The award comes at the end of a landmark year for the QinetiQ ion propulsion team which saw the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) GOCE Spacecraft become the first to launch with QinetiQ’s T5 ion thrusters on board and QinetiQ begin work supplying advanced T6 thrusters for ESA’s future BepiColombo mission to Mercury.
“We knew about the nomination but winning the award came as a complete surprise to all of us,” commented the team’s Chief engineer, Neil Wallace, as he accepted the award. “It was a great team effort and reflects the hard work of many individuals for almost 20 years.”
He added: “2009 was a busy and exciting year for the Ion Engine Team and we’re thrilled to have our work on the GOCE and BepiColombo spacecraft recognised with this award. Electric propulsion will make spacecraft and satellites lighter, allowing more weight for the real payload, and we are delighted to be at the leading edge of this technology.”
The Sir Arthur Clarke Awards are presented annually at the climax of the UK Space Conference to honour those who have done the most to further the field of space exploration in the past year.
Previous winners have included the ESA ATV team, responsible for creating the Spacecraft which keeps supplies flowing to the International Space Station and the Huygens team which landed the first spacecraft on Saturn’s moon, Titan. QinetiQ beat off fierce competition from fellow nominees SSTL and ESA to win this year’s honour.
Chair of the judging panel, Dr. Lesley Wright said that “This was an outstanding achievement by the QinetiQ team which the judges view as a significant contribution to space exploration.”
The T5 and T6 ion thrusters developed by QinetiQ are ten times more efficient than the chemical engines traditionally used to propel spacecraft making some deep space missions possible for the first time. For ESA’s Bepi Colombo mission to Mercury, the engines make the mission possible by counteracting the sun’s gravitational pull.