Sheffield research to help China's space plan

Updated: 2016-09-28 16:29

By CECILY LIU(China Daily UK)

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Sheffield, once known for its steel industry, is now using its strengths in advanced manufacturing research to help China's ambitious space program, following a deal signed on Monday in Shanghai.

The University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre is to establish a joint research institute with the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.

This will help the academy to overcome technical issues associated with developing thin-walled structures for commercial rockets, as part of its Tiangong Space Station project.

Scheduled for launch in 2020, the space station is designed to be a third-generation facility of comparable size and weight to the Russian Mir space stations of the 1980s and 1990s.

China has already launched two space laboratories, Tiangong 1 and Tiangong 2, and the third, Tiangong 3, will continue to develop these technologies. The Tiangong Space Station will support three astronauts for long-term missions.

But the UK academics have ambitions beyond the initial research, and want to help British firms to join the supply chain of the Tiangong Space Station, to win new contracts and create jobs.

John Baragwanath, executive director of the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, said, "There is an opportunity to work on the design and manufacture of parts for the station, which are generally strong but lightweight.

"Working on 'lightweighting' and manufacturing with strong lightweight materials such as titanium and composites is one of our specialties. We hope that our involvement in international projects like this will help companies in the region to become involved in space projects."

As part of the collaboration, the Shanghai academy will send academic and commercial staff members to receive training at the research center, and some China Scholarship Council students will be offered opportunities to study for their PhDs in Sheffield.

Meng Guang, a professor and vice-principal of the academy, said, "I feel confident that our joint research initiatives will lead to significant advances in our human and technical capabilities."

Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said he is glad to see the two institutes collaborating effectively on technical solutions to complex aerospace issues.

"This is a priority area for China as announced by President Xi Jinping, and also one of longstanding expertise at the University of Sheffield. We see tremendous potential for companies and products in both countries," Burnett said.

The agreement is the latest development amid surging scientific collaboration between the two countries.

This has grown rapidly since 2014,when the two governments launched the UK-China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund, also known as the Newton Fund, which has committed 200 million pounds ($259 million) to UK-China scientific collaboration.

The momentum in bilateral scientific collaboration has been further boosted by a visit to China by Britain's Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Jo Johnson.

Johnson said at the UK China Innovation is GREAT Showcase in Shanghai last week, "The future of science depends on collaboration and sharing expertise, and China is an important science partner for the UK."