Future 50: Aerospace firm to make rocket fuel from beeswax
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Gravitilab Aerospace Services revealed its plans for sustainable space research and testing – including rocket fuel made from beeswax – at an open day on Friday, July 8.
Founded in 2018 by Rob Adlard and James Kilpatrick, Gravitilab is the first company in the world to create reusable suborbital rockets. It says the rockets will be key to minimising the amount of space debris caused by failed satellites – while also making microgravity testing more accessible and affordable.
In August 2021, the Norfolk-based company launched its ADA rocket as a “de-risk operation” with the team from Spaceport One in Scotland. Next year it is due to launch its ISAAC rocket, which will travel to a height of up to 250km and provide around 300 seconds of microgravity.
This month, it began the flight tests of its LOUIS microgravity drop pod, which it plans to take to market imminently. “The system can do repeated drops in a day to give customers a valuable data set,” said Brian Zielinski-Smith, technical services director at Gravitilab.
The firm is now looking to develop an eco-friendly rocket fuel derived from beeswax, which it says will be “the first truly sustainable rocket fuel”.
“We're going to ask the European Space Agency to assist us in this amazing challenge of producing an eco-sustainable fuel, which can allow us to progress towards carbon-neutral solutions when it comes to launch,” said Rob Adlard, CEO of Gravitilab. “And all the while contributing towards the environmental benefits of supporting bee populations.”
Gravitilab is also progressing plans to build an offshore suborbital rocket launch pad – or ‘space port’ – in the North Sea.
“We are working hard to make launch facilities more accessible to the 90pc of the UK space industry that is located along the Oxford-Cambridge arc,” said Rob. “Our talks with the CAA are progressing well and we hope to be launching from the Norfolk coast in the next three years. It really is the perfect location as it is also very accessible from the East Anglian freeport zone.”
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Rob added that microgravity testing offers “limitless possibilities” for customers in a number of sectors. “When you take gravity away, it completely transforms things,” he said. “It can help people discover new processes or transform material properties. The applications are endless.”
Dr Helen Fraser, senior lecturer in astronomy at the Open University, was a guest speaker at the Gravitilab open day. “Microgravity enables us to test an awful lot of things,” she explained. “It can very often help us to solve some pretty major problems that exist in things – like how we process materials such as phones and fluids.
“One of the amazing things about Gravitilab is that they've really engaged everyone from very early on – to hear what we've all got to say, and to try and understand what we really need.”
Two local MPs, Jerome Mayhew and Duncan Baker, also attended Gravitilab’s open day.
“Gravitilab is a great, innovative, science-led business that is developing the space sector not just in the region, but in the UK,” said Mr Mayhew, MP for Broadland. “It is absolutely critical for the development of the kind of high-skilled, high-paid, really interesting jobs that we want to have more of in Norfolk. It’s really putting the county on the map.”
For more information, visit gravitilab.space