UK-Ukrainian launch vehicle developer Skyrora to establish smallsat launch site

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WARSAW, Poland — U.K.-based Skyrora has unveiled plans to host a suborbital test flight in the fourth quarter of 2018. As part of its strategy to meet the rising demand for small satellite launches in a cost-effective manner, the company aims to set up a facility to launch smallsats from Scotland.

Daniel Smith, business development manager at Skyrora, tells SpaceNews that the company is in the process of finalizing the suborbital build and will be testing its engine in the U.K. during the first quarter of 2018.

“Things are moving very rapidly at this point. We’ve already 3D-printed various parts of our sub-orbital test vehicle and are in advanced talks about testing our engines here in Britain. We expect to grow our U.K. team substantially in Q1 2018, particularly on the manufacturing side of the business,” Smith said.

Under the plan, the Skyrora 1 suborbital launch vehicle is to be capable of generating 30 kN of thrust at sea level, according to data from the vehicle developer. Skyrora’s engines use green hydrogen peroxide oxidizer to limit their impact on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Ukrainian hub

Skyrora owns facilities in Scotland’s Edinburgh and Glasgow and operates a research and development (R&D) facility in Dnipro, Ukraine. The London-based company says this allows it to keep Skyrora’s operational costs at a competitive level, but also benefit from the Ukraine’s space industry know-how and its qualified workforce.

“As a British company, it’s helpful [for us] to have access to Ukrainian knowledge that can support our activity,” Smith said. “We outsource some design tasks to a team over there that has a mixture of real launch experience and young dynamic university graduates. It’s factors like this and our private ownership that give our business an edge in the U.K. market, allowing us to move confidently at our own speed.”

According to the company representative, the next steps for Skyrora are to move towards expanding its presence in the U.K. and “show that our technology will enable the country to capture a larger part of the global space market.”

British experiences

Skyrora’s rockets run on hydrogen peroxide and kerosene. In this respect, the company is following in the steps of the U.K,’s Black Arrow, the program that allowed London to launch its first rocket in October 1971, orbiting the Prospero satellite. The launch from Woomera Test Range in southern Australia represented a major milestone for the country’s space industry, as it enabled the U.K. to become the sixth nation worldwide capable of launching its own satellites. This said, London had already canceled the carrier rocket program by the time the mission took place.

Smith confirms that the company is drawing from the experiences of the U.K. space industry and says he finds pride in the fact that “we’re using the same propellant as Black Arrow did and essentially combining their successfully proven, 50-year-old ideas with today’s most advanced technology.”

Skyrora says its use of Black Arrow-inspired technology will also allow the company to reduce the cost of space launches.

“Our decision to use hydrogen peroxide and kerosene came about for a variety of reasons, and we do appreciate the link with Black Arrow and feel a certain sentimental connection to that project,” according to Smith. “We’re actually planning to sponsor the build of a full-size replica Black Arrow for the Wight Aviation Museum, as we’d like to help ensure that future generations are aware of the fascinating story of Britain’s first and only satellite launcher to date.”