Space tourism will be a reality in a matter of years, according to Steve Bennett, CEO of Starchaser Industries, the privately-held high technology company that specialises in the development, operation and commercialisation of space-related products and services.
As a vital step toward its own low cost space tourism launches, the Hyde, Cheshire company will shortly test fire its new Churchill Mk3 rocket engine, the largest of its kind in Europe, which uses the same liquid oxygen and kerosene bi-propellant combination that took Apollo to the moon.
The Starchaser programme demonstrates that British space engineering is still at the forefront of technological innovation and amongst its most enthusiastic supporters and sponsors is HMG Paints, which has provided high performance paint systems for every rocket built and launched since 1996. It's surface coatings adorn Starchaser rockets exhibited at the Spaceport tourist attraction, the Thunderstar 3-man capsule displayed at the X Prize Cup Expo in New Mexico, and the 11 metre Nova/Starchaser 4 rocket demonstrated to over 150,000 schoolchildren around the country and a recent gathering of MPs.
HMG paint systems also protected SHARP and Starchaser rockets during actual test flights, surviving speeds up to 500mph and acceleration forces of 5G, and will shortly do the same for the latest generation of Skybolt reusable sounding rockets. Starchaser was set up by Steve Bennett in 1992 as an experimental rocket test programme, aiming to develop inexpensive means of delivering small scientific payloads to high altitudes. Subsequently it relocated to Salford University, where Steve still serves as Director of Space Technology, and latterly transferred its manufacturing and rocket assembly arm to Hyde, where a dedicated team of graduate-level specialists are employed.
In 1996 it launched Starchaser 2, then the largest private civilian rocket ever flown, and has subsequently achieved 14 successful launches, culminating in Nova/Starchaser 4, the world's first independently-built reusable rocket capable of carrying people into space. The potential market for commercial space travel is huge, with estimates suggesting the market for sub-orbital tourism could be worth $300 million a year and orbital travel as much as $10 billion annually. As it prepares to enter this lucrative market with its Thunderstar / Starchaser 5 design, the company helps finance its project with a number of revenue-generating activities, including Team Starchaser, an online shop, the Merseyside Spaceport exhibition and a highly successful outreach programme that engages with schools and the general public.
One of its earliest sponsors, HMG Paints, whose slogan is 'one name that covers everything', is delighted to add sub-orbital space to the places where its high performance paints (and logo) can be found, supplementing every other form of transport from ocean-going yachts and canal boats, to trucks, buses and cars. The Starchaser programme also provides an unusual and demanding test bed for its products, needing to withstand weathering and road grime on display rockets and massive G-forces at launches.
"HMG is a great outfit, with great people and great paint," says Steve Bennett succinctly. Initially, the early SHARP test rockets were sprayed by Starchaser technicians, using a regular HMG automotive cellulose, but the standard of finish prompted the Manchester company to recommend a more sophisticated coating system and provide technical training for improved application. Such was the success of this revised paint system, based on HMG's renowned 2-pack Acrythane acrylic polyurethane, that subsequent SHARP 4 and 5 rocket firings actually gained an extra 1000ft (310m) in altitude.
The same high gloss finish was consequently applied to the Nova / Starchaser 4 rocket, successfully launched in 2001 and now, refurbished and repainted, touring the nation's schools and even making its mark at the House of Commons. For the 3-man Thunderstar capsule, displayed to great acclaim at last year's international X Prize Cup Expo in New Mexico, USA, HMG provided a mainly decorative finish based on its M99 high gloss cellulose, in satin black and metallic lacquer.
In due course, it will collaborate with Starchaser on developing suitable paint systems for the Skybolt sounding rocket, developed to launch experimental and scientific payloads on a sub-orbital trajectory, and ultimately the Thunderstar / Starchaser 5 combination, expected to reach an altitude between 130 and 160km (80-100 miles) as it carries its 3-person crew on a sub-orbital flight and returns them safely to Earth.
"As an independent British company ourselves, we are privileged to be involved with a UK company that is carving an international reputation in such an advanced field of technology," says HMG's Managing Director, John Falder. It's somewhat humbling to think of our paint and our name being launched into space. If I could afford it, I would love to be one of Starchaser's first space tourists."
Further enquiries to:
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