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Industry Talk

Queen’s Award for Heathcoat Fabrics

DecelAir Superlight was designed to meet the strictest criteria for space exploration.

22nd April 2022

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Tiverton, Devon, United Kingdom

Transport/​Aerospace, Industrial

Tiverton, UK-based textile manufacturer Heathcoat Fabrics has been recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation.

This follows the company’s development of a high performance parachute fabric that has been an outstanding commercial success – not least delivering NASA’s Perseverance Rover onto the surface of Mars in February 2021.

This innovation has opened the door to other niche space exploration projects, including returning cargo and astronauts from the International Space Station and ensuring the safe splashdown of a capsule containing the first all-civilian team to orbit the Earth.

“The Heathcoat DecelAir Superlight fabric was designed to meet the strictest criteria for space exploration,” said managing director Cameron Harvie. “Innovation underpins the technical textiles we develop, with new opportunities frequently emerging in niche markets where needs are not met by existing methods and products.

The company makes hundreds of different fabrics for many markets, from apparel to automotive components, and has been a pioneer in manufacturing parachute fabrics since the 1930s.

Heathcoat’s parachute fabric delivered NASA’s Perseverance Rover onto the surface of Mars in February 2021. © Heathcoat Fabrics

“When we met NASA represntatives at a symposium in 2015, they saw the potential of a new fabric we had developed and we began trials a year later,” Harvie explained. “NASA’s standards have been challenging to say the least. The fabric needed to be twice the strength of standard fabric within a tight air-permeability window and able to withstand extended heat treatment. The fabric underwent a series of wind tunnel, land-based mortar and sounding rocket tests after which it was selected and used for the successful Mars mission. The fabric even needed to be baked before any rocket was launched, to avoid sending bacteria or micro-organisms to another planet.

“By the nature of the yarn, it is difficult to weave and finish, and it needs to be perfect. There is no second chance opportunity on landing a multi-million dollar space probe. From our investment in high quality looms to the chemistry developed to give the fabric its specific properties, this has been a huge task over a number of years.”

The Heathcoat brand has historically been recognised for highest quality in textiles. This includes providing the veiling fabric for Queen Elizabeth’s royal wedding in 1947, and it is fitting that in her jubilee year that she has personally approved the  Queen’s Award for Innovation.”

Peter Hill, director of woven fabrics and technical director Richard Crane have steered a team that centred around three female development engineers – Eleanor Newsome, Lotte De Leeuw and Nicola Willey.

Newsome was instrumental in creating the original concept fabrics for NASA and developing the final product used for Mars2020. She is now leading a development team for automotive and industrial belting fabrics with a focus on achieving energy-saving in drive systems.

 Heathcoat Fabrics is among a list of 51 companies who have received the innovation award in 2022.

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