Sacramento, Calif.-based Aerojet is forming a European subsidiary that will use local manufacturing and engineering talent to produce in-space thrusters and propulsion systems.

The new entity, European Space Propulsion, will be based in Northern Ireland. Work is to be conducted jointly with Thales Air Defence Ltd. of Belfast, a division of Thales UK, which will provide manufacturing assembly and test capabilities. Aerojet will furnish engineering-support services through its Redmond, Washington, operations.

“By forming a European subsidiary, we can best serve the needs of a growing worldwide space industry with state-of-the-art propulsion solutions,” says Rick Yezzi, Aerojet’s vice president of business development. “We look forward to becoming a full participant in the European space community.” A memorandum of understanding between the two companies paves the way for detailed planning of production, research, development and test facilities.

Construction is expected to begin in early fall, pending license approvals from the U.S. State Department, which regulates the export of space and defense technologies and know-how through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Initial operational capability is planned to occur by yearend.

“We are extremely pleased to provide our high-precision, lean aerospace manufacturing capabilities for this exciting new venture,” says Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK. “By working together, Aerojet and Thales UK plan to bring a leading space company to Northern Ireland.”

The company expects its workforce to grow over time, starting with “tens of employees in the first few years” producing a combination of licensed Aerojet products, unique systems and potentially new products, according to Aerojet spokesman Glenn Mahone. “Growth plans are phased and will drive facility needs and size,” Mahone says.