"The Rocket That Eats Itself" - Scotland's Appetite For Space Innovation Continues To Grow

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In the past months, developments such as the licensing of SaxaVord spaceport have shed light on the major role Scotland is playing in the advancement of the space sector here in the UK and Europe at present.
UK Transport
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In the past months, developments such as the licensing of SaxaVord spaceport have shed light on the major role Scotland is playing in the advancement of the space sector here in the UK and Europe at present.

Recent news emerging from the University of Glasgow, however, sheds light not only on Scotland's ambitions to shape the future of the space sector, but also on its ability to do so.

Tackling head on the age old rocketry problem of payload maximisation whilst minimising fuel required, the University of Glasgow team have landed on an extremely innovative solution. That is, the team have successfully built and fired an "autophage" self-eating rocket.

The product of a research partnership with Dnipro National University - supported by Kingston University in London - the Ouroborous-3 rocket engine utilises waste heat produced by the combustion of gaseous oxygen and liquid propane to melt the very fuselage of the rocket itself as the engine fires.

Having melted the high-density polyethylene plastic fuselage, Ouroborous-3 re-directs the molten plastic back into the engine's combustion chamber. Here, the molten plastic is re-used as an additional form of fuel, in conjunction with the propellants which are already present. In this way, Ouroborous-3 stands as a shining example of technological innovation.

The potential benefits to future rocket operations of this technology are very exciting. For example, when fired, the molten plastic utilised as fuel by Ouroborous-3 constituted 20% of the total propellant used! Consequently, any rocket employing this engine would be required to carry significantly less fuel onboard, creating increased payload capacity.

Ouroborous-3 looks primed to increase the level of flexibility which launch operators the world over will be able to provide for customers - for example those looking to launch nanosatellites and Cube Sats.

Furthermore, the potential of this technology to reduce the number of stages a rocket is required to employ - potentially negating staging altogether - serves as a means via which the global space sector might reduce the levels of space debris it produces - thereby reducing its environmental impact.

Funded by numerous organisations - including the UK Space Agency - the team at the University of Glasgow foresee numerous technological developments which could be made in order to improve the functionality of the "autophage" rocket in the future.

As a trainee in Marks & Clerks' Glasgow office, news of the city once again playing host to exciting - verging on fantastical - space sector innovations is extremely welcome.

Where novel and inventive concepts exhibit potential as solutions to long-standing problems, robust intellectual property protection is key to subsequent commercialisation, and often to securing investment in order to be able to innovate further.

As a member of the Space sector team here at Marks & Clerk (alongside a number of my Glasgow colleagues), I'm keen to monitor the development of this outstanding space innovation and others like it, and to be able to assist space innovators in securing intellectual property protection for their out-of-this-world technologies!

But what if the structure of the rocket itself could be used as fuel? That is the unlikely aim of a project at the University of Glasgow, where engineers have successfully built and fired an 'autophage' self-eating rocket.


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