COLLABORATION

University of Strathclyde & Airbus are taking Scotland to space

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The University of Strathclyde is making its way into the space industry, working with Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) and TWI Ltd

The University of Strathclyde is making its way into the space industry, working with Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) and TWI Ltd to bring the manufacture of space propellant tanks back to the UK.

The Advanced Forming Research Centre’s (AFRC) two-year collaboration is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and will see the AFRC using its expertise in forming and forging to advise Airbus DS on advanced manufacturing methods for the tanks.

The aim is to make the design more efficient and economical, substantially reducing machining time and decreasing the waste of expensive metals such as titanium. Independent welding research organisation TWI has been enlisted to help determine which method is best suited for competitively producing the tanks.

While Airbus DS used to purchase its fuel tanks from the UK, they have since moved their business to Germany and the US. This project hopes to return the practice to UK shores and boost Scotland space exploration.

Scotland space exploration
The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre’s (AFRC) two-year collaboration is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA)

“Airbus DS will merge their own research experience with our study and decide on the chosen technique to take forward. This could be metal forming, superplastic forming or additive manufacturing processes – all of which would produce the tank parts at close to net shape,” said lead on the project at AFRC, Dr Jill Miscandlon.

“Key to the project is making components in a shorter lead-time and wasting less expensive material, which is essential with titanium alloys costing up to US$60 per kilo, depending on alloy type and manufacturing route. We are also focused on sharing the project outputs with the wider supply chain here in the UK.”

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The AFRC is one of many organisations tapping into Scotland’s growing space sector, which is estimated to be worth £4 billion by 2030. The 100th Scottish-built satellite was produced this April, meaning more small satellites are built in Glasgow than anywhere else in Europe. The UK’s first spaceport is also set to be built in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, making Scotland a home for space exploration.

“This is a great project that highlights the benefits of aligning advanced manufacturing research with the UK’s growing space industry,” said Executive Chairman of the AFRC, Professor Keith Ridgway.

“It also taps into the University of Strathclyde’s focus on innovation in space, which is being developed through its Technology and Innovation Centre within the Glasgow City Innovation District, bringing together researchers and high-growth firms with technology and creative start-ups, to work side-by-side.”