Westcott Business Incubation Centre

The Westcott BIC's expert advisors have helped take the Magdrive from concept to prototype, and driven an understanding of business in the Space industry.

Thomas Clayson
Chief Technology Officer & Co-founder, Magdrive

Route to Impact

Magdrive, a British company founded in 2019, has accelerated the development of its electric propulsion system during its incubation period at the Westcott Business Incubation Centre (WBIC).

The satellite propulsion market is already valued at $5 Billion globally and is set to increase to $20 Billion by 2030.  Factors such as an increase in the number of space exploration missions, demand for LEO-based services, and increasing demand for advanced electric propulsion systems that widen mission capabilities through reduced weight and launch costs, are continuing to drive this market.

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Solution

Magdrive has developed a plasma thruster taking it from TRL level 1 to TRL level 3 in the past year. This advance in technical hardware was made possible by the £5k research grant offered alongside technical and collaborative support with peers and mentors at the WBIC.

The miniaturised, powerful Magdrive thruster operates on a high-density propellant that burns 100 times hotter than a rocket and is contained with magnetic fields.  Using a high density, non-toxic, solid metal propellant means a smaller storage system, reducing the mass of the propulsion system. The thruster is also charged with solar power and then discharged rapidly for extremely high thrust manoeuvres.  This enables the Magdrive system to operate on the night side of the Earth and produces a level of efficiency that reduces the fuel consumption by up to 90% on client missions.

Deep space travel is possible with the Magdrive’s variable specific impulse which ranges from 1000s to 3000s using the same thruster. The nozzle can be tilted by varying the properties of the plasma chamber allowing the Magdrive to direct its thrust and to gimbal with no moving parts.  A single thruster can propel the spacecraft and control altitude.

The electronic controls allow for deep throttle, reducing the thrust to less than 1% to give the operator highly accurate control to slowly approach and rendezvous with another spacecraft.

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The diagnostic sprints offered by the WBIC were incredibly helpful when Magdrive entered as a fledgling start-up. The WBIC’s expertise helped to identify exactly what type of propulsion system would meet market requirements and benefit the Space industry. In addition to this, guidance was provided during the creation of Magdrive’s long-term business strategy.

Networking events and collaboration are natural functions at the WBIC. This opens the path to communicate with technical experts, legal advisors and engage with representatives from large organisations operating within the Space sector. These events have led to Magdrive’s successful application to the University of Southampton SPRINT programme.  Here a grant plus office space and facilities to test and develop prototypes has been secured. This combination of WBIC & UoS SPRINT programme provides Magdrive with external validation, in the form of higher reliability, and trust. These are hugely important, in terms of credibility when seeking and securing further grant funding and talking to potential investors

Outcomes - A research grant of £5k and their time at the WBIC has enabled Magdrive’s co-founders, Thomas Clayson & Mark Stokes, to:

Progress a technology towards commercialisation
Obtain an introduction to Lockheed Martin who have expressed an interest in partnering for an orbital demonstration
Secure access to University of Southampton SPRINT programme
Secure a place at ESA BIC
Secure ‘Entrepreneur First’ grant funding of £80k
Recruit staff to fill two high value posts: An electrical engineer & mechanical engineer

The Future

In addition, introductions to senior level Executives from Lockheed Martin, who have expressed an interest in partnering for an orbital demonstration, were made. This includes rolling out the product roadmap created at the WBIC and designing the next prototype that will be a step closer to an engineering model (TRL 6) and then onto commercial systems.

With the support of the WBIC team a further £80k grant funding has been secured from Entrepreneurs First who could see the value of investing in the company’s new electric propulsion system.

Magdrive was in a position to successfully move from the WBIC to ESA BIC where a £40k grant has enabled the recruitment of new staff to fill two high value roles:  an electrical engineer, who developed his specialist knowledge in power management at Rolls Royce and a mechanical engineer, identified through the co-founders networking activities at Westcott & Satellite Applications Catapult events.

Magdrive has since closed a seed round of £1.4M with UK and US investors.

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