At the bottom of a retired quarry in the Scottish county of Midlothian, the UK’s largest rocket engine testing facility has today opened for business.Edinburgh-based rocket company Skyrora aims to be the first company to launch an orbital mission from British soil later this year.
Back in May 2020 the company completed a vertical static fire test of its Skylark L rocket, which is only capable of sub-orbital flight and can carry a payload of just 60kg.That’s less than the average adult male weighs, even without a spacesuit, but enough for a very small satellite.
Skyrora completed a standing static fire test of its sub-orbital rocket in May 2020
But the company’s three-stage launch vehicle, known as Skyrora XL, which stands 23 metres tall and could be flown as early as this year, has a payload capacity of up to 315kg, which it could take into a sun-synchronous orbit.
The Skyrora XL uses specialist engines being developed in the Midlothian testing site. These 70kN bi-propellent engines emit half of the carbon emissions of engines that use liquid oxygen and kerosene by instead using a non-cryogenic propellant.
It comes as spaceports are currently under development in Scotland, Wales and in Cornwall as part of a recent government push to establish a British presence in the space industry.
The UK has only ever completed one orbital launch, of the Black Arrow rocket in 1971, which actually took off in Australia. The government cancelled that programme on economic grounds.Skyrora’s head of engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow, said: “The new purpose-built Midlothian site allows us to take direct charge of the development cycle in-house.”By reducing our reliance on third parties and cultivating specialist knowledge within the company, the Midlothian location gives us much closer control of the quality and rapid development of Skyrora XL as we prepare for its first demo launch.”The site also allows us to optimise our manufacturing processes, and to scale up launch vehicle production over the long term. This milestone was only made possible due to the dedication and talent of the Test Site Team.”
The facility in Scotland will be able to test rocket engines
The company’s founder and chief executive Volodymyr Levykin said: “Developing sovereign launch capability is of the utmost importance for the UK’s ability to claim a leadership position in the emerging new global space economy.”The importance of doing so “has only become more clear as we’ve seen the role played by space services in intelligence-gathering and security and defence during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine”, added Mr Levykin.Mr Levykin is a British citizen who was born in Ukraine. His family lives in the UK.”The opening of our Midlothian site means that Britain is another step closer to unlocking its launch capacity and potential to play a bigger role in the space economy,” he 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.”