Belfast Thales satellite
Satellite in Earth’s orbit illustration. Image: Andrey Armyagov/Shutterstock

Satellite electric engine manufacturer to create 150 jobs in Belfast

18 Oct 2016

French engineering firm Thales is to announce the creation of 150 engineering jobs in Belfast to build the next generation of electric engines for satellites.

Having acquired Shorts Missile Systems in 2001, French aerospace engineering company Thales has been one of Belfast’s biggest employers, with over 500 staff contributing to the design and assembly of a variety of different missile systems.

Now the company is looking to expand outside of military systems and into new space technologies, starting with the opening of a new Belfast manufacturing facility.

Far more efficient than chemical engines

According to The Telegraph, the company will reveal that it will be hiring 150 engineers immediately, with plans to have the facility’s staff numbers as high as 350 in two years’ time.

The new facility will be tasked with creating next-generation electric engines for satellites that will eliminate the need to rely on limited chemical fuels.

The company plans on retraining its staff that have been building its missile systems for years to develop these new engines that will collect energy from a satellite’s solar panels.

Once the energy has been harvested, it will be used to accelerate a supply of xenon gas to speeds of up to 100 times the speed of sound, but it will use only one-fifth the amount of fuel as chemical rockets.

To engineer such engines, extreme accuracy to the smallest detail is needed, with new engineers expected to work with measurements of just a few microns.

Tim Peake to attend opening

Launching the facility later today (18 October) will be British astronaut Tim Peake. He recently returned from a stint aboard the International Space Station (ISS), resulting in him becoming a household name, in Britain and Ireland at least.

Thales also revealed that Belfast was chosen as the site of its new centre ahead of a number of other European locations, with the investment expected to be worth tens of millions of pounds.

Thales’ chief executive, Victor Chavez, said of the importance of these new engines: “These are not experimental designs – they are already in use – and are likely to bring radical change to satellites as they enter wider use,” he said.

“Using less fuel means satellites can have much longer service lives; about half of the mass of most geostationary satellites is fuel, so the advantages are clear.”

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Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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