WASHINGTON — Spanish launch vehicle startup PLD Space has postponed a suborbital test flight to September after weather and a technical glitch scrubbed earlier launch attempts.
The company announced June 27 that the launch of its Miura 1 rocket from a military base in southwestern Spain would be rescheduled for some time in September. The company cited “obligatory compliance” with a Spanish law and military directive that restrict such activities to prevent wildfires.
PLD Space had planned to conduct the suborbital launch from the coastal facility operated by the government’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology in late May. However, it postponed a launch attempt May 31 in the hours before launch, blaming high upper-level winds that persisted for days.
The company geared up for a second attempt early June 17 (June 16 U.S. time). The countdown reached zero and the vehicle’s first-stage engine ignited, only to immediately shut down. PLD Space later said it aborted the launch because not all of the umbilical cables attached to the rocket’s avionics bay separated as required.
“Launching a rocket designed from scratch is a major challenge and we successfully completed 99.9% of all pre-launch procedures up to the countdown,” Raúl Torres, chief executive and co-founder of PLD Space, said in a statement about the launch delay. “The entire pre-launch phase was a resounding success, and we are very close to successfully launching Europe’s first reusable rocket.”
Miura 1 is a suborbital vehicle whose single stage is designed to splash down under a parachute and be recovered. It can carry up to 100 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 150 kilometers.
The vehicle is primarily a technology demonstrator for the company’s Miura 5 small launch vehicle, intended to place up to 500 kilograms into orbit starting as soon as 2025. “For every second Miura 1 is in the air, we will be learning and gathering data for the development of Miura 5,” Ezequiel Sanchez, executive president of PLD Space, said in a statement in May about the planned Miura 1 launch.
While Miura 1 remained on the launch pad, PLD Space has been making other progress on Miura 5. The company announced June 21 it signed a binding contract with the French space agency CNES to use the former Diamant launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, for Miura 5. The company previously announced its intent to launch from Kourou.
Under the agreement, CNES will be responsible for basic infrastructure like roads and utilities, while PLD Space will build its own launch facilities there. German launch vehicle developer Rocket Factory Augsburg also announced an agreement with CNES June 21 to use the Diamant site, which is intended to support multiple small launch vehicles.
PLD Space separately announced June 14 an agreement with Arianespace to study “possible future cooperation” on space transportation. Arianespace signed a similar agreement with Orbex, a U.K.-based small launch vehicle developer, June 13.
The agreements were somewhat surprising since Arianespace executives had previously expressed skepticism that there would be much demand for so-called “microlaunchers” like the Miura 5. It has focused its attention on the Vega C, with a substantially larger payload capacity than microlaunchers, and the far larger Ariane 6.
Pablo Gallego, senior vice president of sales and customers at PLD Space, suggested in a statement about the Arianespace agreement that his company could complement Arianespace’s offerings with launches of multiple smallsats to specific orbits. “A potential collaboration could facilitate solutions highly demanded by our customers, providing the smallsat community with the assurance to get to any orbit at any time.”