A new research Institute to accelerate developments in sustainable aerospace, creating a cleaner, quieter and more efficient industry, has been established at Cranfield University.

The Cranfield Air & Space Propulsion Institute (CASPI) will champion pan-university research with close industry, academia and government collaboration. It aims to help develop new, revolutionary technologies for use in air and space propulsion and power system applications.

Working alongside industry and academic partners from diverse disciplines and sectors, researchers at Cranfield will be looking at ‘traversal areas of technology’ that span multiple specialist fields – such as sustainable fuels, combustion, materials and manufacturing, controls, electrification, thermal management, aerodynamics and systems integration. The resulting developments are expected to have an impact in space flight, hypersonic sub-orbital flight, supersonic flight, subsonic flight and urban air mobility.

Bright future of collaboration

CASPI is led by Vassilios Pachidis, Professor of Propulsion Integration Engineering and Head of Centre for Propulsion at Cranfield. He said: “It is vital that we start to really push air and space technologies beyond the immediate horizon of what we believe is possible. This is where true innovation will happen, taking us closer to making sustainable aerospace a reality.

“Cranfield’s facilities and expertise are second to none and the new Institute is going to bring us even closer to industry and government on this agenda. We’ll be developing rapid prototyping and testing, and patents for new technologies. There’s a bright future of collaboration ahead of us in the Institute, which will deliver new scientific knowledge and technology.”

Industry welcomes new development

A number of industry representatives are supporting the new Institute’s ambition and the potential it brings to developing propulsion, attending a launch event in March at Cranfield University.

Dr Neil Taylor, Subject Matter Expert in Performance and Aerodynamics, Reaction Engines Ltd, said of the event: “It was fascinating to hear of the wide range of activities going on in the propulsion fields, both aviation and space. The overlap and opportunity for cross fertilization, collaboration and growth is obvious, and needs to be seized. It is a truly exciting time to be involved in such rapidly evolving fields.”

Dr Federico Rossi, Co-Founder and Head of Propulsion Engineering at Pangea Aerospace, added: “I have really enjoyed the different points of view from people with different requirements, such as hydrogen versus methane versus hybrid versus electric, or even nuclear fusion. I think it is exciting that such diversification exists in Europe, because in my view it means there is still so much exploration and progress to be made.”

“The opportunity to participate in a meeting with such a diverse range of participants, ideas and abilities is rare,” said Mike Curtis-Rouse, Head of Access to Space at the Satellite Applications Catapult. “The focus on future evolution of propulsion technologies, both air and space, is even rarer. The CASPI initiative is going to be phenomenal opportunity to turn concepts into new capabilities and eventually products: it’s incredibly exciting to be part of this.”

Dr Christian Schmierer, Co-CEO at HyImpulse Technologies, added; “CASPI offers great know-how and facilities to advance propulsion technology and space propulsion in particular. It also creates a new platform for cooperation between university and industry, research and industrial development, bringing also different industries, who need solutions to the same problems, together.”

Working with industry on new technologies

Already Cranfield’s academics are collaborating with industry to further develop new technologies in propulsion. In November 2021 academics involved in CASPI, working closely with industry partner Pulsar Fusion, facilitated a successful chemical rocket engine propulsion test at Cranfield’s Ordnance Test and Evaluation Centre (COTEC).

More than 25 industry, academic and government organizations from across the world are involved in CASPI, as part of the Institute’s Science and Technology Advisory board.

Adding her support to the new Institute’s ambitions and remit, Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the School of Aerospace, Transport Systems and Manufacturing at Cranfield University, said: “The need to reduce the environmental impact of the aerospace sector – especially on climate change – is becoming ever more urgent. Developing greener propulsion capabilities and manufacturing processes is a key part of this. CASPI will provide an interdisciplinary approach to deliver integrated, sustainable air and space technologies for the future.”