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Businesses work with space academics to create innovative technology

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

By Ross Burgon, Head of the national SPRINT programme





We recently announced a partnership with konfer to help promote the SPRINT programme’s funding and product development support opportunities to konfer’s network of 27,000 UK space and non-space businesses.


The SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme (www.sprint.ac.uk) provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities and shares a vision with konfer to support business growth and university/industry collaboration.


konfer’s platform helps SPRINT reach a much larger and more diverse SME community that typically wouldn’t associate themselves with space innovation and funding. This supports our aims to improve the uptake of space data and space technologies across all industry sectors in the UK.


Reducing the cost of UK small satellite launches


Over 55 UK businesses have already signed up to the SPRINT programme to receive funded access to expertise, technology and facilities from our university network partners – Leicester, Surrey, Southampton, Edinburgh and the Open University. These collaborative projects between UK industry and SPRINT delivery partners are accelerating time-to-market for new space technologies and space enabled data services.


SPRINT funding is enabling Protolaunch, a Westcott-based start-up company, to access industry-leading propulsion research, facilities and expertise from the University of Southampton. This collaborative project is focused on the development of a new rocket engine that will provide a radically lower-cost orbital rocket engine for payloads under 50kg.


Matt Escott, CEO at Protolaunch said: “As a start-up, we’re looking to prove our new type of rocket. Our company has a strong capability in simulation and optimisation of propulsion systems and needed to move from design of a digital engine to build and test of the hardware.


“We needed to demonstrate and validate the technical side of the engine cycle and SPRINT suggested the University of Southampton. Collaborating with Southampton provides us with access to their expertise in chemical propulsion and propulsion laboratory facilities.”


Dr Charlie Ryan, Lecturer in Astronautics at the University of Southampton added: “Using our expertise and facilities such as the chemical propulsion labs and the independent Westcott testing facility in Buckinghamshire, we are able to support the testing of an engine at a component level.”


A breakthrough in molecular imaging technology using next generation imaging systems


Successful SPRINT projects demonstrate real impacts, such as Serac Imaging Systems (SIS).


Serac Imaging Systems’ molecular imaging technologies are intended to help clinicians make better, more informed and more timely treatment decisions, resulting in improved outcomes, better quality of life for patients and more effective use of healthcare resources.


Their innovative compact high-resolution imaging system is based on hybrid gamma and optical imaging technology originally developed for space observation applications by the University of Leicester. It was then developed for the medical sector, with support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in a collaboration between the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester and the Queens Medical Centre at the University of Nottingham.


Support from SPRINT and University of Leicester


As part of the ongoing development of the system, SIS signed up to SPRINT where the University of Leicester built a research prototype system to demonstrate to potential users and used as a benchmark to compare the improved performance of the revised prototype. The collaboration aimed to resolve known technical issues with the previous system, extend the performance of the system, test the concept of the camera with target customers, and build a revised prototype, the performance of which could be benchmarked against the previous system.


Benefits achieved through the SPRINT project included: · Independent market research showed excellent support for the camera concept amongst nuclear medicine physicians · The revised prototype addresses the known technical issues of the system · Project helped to identify opportunities for new patents · Job created – recruited new head of product development · 'Manufacturability' has been improved significantly


SPRINT project proves concept of new camera


David Hail, CEO of Serac Imaging Systems said: “This collaboration with the University of Leicester through the SPRINT award is a big step forward in our work to make the huge benefits of molecular imaging more accessible to patients, wherever they are and so to fulfil the commercial promise of the current working prototype Hybrid Gamma-Optical Camera.”


Paul Cload, Chief Marketing Officer at Serac Imaging Systems added: “The SPRINT project has met and exceeded our expectations. When we worked on the original prototype, we had issues with the vacuum and cooling, but we have now resolved those. Sensitivity has improved dramatically - approximately five-fold increase – and whereas the camera head was initially built over three days by PhD-level scientists, we believe the revised prototype can be assembled and quality-controlled in a matter of hours by technicians.


“Part of the SPRINT project involved independent market research amongst nuclear medicine physicians to gauge their enthusiasm for the camera concept. The results were as positive as we could have hoped for with more than 95 per cent of respondents expressing support for the camera.


“We’re delighted with the progress we’ve made to date and will shortly begin studies with ‘phantoms’ which mimic the clinical applications we are targeting, at a nuclear medicine department in a UK hospital.”


By Ross Burgon, Head of the national SPRINT programme



You can find out more information about SPRINT here.

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