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Skyrora fires up second stage of XL rocket

First stage hot fire and launch from UK soil in 2023

Brit rocketeers Skyrora have perched a second stage of its orbital class Skyrora XL atop a stack of containers and performed a successful static fire test of the engine.

The test comes two years after the company live-tested a complete Skylark L. Testing of the engines powering the beefier Skylark XL have been ongoing; in May 2022 a 70kN rocket engine test was completed and documented, marking a key milestone in Skyrora's contract under the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support Programme (CSTS.) The third stage was tested in December 2020.

The latest test is, according to Skyrora, "the biggest integrated stage test to be held in the UK since those of Black Arrow and Blue Streak in the 1970s." The test consisted of a 20-second burn, during which the single 70kN liquid engine "operated within design margins and achieved the expected thrust."

Skyrora hopes to make a first orbital launch from Scotland's SaxaVord Space Port in 2023. While the launch date has yet to be set, the company did confirm that hot-fire tests of the first stage are due to take place in the middle of the year.

The XL is a three-stage vehicle. The first stage uses nine of the Skyforce engines, the second uses a single Skyforce engine (expected to produce 85kN of thrust in a vacuum), while the third stage, which can be reignited multiple times, uses one 3.5kN engine. The second stage should fire up at an altitude of approximately 62km and the third stage is started at around 190km.

The test site was located at Discover Space UK at Machrihanish Airbase in Scotland. As well as being a former military base, the airstrip at the site could also be used for an emergency landing of the Space Shuttle. RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire was, however, the only UK Transoceanic Abort Landing Site (required as an option should a launch need to be aborted).

Skyrora COO Col (USAF, Ret) and former SpaceX VP Lee Rosen said: "The static fire test looks, sounds and feels a lot like a rocket launch, but without lifting off!" before extolling the agility of the company to go from clean tarmac to a full test in two and a half days.

There is somewhat of a race under way between UK rocket companies. While Skyrora plans to launch from SaxaVord, a rival UK rocket builder, Forres-based Orbex, is eyeing Sutherland Space Hub for the launch of its Prime rocket. Both seem set to make orbital launch attempts before the end of 2023. ®

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