Business Eye: It really is rocket science

Alex Pratt
Alex Pratt

I just love looking under the skin of someone else’s business because invariably you learn so much and find that their “overnight success” is down to decades of hard work, dedication and a forensic focus.

Last week, accompanied by an old friend who is chairman of the UK Space Agency, I visited Westcott Venture Park, to witness first-hand the potential for jobs and growth in the local Space industry.

It was a journey into the past for me because as a lad I often felt the vibrations from the test blast roar from the site but never from the top-secret inside.

You may not know this but our country holds the dubious accolade of being the only well placed nation to have actually given up the capability of launching satellites and craft into orbit, and this despite the large numbers of highly paid jobs in the Space Industry. I once visited a satellite builder on the South Coast who had a £20 billion, 15 year forward order book.

We could do with more of this quality of business problem.

At Westcott, we found businesses in the business of leading the precision business. Not only are they responsible for the precision control motors of the roof that covers the Centre Court at Wimbledon, but for decades local propulsion boffins have been quietly developing and refining rocket science under our noses in the Bucks countryside.

I bet you didn’t know that hundreds of the satellite positioning systems used to get and keep the dishes into the right orbit to run your Satnav, mobile phone, Sky box, or even to spy over hostile lands were designed and built in Bucks.

I learned that a distance of 36km from the earth puts a satellite into an orbit where it will remain in a fixed position over the earth.

Nor did I know that we are the world authority and experts in the business of interplanetary propulsion.

It is local people who designed and constructed the power units on spacecraft like the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Galileo Space Mission to Jupiter.

Imagine the precision engineering needed to ensure a thruster will operate over a million pulses over a period of more than 15 years, at distances from earth that you and I could not even comprehend. Wow. And who do you think is providing a leading edge in developing the technology behind the Reaction Engine that is set to revolutionise space travel in our lifetime?