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The University of Southampton

Smallspark collaboration will use AI to optimise aerostructure designs

Published: 21 April 2020
Smallspark propolsion engine
Southampton will use AI and algorithms to shape objects to improve the design of Smallspark rockets.

Cardiff-based Smallspark Space Systems has signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme to access funding for a major project that will develop new software to improve the performance of its aerostructures and propulsion systems.

The project will enable Smallspark to collaborate with SPRINT partner, the University of Southampton, to use artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in the design of its low-cost rocket engines for high performance and cost-effective small satellite launches in the UK. Smallspark will also be using its software to assist in the design of a variety of its other launch systems.

Through a combination of its engine design capabilities and the mathematical expertise of the University of Southampton’s Operational Research group, Smallspark will be developing its own artificial intelligence (named Moore AI after sculptor Henry Moore) to assist in the design of its novel combustion chamber architecture.

This will enable Smallspark to develop tools that will allow for the optimisation and design of the next generation of low-cost, ecologically safe, rapid response rocket engines for the MoD and those seeking to maintain telecom constellations. Smallspark will also be using its new software capabilities to work with industry partners to assist in improving the cost and efficiency of their aerosystems.

Professor Joerg Fliege, Head of Operational Research within Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton added: “Smallspark have presented us with a very challenging and unique problem; namely how we can use AI and algorithms to shape objects that will improve the design of their rockets.

“We use mathematics to understand real-world problems and to have a real-world impact," he continued. "By combining algorithmic optimisation and mathematical modelling, we can develop a solution that will help them to drive growth in the UK satellite launch market.”

The project will be funded by a grant from the £4.8 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. SPRINT helps businesses through the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

Joe Ward, Chief Executive Officer of Smallspark Space Systems said: “In the design of both our engines and our AI software, we’re taking a fundamentally different approach.  Aerospace and satellite companies are looking to decrease costs for small satellite launches whilst optimising the robustness and thrust of the rocket engines. This, and the geometry of combustion chambers present a series of unique challenges for engine manufacturers.

“The expertise in mathematical research at the University of Southampton will enable us to focus driving up performance while driving down our costs. This collaboration is the start of a long-term project that will go beyond SPRINT and that will position Smallspark as a leader for low-cost launches as the only company using architecture like this in the rocket engine market.”

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