Cranfield University




Cranfield University is a research-based post-graduate university specialising in science, engineering technology and management. It focusses on specific domains such as aerospace, energy and manufacturing. It has two campuses: the main one is located at Cranfield, Bedfordshire; and the second is the Defence Academy of the UK based at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire. The main campus uniquely boasts an operational airport, Cranfield Airport, adjacent to it, which is used by the University's own aircraft for aerospace teaching and research. In 2016 Cranfield celebrates its 70th anniversary, and Cranfield’s Space Group its 30th anniversary. The University started as the College of Aeronautics at RAF Cranfield in 1946, later becoming the Cranfield Institute of Technology in 1969, and finally becoming Cranfield University in 1993. The Shrivenham campus was previously the Royal Military College of Science, later becoming the Defence College of Management and Technology, and finally in 2009 being known by its present name ‘Cranfield Defence and Security’. The main Cranfield campus hosts the Space Research Centre, where most space-related research activities take place. The Shrivenham campus has an active propellant research group which is relevant to space rocket engines, as well as expertise in subjects such as radar, sensing and autonomy.

Ballistics and Combustion Laboratory

This facility researches propellant combustion chemistry, laser ignition mechanisms of propellants, propellant ballistics, and ballistic modifier chemistry. Facilities include laser ignition and propellant closed-vessel testing​​​.

Characterisation and Ageing Laboratory

This laboratory specialises in the chemistry and thermal decomposition of nitrocellulose and nitrocellulose-based propellants, but including all aspects of solid propellant characterisation. Facilities include: chromatography, mass spectrometry, RAMAN spectroscopy, FTIR spectroscopy, UV-Vis spectroscopy and many other specialised test facilities.​​

Other facilities for space research

Cranfield University has notable world-class facilities in some areas relevant to space engineering: · Ultra-precision surface manufacturing and metrology: Cranfield has world-leading capabilities in ultra-precision engineering. Its facilities were recently used to manufacture and test optical surfaces for the James Webb space telescope · Off-road vehicle testing facility (e.g. for planetary rover development and test) · Bioscience laboratories supporting Space Biotechnology activities · UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle): extensive expertise in UAV / aerobot development and operations · In addition to these there are other facilities which are of national importance: · Ground-based radar for field experiments (Shrivenham) · Material science analytical tools · Engineering photonics: optical measurement facilities · Hyper / high velocity impact · Space propulsion: a bi-propellant test rig is being developed for research and teaching, and will be operated in collaboration with the national centre of propulsion expertise at Westcott​​.​​​

Synthesis and Formulation Laboratory

This facility specialises in the synthesis of binders and energetic materials to create advanced propellants, supported by a number of specialist synthetic chemistry facilities​​​.

Thermo-Mechanical Laboratory

This laboratory investigates the material and chemical properties of propellant materials to support physical/chemical ageing models. Facilities within the laboratory include: DSC, TGA, DMA, mechanical testing with high and low temperature heating control, rheometry, micro/nano hardness, CTE, SEM and optical microscopy, and CT X-ray analysis.​​​​​​​​

Cranfield expects to continue using a mix of its own facilities and specialist facilities at other organisations, since collaborations bring benefits to both partners. The University integrates its research and teaching and sees great value in exposing students to the practical aspects of test campaigns with space hardware. This is being developed in areas of mechanical testing (mechanisms, vibration, thermal / vacuum), space propulsion, and ground station operations.

As with all space organisations a balance must be made between the costs and benefits of acquiring, operating and supporting in-house test facilities against collaborating with other organisations to gain access as needed. 

At national level Cranfield supports the development of centralised, specialist facilities for space technology where these enable world-class payloads and satellites to be developed by UK companies, research organisations and universities. Ensuring open access with transparent governance and charging is important in building a healthy user community. Mechanisms to improve access to national-class facilities which may be dispersed among a range of organisations are also of benefit.​