Beyond Launch

This article featured recently in Aerospace Manufacturing magazine.

With the recent Ayrshire Growth Deal announcement of £80m funding to support aerospace and space in the region, the historic aerospace hub of Prestwick is set to go from strength to strength.

Ayrshire has been at the heart of the Scottish aerospace industry for nearly a century. Beginning with Scottish Aviation in the thirties it now hosts major players like BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Spirit AeroSystems, Woodward and Collins Aerospace.

More than half of Scotland’s aerospace workforce is based around the Ayrshire coast, but this is set to increase. A dramatic expansion is to be backed by the Ayrshire Growth Deal, a multi-million pound investment from the Scottish and UK governments, and the three Ayrshire local authorities.

A quarter of a billion in total is going into creating high value sites and spurring the development of new sustainable industry in Ayrshire; £80 million is dedicated directly to aerospace. This will establish Prestwick as one of leading aerospace and space sector hubs in the country and provide the boost required to support the region’s aim of becoming a leading European space cluster, ideally placed to take advantage of the burgeoning global commercial ‘NewSpace’ market. Given Scotland’s expanding space sector, the deal will help establish space supply chain capabilities that go far beyond the rapidly developing Spaceflight plans, making Prestwick an innovation centre from the ground to orbit and everywhere in between.

Prestwick has long been associated with more varied aviation activities, from opening Scotland to transatlantic services, supporting military aviation and even occasionally welcoming giant Antonov heavy lifters shuttling airframe components. Aircraft and major subassemblies have been built here since the 1940s, and Spirit continue to operate from Scottish Aviation’s swooshing Art Deco building (itself repurposed from Glasgow’s 1938 Empire exhibition), alongside newer facilities. The Growth Deal funding will support enhanced industrial facilities, laboratories, testing centres and skills development.

The final frontier

The investment will bring to life Prestwick’s long interests in the space sector; new commercial build facilities will provide a base for space technology companies beyond the developing horizontal launch capability. With nearby Glasgow connected by road and rail, and already a centre of small satellite manufacturing, Prestwick is looking to accommodate NewSpace enterprises, building space structures, vehicles, or their engines. Numerous partners are in discussions already with South Ayrshire Council, which could lead to, amongst many things, providing test and evaluation services for space missions, like vibration sensitivity or electromagnetic compatibility. Further in the future, Prestwick has a long-held ambition to see human missions reach space from Ayrshire, and to become a centre for microgravity research.

A flagship part of the new enterprises will be a brand-new Aerospace and Space Innovation Centre – publicly open visitor centre and innovation hub, aimed at connecting the aerospace business of Prestwick to STEM education across Scotland, disseminating the activities of the cluster to the local community, and providing a home for research, business incubation and training.

This centre will also be the focus of partnerships with local and national education institutes; including the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde and West of Scotland. A particularly important link will be that with Ayrshire College, building critical engineering skills in the local community. The transport connectivity between Ayrshire and everywhere else, via road, rail, and even air and sea, is something that provides a real advantage to the area and makes such partnerships, and many more, possible.

There are further developments ongoing beyond the deal itself, with the Scottish Government contributing to two projects through its Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund (AMCF), aimed at supporting small-to-medium companies in the West of Scotland. These projects are the ‘Supply Chain AeroSpace’, and the ‘Aerospace Digital Visualisation Suite’, and have been established through a collective bid from South Ayrshire Council, Ayrshire College, the University of Strathclyde and the Ayrshire Engineering Alliance, successfully securing two million pounds of investment.

The Supply Chain AeroSpace project helps small companies establish themselves in the Scottish aerospace supply chain; and the Aerospace Digital Visualisation Suite provides data visualisation, augmented reality and virtual reality expertise to companies starting out in -these powerful, and fast evolving technologies.

Skills and training are only part of the benefits projected for the area from the Ayrshire Growth Deal. The enhancement of the aerospace sector is forecast to add 4,000 jobs to the broader Ayrshire area. The commercial developments are also paired with planned improvements to transport infrastructure.

Significantly, Prestwick plans to reach beyond the industry, beyond launch, and to inspire the local communities and young people planning for a career. The visitor centre will provide outreach across all ages, whilst explaining and expounding the stories of this exciting site and industry, becoming a centre for education and a new tourist attraction for Ayrshire in its own right.

The Growth Deal will secure Prestwick’s status as a major aviation hub and spur its growth as a major space industry hub too, building new facilities, building links to the local communities, building skills and spacecraft too. It will bring a significant number of new high quality technical jobs to the area, and forge strong educational outreach programmes; inspiring school children to become the aerospace engineers, and perhaps even astronauts, of the future!

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