Astronaut Tim Peake visits Belfast to open space industry facility
Astronaut Tim Peake has touched down in Belfast to open a new space industry facility.
Major Peake was guest of honour at an event to launch a specialist £6 million production unit that will manufacture state-of-the art electric thrusters to power satellites into orbit.
The dedicated propulsion facility at the Thales factory in Belfast is the first of its kind in the UK.
The French company already manufactures missiles in Northern Ireland for the defence industry.
Mr Peake has been on a tour of the UK since his return from his six-month stint on the International Space Station.
He is sharing his experiences as part of a nationwide programme organised by the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.
Opening the Thales centre, Mr Peake said living on board the space station was an "enormous privilege", describing it as an "incredible place to work".
He said no two days were ever the same as he worked with the "best of science and engineering and technology".
But he added: "It gives me as much, if not more pleasure to come back to visit the industry and visit the centres that are driving this innovation and driving this cutting edge technology and nowhere is that more apparent than being here this morning at Thales in Northern Ireland to open this space propulsion integration system."
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the astronaut to Belfast.
She said the opening of the new facility demonstrated Thales' confidence in the "world-class engineering capabilities of its workforce in Northern Ireland".
The investment has been backed by Stormont business support agency Invest NI to the tune of £500,000.
"Tim Peake's historic six-month stay on the International Space Station did so much to educate and inspire all of us," said Mrs Foster.
"Like Tim, we also have a mission. We must open engagement between industry, academia and government to develop Northern Ireland as a globally recognised region for space sector innovation."
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire welcomed the opening of the new facility.
"The new Thales plant is a welcome boost for the economy in Northern Ireland with 150 engineers set to be recruited, rising to 350 within two years," he said.
"The fact Belfast beat off stiff competition from a whole host of other European venues is testament to the many highly skilled engineering specialists we have here and the important part Northern Ireland plays in the growing UK space sector.
"It reaffirms to the world that Northern Ireland is very much open for business and is a huge vote of confidence in the economy."
Mr Brokenshire added: "I hope that young people inspired by Tim Peake's Principia mission will play their part in Northern Ireland's space story too."