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Skyrora completes ‘full mission’ static test of British-built XL rocket

Professional Engineering

The static fire of the Skyrora XL upper stage took place in Fife, Scotland (Credit: Skyrora)
The static fire of the Skyrora XL upper stage took place in Fife, Scotland (Credit: Skyrora)

The upper stage of a British-built orbital rocket has successfully undergone a full static fire test, burning for the full duration of a potential launch.

Edinburgh firm Skyrora confirmed the success today (11 January), following the test on 23 December last year.

Described by the company as a significant milestone for itself and the UK space industry, the test of the upper stage of the orbital-class Skyrora XL involved a fully-integrated set-up of the engine, feed systems, avionics and software. The static fire test in Fife, Scotland, lasted for seven-and-a-half minutes over three firings.

The test verified the engine and fluid systems, flight software and vehicle structure as it performed a full set of engine burns and vehicle manoeuvres that simulated the flight of the upper stage in orbit.

The third stage vehicle “has capabilities way beyond just transporting its payload into orbit,” the company said. The orbital transfer vehicle is designed to perform a number of in-space missions after delivering a payload, including replacement of redundant satellites or even removal of space debris.

Astronaut Tim Peake praised the successful test, saying: “It's fantastic that companies such as Skyrora are persisting in their ambition to make the UK a ‘launch state’. By driving forward and constantly investing in their engineering capabilities, the UK continues to benefit from these impressive milestones achieved. In undertaking a full fire test of their third stage, which fulfils the function of an orbital manoeuvring vehicle capable of delivering satellites into precision orbits, Skyrora is one step closer to launch readiness.”

By carrying out several missions with one launch, Skyrora aims to minimise negative impact on the local launch environment. The vehicle will also use Ecosene, a high-grade kerosene made from plastic waste.

The upper stage is powered by a 3D-printed 3.5kN liquid engine. Orientation control is provided by engine gimballing and cold gas thrusters. The main structure and tanks are made of carbon fibre, making it extremely light and therefore reducing the quantity of fuel required for a mission.

Skyrora CEO Volodymyr Levykin said: “Our goal was always to be mission-ready once all the regulations and permissions were in place, and this development not only brings us closer to that point, but also takes us beyond simply launch readiness. We have been deliberately quiet about this aspect of our Skyrora XL launch vehicle as we had technical challenges to get it to this stage, and we wanted to ensure all tests had a satisfactory outcome, which they now have.”

He added: “It’s important to show that even in these challenging times we are still a nation that continues to innovate and take the lead in some of our most lofty ambitions.

“We aim not only to conduct efficient launches from UK soil in the most environmentally-friendly way, but ensure that each single launch mission has the possibility of conducting the level of work that would have historically taken multiple launches. With this approach, we enter a whole new level of efficiency with full consideration of environmental impact taken into account.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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