SpaceLS develops commercial rocket to launch small satellites

A commercial rocket designed to launch small satellites into orbit is being developed in the UK.

The developer, Space Launch Services (SpaceLS) is hoping to compete with private launch firms such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and RocketLab with its rocket, known as Prometheus 1.

The rocket is being designed to place small satellites of around 100kg into low earth orbit, including the low cost CubeSats used by educational institutions, according to SpaceLS programme director Jamie Welton.

Raptorex 75,000lbf thrust engine
Raptorex 75,000lbf thrust engine

“There is a shift towards smaller satellites, as the technology improves, so the market for these type of launches is likely to grow,” said Welton. “When you look at the bigger companies such as SpaceX, they don’t have the capacity to take many of these smaller payloads on board, as a lot of their launches are dedicated to one, larger satellite, and they won’t take secondary payloads.”

The rocket will be propelled by a 75,000 pound-force, bi-propellant engine, called Raptoex, which will be fuelled by hydrogen peroxide and kerosene. The company chose to use a hydrogen peroxide and kerosene propellant as it is much easier and cheaper to handle than alternatives such as liquid oxygen.

“Instead of designing everything from scratch, we have reverse-engineered previous British designs for peroxide-kerosene bi-propellant engines,” said Welton.

They expect to take delivery of the first critical components for the engine from their partners before the end of this month, and hope to begin testing later this year.

Many of the parts for the project are being provided without charge by the company’s partners, in return for a showcase for their technologies. The project’s partners include Sigmatex, a Cheshire-based carbon fibre developer, which is also working on the Bloodhound SSC land speed record car. Sigmatex is providing complex 3D woven carbon fibre parts such as the combined rocket chamber and nozzle unit.

“Instead of going straight for a regeneratively-cooled chamber, we are using a test chamber, which will be wound carbon fibre with an ablative heat shield inside,” said Welton. “That will verify the turbo pump before we incorporate the regeneratively-cooled chamber.”

The company is also working with London-based 3D Print UK, and Essex Laser, which is based in Grays.