Aerospace & Defence

Second stage static fire engine test moves Skyrora closer to UK launch

18th August 2022
Sheryl Miles

Skyrora has successfully completed the static fire test of the second stage of its flagship Skyrora XL orbital rocket.

Discover Space UK at Machrihanish Airbase hosted the biggest integrated stage test to be held in the UK since those of Black Arrow and Blue Streak in the 1970s.

Achieving this latest milestone moves Skyrora one crucial step closer to entering commercial operations, with an inaugural orbital launch scheduled for 2023 from the Saxa Vord Space Centre in northern Scotland.  

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! This hugely successful test was a definitive demonstration of our mobility and flexibility. Our Skyrora team went from clean tarmac to a full static fire test in just 2.5 days, bringing all the necessary equipment from our factory in Cumbernauld and test site near Gorebridge”.

The test involves hot firing the second stage engine to prove the vehicle’s operational capability for its intended payloads and ensure that its performance meets all the design requirements. It was successfully completed with all systems nominal throughout the 20-second burn and the single 70kN liquid engine operated within design margins and achieved the expected thrust.

Volodymyr Levykin, Founder and CEO of Skyrora, said: “With the UK striving to capture a 10% share of the global space market by 2030, the successful Skyrora XL second stage static fire test is the latest milestone reached to put Skyrora on track to become a key part of the UK’s new space industry as the first British company to conduct vertical launch from UK soil. Skyrora now has purpose-built rocket manufacturing and testing facilities in the UK – as well as the largest 3D printer of its kind, which we are using to produce rocket engine components. We recognise the value that a strong domestic space industry will bring to the UK, and we will continue to spearhead these efforts to make the UK a player to be reckoned with globally.”

The second stage was assembled at Skyrora’s recently-unveiled Cumbernauld manufacturing facility. Part of a three-stage launch vehicle, the second stage of Skyrora XL will start its engine at an altitude of approximately 62km before the third stage is fired at around 190km to achieve orbital velocity of 28,000km/h.

Skyrora previously tested the third stage of its XL launch vehicle in December 2020, setting the mark for the first integrated stage test by a commercial launch vehicle developer in the UK. The first stage of Skyrora XL is currently in construction, with hot fire tests due to take place in mid-2023.

Discover Space UK at Machrihanish Airbase in Scotland proved an ideal test site given its geographical advantages and historical links. As a former military base, the site hosted a US Air Force detachment of strategic bombers during WW2 and was used by RAF and NATO air forces until 1997. The airstrip at Machrihanish was also a designated emergency landing site during NASA’s space shuttle era.

The completion of the second stage static fire tests marks a key milestone achievement for Skyrora under its Boost! co-funding agreement with the European Space Agency, supported by the UK Space Agency.

Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said: “It’s exciting to see Skyrora complete these static fire engine tests, building on the successful opening of its new production facility in Cumbernauld. As we soar towards the UK’s first commercial space launches, these achievements showcase our rapidly growing capabilities, and the increasing range of expertise that can make the UK a highly attractive destination for launch activities in Europe. We’ll continue to support the development of new launch infrastructure and technology and look forward to following the next steps of Skyrora’s journey to orbit.”

Thilo Kranz, Commercial Space Transportation Programme Manager at the European Space Agency, said: “It has been excellent to witness the successful second stage test for the Skyrora XL launch vehicle. This test is also an important step towards ESA's objective of fostering new commercial European launch services to become available in the near future. Congratulations to the whole Skyrora team!”

Andy Grey, Member of the Board at Discover Space UK, said: “Discover Space UK is delighted to host exciting companies such as Skyrora who are developing new capabilities within the UK’s emerging spaceflight industry, as part of UK ambitions to be a science and technology superpower. DSUK wants to see the future of science and industry coming to Machrihanish and benefiting from our fantastic infrastructure and landscape.”

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