Building Grant, which has been used for LED lighting. EV charging points at the site were funded by a £250 grant from the Department for Transport.

Nigel MacKenzie, Development Manager at Westcott said: “URA Thrusters is a perfect fit for Westcott where many of the rocketry companies specialise in green rocket propellants and technologies.  Westcott provides URA Thrusters with a secure and sustainable environment to research and commercialise its business operations and we can accommodate its ongoing growth throughout its lifecycle.

“The rejuvenation of R site is particularly significant as it highlights how Westcott has come full circle in its importance as a research facility and developer of rocket propulsion. It will breathe life back into the former R site test stand which has been out of use for decades.”

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