ESA astronaut Tim Peake training for spacewalks at NASA’s facility in Houston, USA.

Personal stories reveal how Tim Peake’s space mission inspired a generation

Image credit: NASA

People have shared their stories of how British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s mission inspired them to discover the opportunities available in the UK space sector. The blog post follows the unveiling of a new 'gold standard' facility for testing rockets, made possible by UK Space Agency investment.

Today (June 18) marks the fifth anniversary of Peake's Soyuz space capsule landing in the Kazakhstan desert as he returned from a six-month expedition to the International Space Station.

The UK Space Agency and Tim Peake launched the 'Inspired By Tim' campaign to explore the impact of his space mission. More than 400 people shared their stories of how the mission inspired them, including people who went on to study astronautics or took up stargazing as a hobby; one student shared how they went on to start a career as a rocket engineer.

The personal stories and more are available to read online at the UK Space Agency blog.

Peake, a British ESA astronaut, said: "It’s humbling to hear how my mission encouraged people to explore a future in STEM. If it wasn’t for the scientists, aviators and explorers who inspired me when I was younger, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

"The space sector in the UK is thriving, and you don’t have to be an astronaut to play your part. There are opportunities for analysts, engineers, entrepreneurs and environmentalists. I’m looking forward to seeing where the young people who followed my journey are in five years and learning about the positive changes they have made to the world".

Hannah Albery, a head teacher at Yarborough Academy, Grimsby, transformed classrooms into scenes from space for her class of nine and 10 year-olds. Albery’s décor inspired students to study STEM subjects in their further education, with one student now pursuing their dream of one day becoming an astronaut.

Albery said: "Tim’s mission was a huge experience for our school. We planned a project for Year 5 about relocating to the Moon; transformed our classrooms into space scenes; virtually met the Virgin Galactic Team and even visited the National Space Centre.

"The pupils who were involved have left our school now. I saw one young man, Ethan, only a few months ago and he now wants to be an astronaut like Tim and is choosing STEM subjects as part of his further education. Tim impacted on a whole generation of people, inspiring them about the wonder and importance of STEM learning".

Peake’s Principia mission also led David Honess to change his career, pivoting from being a software engineer to working in the European Space Agency’s Education Office, where he is still based today. Peake also inspired many students to go on to study STEM subjects at university, such as Chloe French, a secondary student from London whose takeaway from the space mission was the understanding that you can achieve all you set out to do with a little hard work and determination.

During the six-month mission, the UK Space Agency worked with Peake on more than 30 outreach projects, including experiments to grow salad from seeds in space; create imaginative films inspired by spaceflight, and exercise like an astronaut. Over two million students took part in the outreach programme, with one in three UK schools participating.

Jenny Horrocks from Surrey was studying a PhD in geology during Peake’s flight and was mesmerised by the photos he took of the Earth. Horrocks was selected at random to speak to Peake on a video call, which she is gifting to her old school, while 10 others who shared their stories with the UK Space Agency have received a space-themed goodie bag.

E&T spoke to Tim Peake in 2015 shortly before his launch date. In the exclusive interview, Peake joked about being the "rookie astronaut" onboard the ISS, compared to the two incumbents - Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko. In 2021, the IET awarded Peake an Honorary Fellowship.

Today also marks the closing date of the latest ESA call for astronauts in which UK citizens can apply to become part of the next space exploration cohort. Becoming an astronaut is in fact just one possible career path in the UK space industry, which already employs around 42,000 people in roles ranging from aerospace engineers, satellite technicians and research scientists to entrepreneurs and lawyers.

Meanwhile, there was a boost for the UK space sector yesterday (June 17) when a new 'gold standard' national rocket test facility was officially unveiled by science minister Amanda Solloway.

The new facility offers cheaper and greener rocket testing and will allow UK companies and academics to test state-of-the-art propulsion engines - such as those intended to move small satellites around in space - at a more affordable rate than having to go abroad. The facility will also allow new types of more sustainable propellant to be tested, such as hydrogen peroxide and liquid oxygen, which are more environmentally friendly in sourcing, storage and combustion.

Based at the Westcott Space Cluster in Aylesbury Vale Enterprise Zone, the new National Space Propulsion Test Facility (NSPTF) is the only facility of its kind in the UK. The UK Space Agency gave £4m in funding for the test centre, which is one of only three in the world and will create around 60 jobs.

Until now, companies were able to test extremely small engines in the UK, but had to go overseas to test bigger engines. The new facility is intended to remove this hurdle and help grow the UK’s space industry.

Solloway said: "We are investing in our brightest space scientists, the facilities they work in and the technologies they are creating. This pioneering facility will support our ambitious space businesses, enabling them to undertake complex spacecraft engine testing, while boosting the local economy by creating highly skilled jobs".

Rob Selby, vice president, Nammo Space - the company that will operate the facility's equipment - said: "Thanks to this key UK government investment, UK space can now compete favourably with the very best rocket test facilities in the world. The Nammo team have designed, created and produced this phenomenal, state-of-the-art hot-fire test facility that is already driving further growth in UK-based spacecraft propulsion businesses. We look forward to testing engines for customers from all over the globe and to further key developments that the NSPTF will enable".

The engine tests work by firing the engine up in a vacuum, with a mechanical pump system generating a vacuum down to 1.5 milliBar in a test cell containing the engine. This is an equivalent test altitude of approximately 140,000ft, which ensures technology can be deemed ready for the space environment.

When firing, the pressure of the engine’s exhaust plume is partially recovered by a 7-metre-long supersonic diffuser. The rocket plume intercooler developed by Reaction Engines will remove heat generated from the rocket exhaust plume and allow the vacuum pumps to operate and maintain the simulated high-altitude conditions. This means the intercooler will cool exhaust temperatures in excess of 2,000°C to less than 50°C in a fraction of a second, at less than one metre’s distance. The gases then travel along a vacuum manifold to be recovered to ambient pressure by the pump system in the vacuum generation plant.

It is anticipated that this range of engine testing will allow further innovation for the type of orbit-raising and station-keeping engines the facility will be able to test. It is the first step in a plan to test larger engine types.

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