Company Background

Download our company brochure here: Airborne_Engineering_company_profile (PDF, 3.1MB)

Airborne Engineering Limited (AEL) was established in 2001. Initially, the company concentrated on airborne instrumentation and was involved in several manned balloon altitude records. AEL’s work in rocket engine test and evaluation started during its time as a sub-contractor for the QinetiQ-1 balloon, which involved developing a solid propellant rocket nozzle with very low thrust misalignment (this was to propel a camera platform.)

In 2007 AEL worked with Reaction Engines Ltd and the University of Bristol to carry out a research programme on expansion-deflection rocket nozzles (Project STERN.) The programme was very successful with final results being presented at a conference within a year of project inception. Since then, Airborne Engineering’s rocket work has increased and in 2009 the company moved to Westcott Venture Park, formally the Rocket Propulsion Establishment (RPE.)

Lapcat pre-combustor test. Photo by James Ball of Docubyte

Lapcat pre-combustor test. Photo by James Ball of Docubyte

The move to Westcott allowed AEL to expand its facilities and staff and attract work from other space companies such as Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL.) AEL’s work with Reaction Engines has also continued and expanded, the most recent firing programme being that of the 20kN “STOIC” advanced nozzle research engine.

In addition to its propulsion research capabilities, AEL has an excellent track record in solving challenging engineering problems involving electronic instrumentation and control systems, especially for aerospace research applications. AEL also designs and manufactures custom electronic instrumentation and produces spacecraft Ground Support Equipment (GSE.)

Facilities

At its Westcott facility, AEL has two rocket engine test bays (J1 and J2) with various kinds of propellant supply infrastructure and thrust ratings up to 40kN. Testing at higher thrust levels can be carried out elsewhere on the Westcott site if required.

In the J2 test bay AEL has a specially built high-pressure air flow system for air-breathing rocket engine research. This facility includes a high flow rate air and hydrogen supply, water cooling, water-spray sound suppression, and automatic metering valves on all propellant lines. The metering valves (designed by AEL) are digitally controlled and can either follow a specific mass flow profile to high accuracy or can be set to allow closed loop control of engine operating conditions such as chamber pressure. Although J2 is predominantly used for air-breathing rocket work and gaseous propellants, it can be configured for other types of rocket engine.

The J1 firing bay can accommodate a variety of different engines types. Currently, J1 is configured to house an educational engine for university students, using low-toxicity propellants (nitrous oxide and isopropyl alcohol.) J1 will be upgraded in late 2016 to support cryogenic rocket tests, specifically LOX / methane, though other combinations could be accommodated.

The AEL Westcott facility is equipped with data logging equipment and automated software for rapid post-firing data analysis. This automation enables very efficient testing schedules. The test facility is supported by a well-equipped on-site mechanical workshop and instrumentation lab.

REL STOIC Engine test rig in J2. Photo by James Ball.

REL STOIC Engine test rig in J2. Photo by James Ball.

Capabilities

Our staff have a wide range of engineering, scientific and business experience, having previously worked on projects including stratospheric balloon records, aerodynamic decelerator testing, radio frequency propagation studies, meteorological radar, general aviation and various rocket engine programmes. Our staff have over 70 years combined experience in rocket systems design and testing.

AEL core capabilities include:

  • Propulsion research
  • Rocket engine testing and analysis
  • Data analysis & mathematical modeling
  • Data acquisition systems & instrumentation
  • Fluid systems, including gas and propellant handling systems
  • Mechanical design and CAD
  • Analogue and digital circuit design
  • RF Engineering
  • Printed circuit board design and electronics prototyping
  • Feedback control systems, state estimation, signal processing
  • Software engineering
Vertical Test Firing of Snark Engine (with thrust vectoring and throttle control) at J1 test site.

Vertical Test Firing of Snark Engine (with thrust vectoring and throttle control) at J1 test site.

Recent Activities

Recent work by AEL for its customers includes:

  • Various altitude compensating nozzle & air-breathing rocket studies (for Reaction Engines / ESA), including the 20kN STOIC engine.
  • Manufacture of satellite purging equipment (for OHB.)
  • Manufacture of xenon loading cart and other GSE systems (for SSTL.)
  • Evaluation of transpiration cooled combustion chamber N2O/Kerosene engine (for Autodiverse.)
  • Hydrodynamic testing of satellite propellant systems (for SSTL.)
  • Safety control systems for high-altitude test facility (for Moog, formerly AMPAC ISP.)
  • Control system for fine tube forming system (for Reaction Engines Sabre heat exchangers.)
  • Bi-propellant rocket engine teaching rig (for Cranfield University.)
  • Outfitting of J3 test firing bay and provision of propellant supply and pressurisation hardware for High Thrust Apogee Engine (for Moog.)
  • Syrtis static test programme for propellants suitable for Mars in-situ propellant production (joint programme with Reaction Engines)
Loading cart for xenon propellant (used for resistojet rocket motors on a satellite)

Loading cart for xenon propellant (used for resistojet rocket motors on a satellite)

Our customers include:

Data Acquisition & Control Units by Airborne Engineering.

Data Acquisition & Control Units by Airborne Engineering.