Scoutek Ltd Success Story
AN ENTREPRENEUR who dreamt of being an astronaut as a child will oversee a rocket launch from North East soil when his company sends scores of tiny satellites into space.
Pioneering work by space engineer Shaun Whitehead is paving the way for scientists to send their experiments into orbit on miniscule femtosatellites, work which could lead to the creation of around 100 skilled jobs in the region.
Shaun’s company Scoutek Ltd is working with Teesside University to develop a low-cost rocket – a StratoBooster, which ascends on a meteorological balloon – to launch these femtosatellites which the company has called ThumbSats, in what will be the first civilian space mission to launch in the UK.
Shaun has worked closely with the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, supported by Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham.
Saltburn-based Scoutek has earmarked Sedgefield’s technology park NETPark as one of four possible sites from which to launch its first, unfuelled test rocket in March as part of the ‘tu2space’ project. A ThumbSat is no larger than a human thumb – hence its name – yet features a high-definition camera, a variety of lenses that can act as both microscopes and telescopes, and a sophisticated onboard computer.
“The rocket needed to put ThumbSat into space is no taller than a piece of A4 paper, and we can launch that on a meteorological balloon,” said Shaun, who designed his first rocket at the age of ten.
“This will be the first civilian space mission to launch from UK soil and Teesside University will have the first student team in the world to put a rocket into space.”
The tiny satellites, which are being manufactured and tested in the US and Mexico and are expected to fly on a Mexican Space Agency mission in the coming months, will allow professional and amateur scientists to send experiments into space.
To support its work, Scoutek was recently awarded a place on Business Durham’s space incubation programme, backed by the UK Space Agency.
Catherine Johns, innovation director of Business Durham, said: “The innovative work Scoutek is doing is incredibly exciting, both for those involved and for those watching and waiting for this first rocket launch here in the North East.”
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CPI has developed a specialist offering to support SMEs looking to develop their printable electronics applications and our partnership with Business Durham has been instrumental in attracting several SMEs to locate here in the region.
The proximity to the universities and the infrastructure are very important factors. Ultimately having a presence in Europe is very valuable to us and we intend to stay at NETPark for many years to come.
We initially came because of the printable electronics centre but access to a highly skilled semi conductor workforce in the North East has been a key factor in us staying and growing here, as well as the value for money office space and the access to funding.
The quality of the facilities at NETPark and the attitude of staff is first class. It has a really dynamic, innovative atmosphere.
Access to quality facilities was one of the main drivers for deciding to locate the business at the NETPark. We have been able to use this as a launch pad to link into support from CPI and world-class expertise from Durham University.
It fits perfectly for us that we’re surrounded by like-minded companies at NETPark. There are a number of highly skilled people in the area who can help us grow our business. The facilities and services offered by NETPark are first class, they make office life simple and engaging.