Interview Edinburgh-based Skyrora launched its two-stage Skylark Micro rocket from Iceland over the weekend. The Register spoke to business operations manager Derek Harris about the mission and what comes next.
We spoke to Skyrora almost exactly a year ago as the company was exhibiting its Skylark Nano at the Bayes Centre during 2019's Edinburgh Art Festival. Since then it has launched the Nano a third time and performed a static fire of its liquid-fuelled sub-orbital Skylark L.
Last weekend was the turn of the Skylark Micro in Iceland as the company continued testing its avionics, processes, and procedures ahead of wheeling out the bigger beasts.
We have lift off! Skylark Micro Launch I has successfully been launched. Our tech team are now working on launch recovery. More photos and videos to follow!🚀#Launch#Rocket#Liftoff pic.twitter.com/dLwN6qSneQ— Skyrora (@Skyrora_Ltd) August 16, 2020
The mission launched successfully and climbed 26.86km in altitude before both stages were parachuted down to the sea.
While Skyrora was able to collect a large amount of telemetry streamed from the rocket during flight, recovery teams have so far been unable to recover the spent booster and sustainer stages.
As for why the Micro wasn't launched in Scotland, Harris said there was every chance the company might attempt a launch in the "near future" but for now was content to see the team set the "challenging" task of setting up a launch site in remote Iceland.
Although the weekend's shenanigans were overseas from the company's Edinburgh HQ, Harris also paid tribute to the UK authorities, including the UK Space Agency, responsible for putting together the regulatory framework to allow commercial launches from UK shores in the future. "It's a good, symbiotic relationship," he said.
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Skyrora CEO Volodymyr Levykin expressed gratitude, saying: "I could not be more thankful for Iceland putting the permit framework together in such a short period of time." Space Iceland was, after all, only founded in 2019.
The Iceland launch also demonstrated Skyrora's mobile launch infrastructure, something that featured with the static firing of the Skylark L.
"We don't want to prejudice any planning permissions that are going on with all the spaceports," Harris said, pointing out that the launch infrastructure for the Skylark L could fit into five containers and be set up in five days.
Another five days are required to tear down the thing afterwards: "We're not affecting the local environment, we'd not be leaving giant craters or burn marks," he added.
While the L only needs five containers of gear, the altogether more powerful (and orbital) XL will require between eight and ten, according to Harris. Still potentially mobile, he reckoned the infrastructure would likely be stored at a spaceport and wheeled out for launch. Proud of the team, Harris told us the experience of static-firing the L had shown that around seven days setup time would be needed for the XL, due to launch in 2023.
The L will be launching before that, and Harris told us that there were plans to make more of the sub-orbital booster, citing "a lot of interest from universities for the vehicle".
Which was part of the company's de-risking process ahead of the XL could become a commercial opportunity.
As for last weekend's mission, another in the company's stepwise efforts to test out the avionics and electronics to be used in bigger variants, Harris told us as far he was concerned the criteria for success was to demonstrate the setup of functioning launch operations in an entirely new area.
The fact the Micro also managed to rocket to nearly 30km in altitude is therefore, to our eyes, gravy. ®