It may sound out of this world, but HMG's high gloss Acrythane paint really does make the renowned Starchaser rockets fly faster and attain higher altitudes. When the clear over base (COB) system, usually applied to superyachts and luxury vehicles, was sprayed onto Starchaser's supersonic research rockets, its tough, super smooth finish enabled them to climb 1000 ft higher than anticipated, reaching altitudes in excess of 5,960 metres (19,500ft).
So impressed were the space technicians that the same paint system was applied to the 11 metres (37ft) high, single stage Nova, the largest non-government rocketship ever to be built and flown in Europe and the prototype for what could be the world's first privately owned, fully reusable, people-carrying spaceship.
HMG not only supplied the materials and equipment, it also provided spray painting tuition for Starchaser personnel at its in-house training facility in Manchester, enabling them to achieve a perfect finish on these and future rockets.
The Starchaser rocket project is the inspiration of Programme Manager, Steve Bennett, who was originally based at Salford University, where he still teaches Physics with Space Technology, and has since established Starchaser Industries Limited at spacious premises in Hyde, Cheshire, with a staff of eighteen.
The team's quest is to win the $10 million X-Prize for the first privately-funded organisation to fly three people into space, to an altitude of 100km (63 miles), and return them safely to earth again, twice within two weeks.
One of over twenty teams around the world racing to build a suitable rocket, Starchaser has attracted massive press and TV coverage for its successful launches to date.
HMG Paints has been a long-time supporter and sponsor of the project, especially as Sales & Marketing Director, Stephen Falder, is himself a pyrotechnics fanatic and couldn't resist the offer to help.
Initially the SHARP (Supersonic High Altitude Research Project) series of relatively low cost test rockets were sprayed by Starchaser themselves, using a standard HMG automotive cellulose, and the finish was applied too thickly.
Following conversations with the project's Production Manager, Graeme Catterall Annal, senior HMG paint technician Glen Reid recommended a more sophisticated system and some technical training to enable them to achieve a better finish.
"They are now using a high build MPS polyester primer, to get rid of any slight surface imperfections on the rocket's outer skin, followed by a single pack SM basecoat in thestandard rocket colour of white," says Glen. "Finally, a 2-pack Acrythane acrylic polyurethane COB paint is applied, giving a very tough, smooth, high gloss finish, which also provides a good backdrop for sponsors' logos."
After a few days' training for Graeme and his colleague, Luke Griffiths, at HMG's Collyhurst plant, the new paint system was sprayed onto the latest SHARP 4 and 5 test rockets and the results surprised both Starchaser and HMG.
"The rockets looked better and we were expecting some benefit, but were surprised just how much a smoother skin helped improve performance," says Graeme "We actually gained an extra 1000ft (310m) in height, which was amazing."
The same system was next applied to the 11m (37ft) high, 3.4m (11ft) finspan Nova rocket at Starchaser's large vehicle assembly plant and during the first test flight that paintwork survived a top speed of over 800kph (500mph), 5Gs of acceleration and a subsequent heavy touchdown on the Morecambe shoreline, without damage.
Now refurbished and repainted, Nova is currently featured in a nationwide schools roadshow, before being equipped with a more powerful propulsion system and launched up to 100,000ft (31,000m) in Australia, to test the rocket motor, capsule and recovery system.
Then HMG will watch with pride and no little trepidation as Steve Bennett himself climbs aboard the next version to prove the rocketship is indeed capable of carrying a human into space, the final step to claiming the thus-far elusive X-prize.
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