A SPACE company could help create up to 100 jobs thanks to a rocket project, it has been claimed.

Scoutek Limited is working on a mission to send scores of tiny satellites into space.

Boss Shaun Whitehead says the business has joined forces with Teesside University to develop a low-cost rocket, known as a StratoBooster.

Mr Whitehead says the rocket will launch miniscule femtosatellites, called ThumbSats, which will allow scientists to send their experiments into orbit.

He added it will be the first civilian space mission to launch in the UK – and believes its work could pave the way for the creation of 100 spin-off jobs and around £10m in revenue over the next five years.

Mr Whitehead, who grew up dreaming of becoming an astronaut, has worked closely with the North-East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, supported by Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham, and will be speaking at their space conference next month.

Scoutek, based in Saltburn, east Cleveland, has earmarked NetPark, in Sedgefield, County Durham, as one of four possible sites from which to launch its first, unfuelled test rocket next month as part of the Tu2space project.

A ThumbSat is no larger than a human thumb yet features a high-definition camera, a variety of lenses than can act as both microscopes and telescopes, and a sophisticated onboard computer.

Mr Whitehead said: “The rocket needed to put ThumbSat into space is no taller than a piece of A4 paper, and we can launch that on a meteorological balloon.

“This will be the first civilian space mission to launch from UK soil and Teesside University will have the first student team in the world to put a rocket into space.”

The tiny satellites, which are being made and tested in the US and Mexico and are expected to fly on a Mexican Space Agency mission in the coming months, will allow professional and amateur scientists to send experiments into space.

Scoutek will provide a full service, helping to build the micro-experiments to fit on ThumbSat, launch them into space and then collect data from numerous ground stations around the world.

The company has already designed the software defined radios required at ground level to collect the data.

Mr Whitehead, who designed his first rocket aged ten, added: “Everything that is required for a ground station system can be done in the North-East and Scoutek wants to bring as much of it to the region as possible.

“While Scoutek won’t do this in-house, we expect 100 jobs will be created in the North-East because of the work we are doing.”

To support its work, Scoutek was awarded a place on Business Durham’s space incubation programme, backed by the UK Space Agency.

Catherine Johns, innovation director of Business Durham, said: “The work Scoutek is doing is incredibly exciting, both for those involved and for those watching and waiting for this first rocket launch here in the North-East.

“Scoutek is one of a growing number of companies making great strides in the region’s space and satellite industry, and behind these great companies is the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence.”

The Centre of Excellence, co-funded by the Satellite Applications Catapult and the UK Space Agency and managed by Business Durham, is hosting its annual space conference in Durham on March 22.