UK space firm Skyrora opens rocket testing site in Scotland

Brit rocketeers get ever closer to that first launch from UK soil

A space race of a sort in the UK has picked up pace in recent weeks, as aerospace company Orbex showed off its Kinloss launchpad in February and Skyrora this week opened its Midlothian rocket engine testing facility.

The facility was brought into service in less than six months and Skyrora paid tribute to the European Space Agency (ESA) for a grant awarded in 2021 which, in part, funded the construction of the site.

The ESA grant was part of a plan to foster new commercial space transportation services – which seems a good idea considering the current political situation and the fact that commercial satellite firms are finding themselves scrambling for alternatives to the space launch services provided by Russia's Soyuz rockets.

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On test is Skyrora's 70kN bi-propellant engine, nine of which power the first stage of the three-stage Skyrora XL rocket, which the company hopes to launch from UK soil this year.

The payload mass of the 22.7 metre Skyrora XL is up to 315kg, depending on the orbit required, so it's not a direct replacement for some of the heftier Russian rockets that are no longer accessible to many spacecraft builders and operators. However, the current global situation has demonstrated the benefits of space-based assets and focused attention on a domestic launch capability for the UK.

Noting the conflict in Ukraine, Skyrora founder and CEO Volodymyr Levykin said: "We would usually have the entire Skyrora family here to celebrate such an achievement, but unfortunately, our Ukrainian colleagues can't be with us.

"Without them, this feat of engineering wouldn’t have been possible and I’m sure that we’ll be able to celebrate with them again very soon."

Indeed, Skyrora has a subsidiary centre located in Dnipro. The central-eastern city in Ukraine has been targeted by Russian air strikes, according to reports. Dnipro played a major role in rocketry from the Soviet era to the present day, making it a prime location for a space startup looking to leverage talent. However, in more recent times Levykin has understandably been more concerned about how best to help the company's Ukrainian employees.

Skyrora's facility, located over a disused quarry, consists of three test stands and can accommodate up to 20 staff. It is also the largest of its kind in the UK, according to company.

While Skyrora continues to test its engines, another UK-based rocketeer Orbex has erected a launchpad at its test site in Kinloss, Scotland.

Dubbed "LP1," the pad is designed to allow the company to perform complete dress rehearsals of its own launcher, Orbex Prime, which will be capable of launching small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. Launches are eventually expected to take place from Space Hub Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands.

The company followed up its Kinloss adventure with a visit by UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate and deputy CEO Ian Annett to its Forres headquarters. ®

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