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© thales Electronics Production | October 20, 2016

Thales opens first electric propulsion manufacturing site in the UK

Thales is new stellar – no pun intended – investment in the UK space industry and Belfast has resulted in a new electric propulsion system manufacturing facility in the city, the first of its kind in the UK.
Officially opened on 18 October, the new Space Propulsion Integration Centre will manufacture electric propulsion systems for satellites.

In a nutshell, electric propulsion is when electrical energy collected from the Sun is converted into thrust by the acceleration of inert Xenon gas ions from an electric thruster. The benefits from electric propulsion is that it allows the satellite to carry larger payloads for longer periods, thus driving down the cost of operating the platform. Thales also states in a press release that electric propulsion only requires one fifth of the propellant to deliver the same mission compared to chemical-based engines.

“The opening of this propulsion centre represents a major milestone in our commitment to invest in the future of space manufacturing and game changing technology in Belfast and the UK. It also opens an exciting new chapter for a site which already enjoys a deserved reputation for world class precision engineering skills,” says Victor Chavez, Chief Executive, Thales UK.

The Thales Alenia Space Joint Venture investment has grown the business from 10 employees at its foundation to 150 today, and will more than double to 350 in the next two years. The investment will also see the expansion of Space engineering centres of excellence in Bristol and Harwell, Oxfordshire.

The decision to open the manufacturing facility in Belfast specifically came after an evaluation of several potential sites around Europe. And according to the company, the regions heritage of precision engineering for defence sector. Another push was the UK Government’s pledge to fund space activities and create new initiatives to cultivate growth in the space industry – including the formation of the UK Space Agency, a contribution to the European Space Agency (ESA), the investment in the UK Space Gateway at Harwell and securing a share of the Neosat programme for the UK.

The Belfast site will work closely with these centres and with other Thales sites around the world.
The facility will manufacture around four satellite electric propulsion systems per year, including those for the European Space Agency’s Neosat satellite programme.

The Belfast facility has also received support and investment from Invest Northern Ireland in the form of a training and industrial research grant.

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