UK's first complete rocket test in 50 years takes place in Scotland

Skyrora’s Skylark L rocket was sent from a mobile launch complex built in only five days

Adam Smith
Thursday 21 May 2020 10:42
Rocket test in Scottish Highlands hailed as milestone in UK’s ‘new space revolution’

The first complete ground rocket test in the UK for 50 years has happened in Scotland, with the test of private space company Skyrora’s Skylark L rocket.

In a post announcing the news, Skyrora said that the construction of the mobile launch complex and test had been completed in only five days, with the 11-meter long vehicle being sent from Kildemorie Estate in North Scotland.

The Skylark L rocket could be ready to launch from a British spaceport as early as spring 2021, the company said, with the hope that by starting with sub-orbital rockets it will be able to move to orbital rockets by 2023. The rocket can reach a height of approximately 100km, and carry a payload of up to 60kg.

“It is very hard to oversell what we have achieved here with this test; the whole team has pulled through again to deliver another UK first," said Dr Jack-James Marlow, who led the operations of Skylark L’s static fire testing.

"We have successfully static tested a fully integrated, sub-orbital Skylark L launch vehicle in flight configuration. This means we performed all actions of a launch but did not release the vehicle. The rocket engine successfully burned, with all vehicle systems showing nominal operation.”

Skyrora’s chief executive officer, Volodymyr Levykin said: “As the launch aspect of the UK’s new space industry starts to emerge, there will be many events that have never happened here previously and this is one of them. This was a mammoth effort in very trying circumstances, so it is quite an achievement to be proud of.”

The company claims this is the first static fire test of its magnitude since the Black Arrow Programme, a three-stage British satellite carrier rocket that was used for four launches between 1969 and 1971.

In September 1970, the Black Arrow attempted to carry a British satellite, Orba, into space, but failed to reach orbit. The next year, however, it did carry the Prospero satellite into space, which made the United Kingdom the sixth nation to place a satellite into orbit via a carrier rocket.

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