Skyrora reveal new UK-built vehicle in live test

On 23rd December 2020 the Skyrora test and flight operations team performed one of their most important test campaigns to date, a full upper stage static fire test, at their engine development complex in Fife, Scotland. This historic event represents yet another significant milestone in the Edinburgh-based rocket manufacturer’s development plan. In fact, it is a crucial milestone for the entire UK space industry.

The company unveiled their latest technical accomplishment with a full mission duration static fire test (450 second burn over 3 firings) of the upper stage of their orbital-class vehicle, Skyrora XL. The test involved a fully-integrated setup of the engine, feed systems, avionics, and the software.

This third stage vehicle has capabilities way beyond just transporting its payload into orbit. It is a full mission-ready Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) that can perform a number of in-space missions once it has delivered its payload including the replacement of redundant satellites or even the removal of space debris.

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.

With the current climate and a real shortage of good news, we feel it is the right time to share this with the world.

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”.

This level of functionality comes into its own when we look at the growing number of large constellations entering orbit. With OneWeb looking to launch over 600 smallsats as part of their internet connectivity mission and SpaceX looking to build a Starlink constellation of 42,000 satellites, there will be as much demand for in-space operations as there will be for launch services. The Skyrora third stage OTV will fulfil that demand while also conducting maiden launch flights.

To date, the company has executed a rigorous series of engine tests, but this latest exercise involved a fully-integrated setup of the engine, the flight-weight structure and feed systems, flight-grade avionics and the full flight computer software which will be used in the first flight of Skyrora XL. The test was not only a verification of the engine and fluid systems, but of the flight software and vehicle structure, as the vehicle performed a full set of engine burns and vehicle manoeuvres that simulate the flight of the upper stage in orbit above Earth.

This test is key, not only for the development of the vehicle, but in verifying the readiness of the operations team in full-scale test operations, the manufacturing teams in their ability to produce flight-grade vehicles and is the final checkpoint prior to flight readiness of the stage. Passing this test puts Skyrora one step closer to the completion of their Skyrora XL vehicle.