A former soldier in the Parachute Regiment has taken a giant leap towards creating a launching system using balloons to put satellites into space after collaborating with design engineers at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).
Sean Ardron set up Rotherham based Arkeik in 2017 to explore how high altitude balloons could be used to take a small payload up to an altitude, where they could be launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
With the help of the AMRC, he now believes his High Elevation Launch Platform (HELP) could be operational within 12 months and might even replace ground-based rockets to give UK industry a doorway into space exploration.
The AMRC is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) and the project was paid for using funds from the HVMC as part of a commitment to working with small and medium-sized manufacturers.
“Although my background is not in this industry, I had worked on land based projects with BAE Systems while I was in the military, but I could not have got to this stage without the support of the AMRC in visualising the idea behind the launch system,” said Mr Ardron, who was in the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment.
“High altitude balloons using the free lift with lighter-than-air gas had not been looked at for a long time because the surrounding technologies to make them efficient just wasn’t available. Recently, there has been a massive increase in small technology for the use of rotary drones so we have repurposed a lot of that for what we need.
“I just needed to develop a computer system that can take a small payload up to a certain altitude, orientate and then launch into LEO.”
Arkeik has already carried out test flights and the next step is to create a working prototype.
Billy Redpath, senior project manager at the AMRC’s Design and Prototyping Group, said: “The system Sean has is similar to a weather balloon which has a drone attached to it. It gets to an appropriate altitude, orientates, launches a satellite and then you guide it back to the ground. The designs they were using for presentations to potential funders had been created in-house and didn’t necessarily convey the project accurately, so we visualised it for them.”