WASHINGTON — Spanish launch vehicle startup PLD Space declared their first suborbital launch a success, clearing the way for development of an orbital launch vehicle.
At an Oct. 20 briefing, company executives said the Oct. 7 (local time) launch of its Miura 1 rocket from a Spanish government base met all their objectives, demonstrating key technologies for the Miura 5 vehicle.
“On our side, we conclude the launch was a success,” Raúl Torres, PLD Space chief executive and launch director, said through an interpreter at the briefing. The actual trajectory of the rocket, he said, closely followed the expected trajectory.
There had been some confusion at the time of the launch about that trajectory. The company had previously stated, including in a press kit distributed days before the launch, that Miura 1would fly to a peak altitude of 80 kilometers. The rocket, though, flew to only 46 kilometers.
Torres said that PLD Space had depressed the trajectory of the launch, lowering its peak altitude but extending its downrange distance, to avoid the risk of the rocket falling back on land if it suffered an in-flight failure.
“Up until the very last minute, we wondered which option we should follow,” he said. “The idea was to maximize security in the closer range,” such as the launch pad itself and nearby beaches. He said later in the briefing that the company decided to change the trajectory on “the last day” before launch.
That change, he emphasized, did not reflect any shortfall in the performance of the rocket. “The engine behavior was excellent. We are very confident in this,” he said. “The reality is that the rocket has done what it was supposed to do.”
There were some minor issues with the launch. Torres said there were some unanticipated oscillations in the rocket during the subsonic phase of its ascent. He said the rocket’s reaction control system worked harder than expected to counter rotation on the rocket from crosswinds.
PLD Space was also unable to recover the rocket after it splashed down in the planned location in the Atlantic. While the rocket’s reentry and descent, including parachute deployment, went as planned, the rocket hit the ocean laterally. Torres said that likely ruptured a fuel tank, causing a leak that let water inside and sank the rocket. There was no evidence that the rocket broke apart, he added.
With the success of Miura 1, company executives expressed confidence about moving on to the orbital Miura 5. “This makes my life easier on the commercial side of the business,” said Raúl Verdú, head of business development at PLD Space. He said the company is pursuing commercial opportunities for Miura 5 worth more than 320 million euros ($340 million), with the first binding launch agreements to be signed next year.
“We have many customers who want to buy Miura 5 and are encouraging us to launch Miura 5 into the market as soon as possible,” he said.
Torres said the company is well into development of Miura 5, although the first launch of the rocket, from a new pad it will build in French Guiana, is planned for no earlier than the first quarter of 2026.
Ezequiel Sánchez, executive president of PLD Space, stated that while the company developed Miura 1 for just under 30 million euros, it is not emphasizing price as it offers the Miura 5. “The reliability is going to be what the industry needs,” something he said was demonstrated by the success of the Miura 1 launch. “We can compete at the global level.”