Northern Ireland aerospace blasts off with ESP expansion
Rockets have provided the latest boost to the Northern Ireland job market by helping create eight highly-paid posts and safeguarding 40 further positions at a Belfast defence group.
The news from European Space Propulsion (ESP) comes after the company secured a contract for 19 thrusters, used to propel satellites into space.
They will be made at ESP's new Castlereagh Road base in Belfast, opened by the First Minister Peter Robinson and Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster yesterday.
The order, from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), will go some way to helping ESP to take on eight new sales and engineering staff over the next two years on salaries averaging £55,000 a year and will also also safe guard 40 jobs at Thales' production base.
ESP is owned by US company Aerojet, part of the massive GenCorp aerospace firm, and has partnered with Thales to provide parts for the European Space Industry.
The contract win is the company's first and will see it provide thrusters for six spacecraft and an option to provide the same for another six.
They'll be used in the FORMOSAR-7/COSMIC-2 space program which is backed by both the US and Taiwan governments and is designed to track global meteorological trends.
"This first award represents a key step in establishing the foundation of ESP," Bill Smith, head of Business Development for ESP and Aerojet in Europe.
"We welcome the opportunity to bring high performance in-space propulstion to SSTL and Europe's growing portfolio of satellites."
The opening of the Belfast base is an important milestone, according to Arlene Foster.
"It's an exciting first step for us into the space sector. Now we're stepping into space, it's a vote of confidence to the skills and engineers here in Northern Ireland.
"I hope it will send a message to our young people to get involved in science and technology and they can be involved in something very exciting and forward looking, right here in east Belfast."
The thruster, the MR-103G is said to have a long flight heritage for use on a variety of space programs including commercial and civil spacecraft.
It was originally designed for the Voyager program and the thrusters on the vehicle remain operational today nearly 36 years after launch.
"ESP is investing significantly in this project and estimates its new venture will generate annual turnover of around £13m by 2016," Minister Foster said.
Invest NI offered ESP £48,000 of support towards its recruitment drive.
"Our partnership with Thales in Belfast is built on successful collaboration, innovation and technical excellence and this business venture has the potential to make the United Kingdom a new focal point for space propulsion in Europe," Julie Van Kleeck, Aeroject Rocketdyne Vice President of Advances Space Programs said.