Scottish space upstart's rocket crashes into the drink

Never mind, still plenty of time to that 2023 orbital test

Scottish space startup Skyrora's first attempt to launch its Skylark L rocket ended in failure after it unexpectedly came crashing down into the Norwegian sea.

The Skylark L is a sub-orbital vehicle: it's designed to blast off vertically, is said to be capable of reaching speeds more than four times the speed of sound, and is supposed to reach 125 kilometers in altitude – but it cannot leave Earth's orbit. The flight demonstration carried out this month, from a mobile pad in in Langanes, Iceland, was intended to be a stepping stone to scaling up the design to a larger Skylark XL vehicle that can reach true orbit. 

Unfortunately, the first-ever launch of the smaller Skylark L didn't go according to plan. "The vehicle left the launch pad and experienced an anomaly, landing in the Norwegian Sea approximately 500 meters away from the launch site," Skyrora confirmed in a statement on Thursday.

"No people or wildlife were harmed in any way, and recovery of the vehicle is currently ongoing. Multiple tracking systems as well as boats and airplanes have been employed to optimize the recovery process."

You can get a look at the Skylark L on the launchpad, before that fateful blast-off, here:

Youtube Video

Skyrora, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, is hoping to launch a commercial rocket service flying modest payloads into low-Earth orbit. The Skylark XL will be a three-stage, light-class launch vehicle that will deliver spacecraft in sun-synchronous or polar orbits.

Around 70 per cent of the technology in the Skylark L launch attempt will be used in the systems of the Skylark XL rocket, we're told. Well, once it's all working, we assume.

Skyrora is aiming to achieve its first orbital launch in 2023. Volodymyr Levykin, founder and CEO, said the Skylark L rocket faced difficult weather conditions and its hardware had not been tested at low temperatures. Scientists and engineers are investigating the anomaly.

"With over three decades in the business, I can assure you that despite the best design, build, and test preparations, anomalies still unfortunately do happen, " Lee Rosen, Skyrora's chief operating officer, said. And yes, it's true, rocket development is complex and fraught with failure, so crashes and detonations are to be expected.

"Skyrora's launch attempt of Skylark L has provided the team with valuable experience in operations procedures, logistics coordination, and execution of the rapid setup and pack-down of our mobile launch complex, experience which will propel us forward monumentally in our mission to reach orbit," he added.

"Based on what we have achieved here," the CEO said, "we remain confident of achieving our objective of a full vertical orbital launch from UK soil in 2023.

In 2019, Skyrora launched a Skylark Micro rocket to just under 27km (88,500 ft). ®

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