The Disruptors: Sky is not the limit for local aerospace business

Gravitilab employees in Badersfield, Norfolk preparing rocket

Gravitilab in Badersfield, Norfolk is developing products and services for space orbit - Credit: Archant

The Disruptors tells the stories of start-ups across East Anglia turning revolutionary ideas into reality. Technical director Rob Adlard explains how Gravitilab, based in Badersfield, is developing aerospace services that are out of this world.  

Tell us about Gravitilab. 

At Gravitilab, we are revolutionising the provision of research and testing services in space using innovative and sustainable drone and rocket technology. 

By offering new and flexible research and testing services, we’re setting higher standards for space flight, enabling scientific advancement and making space exploration more sustainable. Every element of our custom fleet has been designed with sustainability in mind – from cleaner propellants to reusable launch systems, and a clearly defined goal to reduce space debris. 

Gravitilab technical director Rob Adlard

Gravitilab technical director Rob Adlard - Credit: Archant

What business opportunities have you identified? 

Space access and microgravity access are plagued by long lead times and demand is stifled by constraints in supply. This creates a feedback loop whereby high costs then inhibit activity.  

For example, the only way to access suborbital flights historically has been through NASA or European Space Agency (ESA) programmes. These were available to a small number of academic institutions but with very restricted access to start-ups and SMEs (including many space pioneers).  

However, recent legislation passed in accordance with UK space sector growth targets means that spaceports are now under development and, for the first time ever, space launches can take place from within the UK. 

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How do you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market? 

Our proprietary designs produce two services which customers can
access at different times in their development cycle. 

First, our unique unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone system delivers quality microgravity for longer durations than many other low altitude services

Second, our bespoke rocket designs allow us to disrupt existing supply chains by providing much more flexibility and significantly lower costs. We are making space much more accessible with shorter lead times and more sustainable with reusable vehicles and more environmentally friendly fuels – all of which is part of our mission to democratise space. 

What challenges have you faced along the way? 

One of the problems we have with established space agencies (and to an extent government) is a lack of understanding for how quickly start-ups need to move. In the past, we have submitted grant applications for projects which we ended up completing by the time we received a response. Ironically, their feedback often referenced the fact that they thought our timelines were too ambitious! 

What are you most proud of? 

I’m extremely proud of our team. They are all bright, talented people who work extremely hard and show immense dedication to achieving our goals. We’ve got people from all over the globe – from Norfolk locals to people spanning four continents – all coming together at the Scottow Enterprise Park with a common purpose. 

What advice do you have for someone launching a disruptive start-up? 

Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Find something truly disruptive that makes sense to you and find the right collaborators to make it work. 

What are your plans for the future? 

Initially, we aim to help the UK deliver domestic space-launch capabilities, which would be a momentous achievement in itself. We have some very exciting developments about this to announce soon, so please look out for this over the next few days. 

Longer-term, we expect that space will be viewed as an infrastructure as disruptive as the internet – and that our model of ‘space as a service’ will be a great facilitator for the future.

For more information, please visit gravitilab.space

The Disruptors video series is produced in association with the University of East Anglia and the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor.

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