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Protolaunch to develop new rocket engine to reduce cost of UK small satellite launches

NEWS: Protolaunch signs up to SPRINT

Will collaborate with University of Southampton to access industry-leading propulsion research, facilities and expertise

Westcott-based start-up company, Protolaunch has signed up to the UK SPRINT programme to support the development of an innovative, new rocket engine for low-cost launches of small payloads from UK spaceports. The SPRINT business support programme will provide Protolaunch with funded access to the expertise, research and facilities of the University of Southampton. This will enable the company to develop a proof-of-concept of its engine technology and bring to market a radically lower-cost orbital rocket engine for payloads under 50kg.

This SPRINT project will involve the use of the facilities and expertise of the Astronautics group at the University of Southampton in developing propulsion systems, in particular, large chemical bipropellant engines. The facilities used are part of the Graham Roberts Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the University of Southampton and are ideal for the testing of small rocket engines up to 100 Newtons. This project will experimentally validate the Protolaunch engine cycle and support the development of a hardware prototype.

This project is focused on developing a novel cooling and pressurisation cycle for a rocket engine for small satellite launch applications. The development of this low-cost rocket engine will reduce the cost of access to space and will enable operators of small satellites to take complete control over their orbital timelines and trajectories.

Matt Escott, CEO at Protolaunch said: “As a start-up, we’re looking to prove our new type of rocket, both computationally and experimentally. Our company has a strong capability in simulation and optimisation of propulsion systems and needed to move from design of a digital engine to build and test of the hardware.

“We needed to demonstrate and validate the technical side of the engine cycle so reached out to SPRINT who suggested the University of Southampton. Working in collaboration with Southampton provides us with access to their expertise in chemical propulsion and propulsion laboratory facilities.”

Dr Charlie Ryan, Lecturer in Astronautics at the University of Southampton added: “The focus of our innovative and ambitious project with Protolaunch is the chemical thrusters for the launch vehicle. This covers the initial paper design and assessment, through to the experimental test run of the engine. Using our expertise and facilities such as the chemical propulsion labs and the independent Westcott testing facility in Buckinghamshire, we are able to support the testing of an engine at a component level.”