Edinburgh engineer blasts off with fresh space agency trials

Edinburgh engineering firm Vert Rotors has launched the second stage of a “cutting-edge” project with the European Space Agency (ESA) following a successful year of initial testing.

Sales manager John McNeil (left) with Scott Denham from the University of Edinburgh after signing Vert's first major commercial deal. Picture: Contributed

Vert’s patented conical rotary compressor (CRC) technology is being put through its paces as a pump for rocket propellant, in an ESA-funded programme which could see the company break into the space industry.

The aim of the scheme is to allow rockets to travel faster and further by reducing weight and improving efficiency.

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Vert struck a deal with ESA in October last year to determine whether its technology, which has previously been used as a prototype satellite cooling system produced in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence’s Centre for Defence Enterprise, could be adapted to the ESA’s needs.

David Noake, head of design at Vert, said receiving financial backing from the ESA opens up a wealth of opportunities. Picture: Contributed

The Edinburgh firm conducted laboratory testing at its compressor design centre in the capital, as well as at the ESA’s site in the Netherlands.

'A tough sector'

David Noake, head of design at Vert, said receiving financial backing from the ESA opens up a wealth of opportunities.

He said: “It is a new and different application of our technology. We have been commercially developing the CRC for air compression and gas compression, so to use it as a pump means there are a different set of parameters for its operation.

“Space is quite a tough sector to get into because of the need for high quality assurances – your technology has to go through extremely rigorous testing before it will be approved for use in space.

“Sending systems into space takes a long time and is quite expensive. A company of our size is not able to do that on its own, so being part of this ESA programme is a fantastic opportunity.”

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Commercial growth

The business inked a major sales contract in October to deploy its revolutionary compressor – based on technology that has been described as the biggest advance in the industry in 40 years – at the University of Edinburgh’s mass spectrometry laboratory.

The deal marked the firm’s first commercial success, and followed the appointment of John McNeil as sales engineer in charge of driving new business.

Vert announced at the time that it was gearing up for a new phase of commercially driven growth on the back of the agreement.

The company was set up in 2013 to develop the pioneering CRC technology, which is capable of continuous operation while producing low levels of noise.