Belfast Telegraph

Defence contractor boldly going into the space race

Northern Ireland has been chosen as the location of a new manufacturing and research base to serve the needs of the European space industry.

Defence firm Thales, which already has a base in Belfast, will provide manufacturing, assembly and test capability in partnership with Aerojet, part of the massive GenCorp aerospace firm, which has formed the subsidiary company, European Space Propulsion.

The new firm will use indigenous manufacturing and engineering talent to produce proven in-space thrusters and propulsion systems and will work with local government and the universities to enable research and development projects.

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Thales and Aerojet, and with the support of authorities in Northern Ireland and the UK, as well as licence approvals from the US Department of State, construction activities are expected to begin in the Autumn.

It is not yet known how many jobs could be created by the partnership nor what the deal could be worth for the Northern Ireland economy.

Last year a report produced by the Aerospace Defence Security (ADS) Northern Ireland trade body revealed that firms here contributed 7.1% of the total UK aerospace output, with total sales amounting to £960m last year, with another £640m of orders in the pipeline.

More than 90% of those total sales came from exports, with sales worth £664m being sent outside the UK. Exports from aerospace, defence and security represented 12.85% of all Northern Ireland manufacturing exports in 2010.

Firms from the three sectors were said to have pumped £34m into research and development, representing 10.5% of all Northern Ireland's business research and development spending.

Aerojet vice president of business development, Rick Yezzi said that the company is looking forward to becoming a full participant in European space.

"By forming a European subsidiary, we can best serve the needs of a growing worldwide space industry with state-of-the-art propulsion solutions," he said

Victor Chavez, chief executive of Thales UK said that the firm is pleased to provide manufacturing capabilities for the new venture.

"By working together, Aerojet and Thales UK plan to bring a leading space company to Northern Ireland." he said.

Thales in Belfast, one of Northern Ireland's top 100 companies, is the prime contractor for Very Short Range Air Defence systems in the UK and, within the Thales group, is the centre of excellence for missile design, development and production.

Its headquarters in Belfast, is staffed by over 600 personnel working on design, manufacture, assembly and support of systems, products or components. The firm experienced turnover of £91.1m last year.

The Thales Starstreak product is currently in service with the British Army and likely to remain at the forefront of its air defence capability until at least 2025.

Overall in 2011 the company generated revenues of £11.4bn with 68,000 employees in 50 countries. Thales UK employs 8,000 staff based at 35 locations.

In 2011 Thales UK's revenues were around £1.4 bn.