SaxaVord deal puts Skyrora XL rocket on launchpad

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UK rocket company Skyrora has agreed a multi-launch deal with the SaxaVord spaceport on Unst in the Shetland Islands as it moves closer to launching its XL rocket.

Image: Skyrora

The multi-launch agreement with SaxaVord, previously known as the Shetland Space Centre, will run for 10 years, giving Skyrora the ability to build towards a target of 16 launches a year by 2030.

In a statement, Volodymyr Levykin, Skyrora’s founder and CEO, said: “We have made no secret of our ambition to be the first company to launch from UK soil so it's really exciting to agree to this multi-launch deal with SaxaVord. The UK is a world leader in space technology, and this latest move brings us another crucial step closer to offering a significant space service from our own soil.”

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Edinburgh-based Skyrora has been testing increasingly larger rockets with short high-altitude launches since 2018 in the build up to the proposed launch in 2022. In 2020 it conducted the first rocket test on UK soil in 50 years as well as launching its Skylark Micro from Iceland. These preparations have been moving towards launching the three-stage Skyrora XL rocket to orbit, which is over 22m tall and capable of carrying up to 315kg to orbit.

At the end of 2020, Skyrora completed trials of the third stage of the Skyrora XL rocket, including its orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) which can refire its engines around 15 times in orbit to complete tasks such as maintenance, acting as a space tug, or de-orbiting defunct satellites.

For the proposed 2022 UK launch, Skyrora plans to fuel the Skyrora XL rocket with Ecosene, its own sustainable alternative to conventional rocket fuel. Made from waste plastic such as polystyrene, Skyrora believes Ecosene could prevent over 3,000 tons of unrecyclable plastic going to landfill by 2030 through use on Skyrora’s planned flights.

“The space industry has a responsibility to commit to sustainability,” Levykin said. “Not just through enabling applications and services, such as through Earth observation, that can help pre-empt and mitigate the impact of climate change, but also by reducing the environmental impact of its own operations. With our OTV and Ecosene, we are contributing to this new space purpose, helping to tackle both the space junk problem and the impact of traditional fuels.”