PLD Space signs 25-year lease at Spanish airport for engine test facilities

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WASHINGTON — Spanish launch startup PLD Space plans to quadruple the size of its engine test facility at Spain’s Teruel Airport following a new 25-year lease that began this month.

The long-term lease enables the company to upgrade systems in preparation for hot fire tests lasting up to four minutes — enough to do full mission duration tests for the Arion 1 reusable suborbital launcher whose first mission is planned for next year, PLD Space chief executive Raúl Torres told SpaceNews Aug. 6 by email.

PLD Space has been at the Teruel Airport since 2014, but infrastructure limitations, namely with propellant tank accommodations, mean the company’s longest hot firing to date has been 30 seconds, Torres said. The airport, midway between Barcelona and Madrid, is about 350 kilometers north of PLD’s Elche, Spain, headquarters.

Torres said PLD Space intends to build additional support infrastructure for larger propellant tanks supporting its Teprel-1B liquid oxygen and kerosene engine. Teprel-1B powers the first stage of Arion 1, a rocket designed to carry up to 100 kilograms over the Karman Line and return via water landings with parachutes slowing the vehicle’s descent.

“The goal is to qualify the complete stage of ARION 1 in static in a full mission duration hot test with the avionics and flight software integrated,” he said.

In a press release, PLD Space said it intends to invest more than 1 million euros ($1.16 million) in new infrastructure at the airport. The lease includes an option for an additional 10-year extension, according to the company.

Torres said PLD Space plans to build a new multi-purpose test bench for stage structural testing and turbopump testing, a mission control room for different test benches, and an integration hangar for rocket engines. PLD Space builds the engines at its headquarters along Spain’s Mediterranean coast.  

Teruel Airport is providing more than 13,000 square meters of land for PLD Space.

The airport supports airplane maintenance and overhauling activities. It does not have passenger aircraft flying from it today, though it does have plans for small commercial flights in the future. Torres said PLD Space is not concerned such activities will limit engine test operations.

“[I]nstitutional support from both regional institutions and Aragon Government is enormous and we are very pleased with their interest on helping us to grow in Teruel,” he said. “I am quite confident [we have] a good relationship for the future.”

PLD Space has raised 18 million euros to date, and is currently building its first two Arion 1 suborbital rockets. The company has plans for an orbital rocket called Arion 2, for which the European Space Agency is helping study. Torres said PLD Space plans to soon start building a test bench for the Arion 2 rocket at the Teruel Airport as well.