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Kingston University opens state of the art rocket propulsion test facility

Posted Tuesday 3 October 2023

Kingston University opens state of the art rocket propulsion test facility

A brand new propulsion test facility, which can be used to test hybrid propellant rocket engines and is the only lab of its kind at a European university, has opened at Kingston University's Roehampton Vale campus.

The new facility allows the testing of bi-propellant and hybrid propellant propulsion systems for the space and space launch industry, as well as the teaching, research and development of propulsion systems and specialist sensing equipment.

Academic lead Dr Peter Shaw, a senior lecturer in astronautics, began work on the project shortly after he joined the University in 2018. "We had to make sure the facility was completely safe, so it was a huge undertaking that took years of hard work," he said. "Despite how complex this project was, the teams at the University supported me every step of the way, whether that was my fellow academics, the technicians, the finance team or many others who were a part of this. When the first test was successful it was definitely a huge moment for everyone involved."

The facility, along with the existing Roehampton Vale campus engineering workshop, electrical laboratories and design studios will allow students a complete and unique student learning experience. Enabling end-to-end design cycle, from design, manufacture and now testing of small to medium space propulsion thrusters and rocket engines these facilities are sector leading amongst universities in the UK.

Students from the Kingston University Rocket Engineering Society (KURE) conducted the first test at the lab under the watchful eye of the University's own health and safety team and insurance team. The team participate in competitions around the country and recently launched a rocket at an event in Scotland that reached Mach 1.2.

The facility has already worked with its first commercial partner, Small Spark Space Systems, to test their latest NEWT-A2 thruster which will help rockets reach the moon.

Chief Executive Officer of the company Joseph Ward heralded the partnership with Kingston University. "It's been fantastic working with Kingston for the testing of our NEWT-A2 lunar exploration engine are eager to work with Kingston long term in bringing NEWT to market," he said.

Aerospace Engineering Masters student Mathias Wehler helped with the test and has now been offered a part-time role with Small Spark while he finishes his studies. "It has been amazing to get to directly work on equipment that will be used by students, industry partners and customers for years to come," he said. "The work has also allowed me to gain valuable knowledge and experience that has complimented what I have been learning in my lectures."

The space sector in the UK is constantly growing and there are several other local and national businesses already interested in using the lab. This includes European Engineering and Consultancy Limited, based near the University's Knights Park campus which already has a history of working with Kingston students. The partnership was recently praised by Liberal Democrat Leader and Kingston and Surbiton MP Sir Ed Davey.

Dr Shaw noted that these partnerships with businesses along with the new facility mean students who study engineering at Kingston University will have a real advantage when starting their career in the UK's ever expanding space sector.

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