UK’s Gravitilab & NCC to make composite structures for launch vehicles

August 18, 2021 - United Kingdom

Gravitilab, headquartered in the UK, is working with the National Composites Centre (NCC), part of the high value manufacturing catapult, on the analysis and design of new composite flight structures for Gravitilab’s fleet of suborbital launch vehicles. The NCC supports UK businesses of any size to accelerate their use of advanced composite materials.

Composite materials are known for their low mass and high strength characteristics, making them the ideal solution to optimise Gravitilab’s vehicle fleet. Working with the defence and space team at NCC, the Gravitilab team is investigating, designing, and trialling a carbon fibre propellant tank which also forms part of the outer skin of the launch, thereby reducing complexity and mass. Approximately 30 per cent of the rocket is composite, a sector first, and Gravitilab has plans to increase this in later versions, assuming performance targets are achieved, Gravitilab said in a press release.

Gravitilab’s initial launch vehicle MAX has been operational for three years. Used widely in testing programmes for the European Space Agency, the three MAX rockets can carry between 1.2 and 3kg payloads and can reach between 0.8 and 1.81km altitude. ADA, the company’s new 80km suborbital rocket is set for flight testing in March 2022 with ISAAC, capable of 120km distance, set for its maiden flight in October 2022.

NCC’s partnership with Gravitilab is a great example of how the NCC can support UK organisations to accelerate R&D and increase the value of the UK’s technology, making UK companies more globally competitive, more quickly, according to NCC.

“The collaboration with NCC forms part of Gravitilab’s ongoing research and development programme to optimise launch vehicles that are lighter and more cost-effective than anything else that currently exists in the market. The opportunity to partner with the NCC enables disruptive space companies such as Gravitilab, to access the latest composites expertise and technology to exploit the huge benefits of composite materials for our lightweight but robust reusable launch vehicles.” Gravitilab’s technical director, Rob Adlard said in a statement.

“We are delighted to be supporting Gravitilab with the ongoing research and development for using advanced composite materials in their family of sub-orbital launchers. The adoption of new lightweight materials is going to make a step-change for future cost-competitive launch in the UK, and Gravitilab are pushing the limits of composite materials technology for their ADA and ISAAC launchers as part of some very exciting near-future engineering projects. It is great for the NCC to play our part in that story,” Sean Cooper, chief engineer for defence and space at NCC said.

Gravitilab provides the world’s most sustainable suborbital launch technology with their unique, reusable rockets and more environment-friendly hybrid propellants that deliver sustained and stable microgravity conditions for space hardware and scientific research campaigns.