Georgina Campbell talks to space scientist Mike Lawton

ONE entrepreneur is going to infinity and beyond with his 'disruptive' technology that will launch into space this summer.

Making one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind is Mike Lawton as his world-record breaking Astrotube boom will be sent into space from India in July.

The satellites with the retractable boom will measure the Earth's magnetic field.

The director and founder of Oxford Space Systems, which is based in Harwell Campus, said he was excited about the possibilities this could mean for further scientific discovery.

Having only started the company two and a half years ago, the 47-year-old said: "It is amazing the possibilities that space offers you.

"We have some of the best minds in the industry working on these technologies which are smaller and cheaper to send into space.

"Currently if you send a satellite into space it has to fit in the very tiny top part of the rocket.

"So size is extremely important, which is why we have created a satellite the size of a shoe box and our scientists and engineers have been working on a retractable boom which expands to four metres."

Oxford Space Systems designs and makes deployable structures for micro satellites, typically structures that unfold after the satellite has been shot into orbit.

The company specifically works with highly flexible composite materials such as carbon fibre.

Mr Lawton said the idea for micro satellites, also known as cube satellites, originated at Stanford University in the US about 15 years ago, but that the market for commercial applications was still nascent.

He added that whereas traditional satellites can be as big as a bus, take a decade to build, cost between £30m and £1bn, and last for 15 to 20 years at a high orbit, micro satellites are as small as a loaf of bread, take only a few weeks to build, cost about £30,000, and last for six months to a year at a low orbit.

The company received £1.2m of investment in August 2015, and was supported in its fundraising round by The Satellite Applications Catapult.

He said: "Sometimes its better to have someone like me, who does not have a scientific background to look at problems and create different ideas.

"I'm not bound at all by rules and theories and I can look at things in a different light, which is what we have done with our boom.

"We are disrupting technology, but in a positive way.

"If the launch of the boom and the data the satellite is not successful the first time, it doesn't matter.

"We've created a much, much cheaper product, so we can afford to test it and try it out to make it perfect.

"The trouble with the billion pound satellites is slow progress, it takes so long to make and build and they have to be so certain when they send it in space that it will work, otherwise that is so much money down the drain."

But this is not the first time Mr Lawton has tasted success.

Previously he has won Green Entrepreneur of the Year for India in 2009 and Entrepreneur of the Year in the Oxfordshire Business Awards in 2007.

Before embarking on his space mission he came to Oxford for his year in industry while as an electronic and software student at Plymouth University.

He said: "While I was in Oxford during my year in industry I was doing a lot of to-ing and frow-ing and I thought I do not want to spend all my money on fuel.

"I found in an article that a diesel engine had been designed to run on pure oil.

"And I thought as I was driving my old diesel car, I'm going to make it run on vegetable oil.

"And in the end I managed to drive it for nearly a year."

After his successful experiment, Mr Lawton decided to set up a company called Regenatec.

Mr Lawton added: "We managed to convince some farmers in India to grow a crops for us which we could harvest its oil for this fair trade fuel.

"I thought if we have fair trade clothes and food, why not have fair trade fuel."

Before coming to Harwell, Mr Lawton was born and raised in Plymouth, where he said his curiosity was encouraged by his parents and he credits his dad, Gordon Lawton, 85, to be one of his biggest inspirations.

He said: "I think it is probably my Dad.

"He never wrapped me up in cotton wool and always let me tinker and take apart things.

"I used to help him a lot with fixing up cars and I remember one day, when I was very young he was showing me how to use a soldering iron.

"I wasn't paying attention properly and I burnt myself.

"My Mum came home and couldn't believe he had let me use such a dangerous piece of equipment, but my Dad just said 'he's learned what he should not do.'

"I was very lucky to always be encouraged and let alone to experiment things, I remember one day I took apart our colour TV because I wanted to see how it worked."

And now Mr Lawton wants to spread the word to the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs.

He said: "I feel it is my moral obligation to engage with the younger generation and speak to them about these incredible opportunities.

"We need to keep encouraging them to be interested in starting a business, or becoming an engineer.

"It is more important than winning any award or accolade, because if we do not seize these young, imaginative minds, then boundaries will not be pushed and discovery will come to a halt."

But despite his success and enthusiasm for space, Mr Lawton said he was not one to stay with just one project at a time.

He said: "I always like to have different projects and ideas on the go - there is no point sitting still. I don't think I could ever do that.

"There is always something you can invent, which will improve human life and if we engage young people to think like that then it means discovery and innovation will never stop."