From Maryhill to Mars: Glasgow wins Space Agency funding

Professor Konstantinos Kontis in one of the wind tunnels at the University of Glasgow research facility in Maryhill. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
Professor Konstantinos Kontis in one of the wind tunnels at the University of Glasgow research facility in Maryhill. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL
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GLASGOW will become an international centre for aerospace engineering research thanks to a new partnership between the European Space Agency and the city’s ancient university.

The deal will fund a two-year project based at the national wind tunnel facility in Maryhill to test space craft components which could be used in future missions to Mars and the moon.

The refurbished centre is the only place in the UK where researchers can test how vehicles and other technologies cope with subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic wind speeds.

It was formally opened by business and energy minister Fergus Ewing this morning.

The University of Glasgow has pioneered aerospace research in Scotland for more than 70 years, but now aims to establish itself internationally by working with a growing number of commercial partners as well as training the next generation of engineers.

“Working with the agency, we hope to contribute to the space exploration of far-away planets and asteroids,” said Professor Konstantinos Kontis, Mechan chair of engineering at the university.

“We will be contributing to the research and development of launchers, take-off vehicles and landers.

“On the other side, we can also help to develop renewable energy systems, drones, the next generation of helicopters and also safer bridges. We offer a full spectrum. This is the only wind tunnel facility in Scotland that offers this kind of integrated capability.

“We are also educating the next generation of engineers. There is great potential for this to become a centre of excellence.”

The university already has an established relationship with the European Space Agency. Last November, a spacecraft containing an ‘optical bench’ built by a team of Glasgow scientists, blasted off from South America.

The aerospace industry is viewed as a key global growth sector by the Scottish Government.

“The public is becoming more aware of the sector and its importance by events such as the competition for the space hub,” said Mr Ewing.

“The work that is being done to promote innovation and excellence in this area is absolutely essential.

“The more we can project Scotland as being in the lead in these activities, through institutions like Glasgow, but also at Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt, the greater we can attract industrial investment from leading companies.

“These firms are looking to expand and we want them to do it in Scotland.”

As well as space research, a series of projects at the hub in Acre Road are set to get underway to create greener and safer transportation, as well as new technologies for renewables and infrastructure.

The official opening of the facility is the latest development in the university’s involvement in aerospace engineering development, which began in the 1940s and has led to many partnerships with industry leaders such as BAE Systems and Bombardier.

The oldest of the seven wind tunnels at the hub was originally constructed in the 1930s by Sir Frederick Handley Page, a leading English industrialist and aircraft pioneer. It was used to test parts of the Halifax bomber used in the Second World War by the RAF, before being reassembled in Glasgow in the 1970s.

The facility’s de Havilland low-speed tunnel is a hub in the National Wind Tunnel Facility (NWTF), a network of wind tunnels selected to ensure that the UK remains a key player with the field of aerodynamics.

In 2014, the university was awarded £1.66m, jointly from EPSRC and the Aerospace Technology Institute, to fund a comprehensive upgrade of its instrumentation.

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