B-Tek Precision reaches for the stars

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A START-UP company based in a Sheffield back street is set to make its first foray into space.

B-Tek Precision Engineering has manufactured a part, which is to be used in Sentinel-2A – an earth observation spacecraft due to be launched in 2013.

The company is a provider of electrical discharge machinery (EDM) services.

This is a process by which electrical sparks are used to erode metal, unlike traditional machinery which uses mechanical force. B-Tek uses the process, which doesn’t damage the material, to provide parts for aerospace, oil and gas, motor sport, nuclear and medical industries.

Sentinel-2A has the potential to transmit up to a speed equivalent of 20 million pages of A4 text or 700 DVDs per hour. But it also needs to accurately point and track the receiver spacecraft, which could be located thousands of kilometres away or located on a ground station.

Operations director Steve Batt told the Yorkshire Post: “It’s a European weather satellite. The laser will scan the earth every time it goes round in an orbit. If a river starts to rise or break its banks it can spot it really early on.

“It can see a tsunami and all sorts of weather patterns. It can even measure earth movements associated with earthquakes or volcanoes.”

The part was manufactured by B-Tek for Warrington-based ESR Technology Ltd, which operates the European Space Tribology Laboratory (ESTL), the European Space Agency’s (ESA) centre for excellence for space tribology – the science of friction, lubrication and wear in bearings and other space mechanisms.

It is called a bearing active pre-load structure and it protects the bearings within the satellite during the launch phase, said Tony Sitek, managing director of B-Tek.

He added: “The bearings are critical to the satellite performing to optimum capacity. The satellite has to point the laser and it moves on the bearings.”

Mr Batt said: “The clever part is that because it’s made of titanium it is really light, and this means the satellite can be smaller, it uses less fuel and is therefore more efficient.”

The acquisition of assets of a company called Pro-Spark in April this year, coupled with Mr Sitek’s investment of two of his own machines in the business, led to the creation of B-Tek six months ago. The company, which currently has one employee, is looking to grow, said Mr Sitek.

He said: “I have already bought a lightweight industrial unit in Westland Square, Beeston, Leeds.

“We are currently extending and refurbishing the Leeds facility with a view for that facility to become our centre of excellence and the headquarters for our operation moving forward.

“We are currently in acquisitions mode and are actively looking to acquire other EDM subcontract companies throughout the UK.”

As the business grows, the head count will also grow, said Mr Sitek, who added: “Our customer base is expanding on a weekly basis. We are getting two to three customers per week.

“Eighty per cent of its customer base comes from within the ‘S’ postcode, he said.

Mr Sitek explained: “We are a small start-up manufacturing business in the back and beyond in Sheffield and it’s amazing to be able to play such a major role in the Sentinel-2A satellite which will benefit the whole of the European community.”

Both Mr Sitek and Mr Batt are shareholders of B-Tek.