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Mysterious space plane launch, Rolls-Royce cuts and more: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

The mysterious X-37B space plane after landing from a previous mission (Credit: US Air Force)
The mysterious X-37B space plane after landing from a previous mission (Credit: US Air Force)

Rolls-Royce to cut 9,000 jobs


Rolls-Royce announced 9,000 job cuts, mainly affecting its civil aerospace division, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to severely limit international travel. Roughly two-thirds of its civil aerospace employees are in the UK.

In a separate statement, IMechE Aerospace Board chairman Andrew Bradley said: “The response of Rolls-Royce is likely to be mirrored in their supply chains and those of Boeing and Airbus so the overall effect on the industry is still emerging.

”The challenge for Rolls-Royce and these other companies is to ensure that they will be in a strong enough position financially, have capability in technology and retain sufficient skills to be able to resume growth though increasing capacity and offering new products when the market seeks them.”

Skyrora makes history with UK rocket fire test

Professional Engineering

A full-size rocket has successfully carried out all actions needed to reach space, in the first vertical static fire test of its magnitude in the UK for 50 years. Scottish firm Skyrora said the Skylark-L rocket, the first of its kind since the Black Arrow programme, could be ready to launch from British soil as early as spring 2021 – although the required spaceport infrastructure is not expected to be ready by then.

Mysterious X-37B space plane returns to orbit

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Space Force launched its mysterious X-37B into orbit for its sixth mission. The craft’s full capabilities and purpose are shrouded in secrecy, but disclosed experiments on this flight include harvesting solar energy and beaming it to Earth in the form of microwaves, and a small satellite known as FalconSat-8.

Carbon capture and storage potential


The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reportedly found that the world has more capacity for carbon capture and storage than needed to meet climate change targets. Potential storage space – such as large underground reservoirs – could hold more than 10,000 gigatonnes of CO2, but the panel said no more than 2,700 gigatonnes is needed.

GKN Aerospace joins Eviation Alice electric plane project

Professional Engineering

Electric plane pioneer Eviation has signed a collaboration agreement with GKN Aerospace for the design and manufacture of wing, tail assembly and electrical wiring interconnection systems for its Alice aircraft. The nine-seater plane has a forecast range of 1,000km with 45-minute battery reserves left over, making it suitable for regional routes. A prototype of the cutting-edge aircraft was damaged in a fire in January.

Firms collaborate on battery ‘gigafactory’ plans

The Engineer

AMTE Power and Britishvolt have signed a memorandum of understanding to plan the construction of a giant UK factory for the production of lithium-ion batteries. The start-ups aim to annually manufacture 30 gigawatt hours-worth of batteries for the domestic market.

Medium-duration energy storage is vital for ‘net zero’

Professional Engineering

In future ‘net zero’ energy systems, energy storage will be required over a vast range of discharge times – from less than one-tenth of a second to more than a year. Medium-duration energy storage will be required to do the heavy lifting, says Professor Seamus Garvey from the University of Nottingham in this exclusive Professional Engineering article.

Protolabs to boost 3D printing capacity by 50%

The Manufacturer

Protolabs is building a new £10.5m production facility in Putzbrunn, Germany. The digital manufacturing specialist aims to increase its 3D printing capacity by 50% to meet growing demand.

Nylon carbon fibre printer makes strong and light parts for drones and robots

Professional Engineering

Two new 3D printers that print carbon fibre-reinforced material will make composite 3D printing more accessible and open the doors to new applications, their creators have said. Drone companies and firms using robotic arms are among the first users and potential customers for the Method Carbon Fiber editions from MakerBot. As well as high strength and heat resistance, printed parts offer lightweight and customisable alternatives to metal.

Graphene solar sails show potential

The Engineer

Graphene solar sails could one day propel spacecraft to other star systems, after a European Space Agency-supported project found the material accelerated while a laser was shone on it in freefall. Craft could have kilometre-wide sails, said Santiago Cartamil-Bueno, leader of the GrapheneSail team – but deploying them would be a big challenge.

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