Matt Escott

Problem:

For decades, satellites have been getting smaller but the rockets that launch them haven’t. Most active vehicles are still designed for historically large satellites and this is forcing a new generation of SmallSats to rideshare on enormous rockets in an expensive system of compromise.

Matt EscottSolution:

Of the small satellites forecast to be launched between 2021 and 2030, 70% are predicted to fall in the under 250-kilogram weight class. However, launch vehicles that can operate at this weight lack appropriate propulsion systems. There is a clear market demand for dedicated launch vehicles that can take small satellites exactly where and when they need to go, but the fundamental technical challenge is that rocket engines and their associated pumps and turbomachinery are incredibly difficult to scale down. Attempts to scale down existing technology commonly result in spiralling costs and complexities.

Protolaunch believes that the right engine is the key to unlocking a successful microlauncher, and aims to supply that propulsion. It is developing an engine based around a novel thermodynamic cycle designed specifically for small payloads from the outset. This is possible because of its core engine technology, which acts as the enabler for a new type of launch vehicle.

The Protolaunch engine has three key advantages:

  1. Simplicity: it eliminates complex turbomachinery and operates at pressures up to 20 times lower than existing concepts.
  2. Weight reduction: it uses additive manufacturing with a light-weight alloy selection for components that were traditionally the heaviest parts in a rocket.
  3. Sustainability: it facilitates use of carbon-neutral fuels in a way that was historically very difficult for blow-down engines to achieve, removing the reliance on and the weight penalty of extreme high-pressure tanks.

Traction:

  • Contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) through the General Support for Technology Programme (GSTP) to develop software and modelling tools for propulsion system development.
  • Working with University of Southampton through the Space Research and Innovation Network for Technology (SPRINT) with a major grant.
  • Member of the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre (ESA BIC).
  • Winner of the University of Cambridge Entrepreneurs ‘Ideas Take Flight’ 2019 Competition.
  • Soapbox Award at UK Space Conference 2019.
  • Finalist of the Royal Academy of Engineering Launchpad Competition 2019.
  • Alumni of the Westcott Business Incubation Centre.
  • Alumni of the Santander University Growth Accelerator (SUGA) as a company representing the Cambridge Judge Business School.

“Over the next 12 to 18 months, we look forward to working with the Royal Academy of Engineering as we build our long-term commercial strategy and start to engage with larger aerospace partners and customers.”

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