Quarter 4 in Review
A Letter from our CEO
Fourth and Final Quarter of 2020: A Year in Review
Reflecting on the year behind us, Skyrora are well on the way to putting the UK back into space by 2023. With monumental achievements obtained frequently throughout the entirety of the year, Skyrora are proud to say that we are on track in making the UK a launch nation once again by 2023.
Through a difficult year and trying times, the Skyrora team has continuously pushed this company towards major successes, during a time in which it has been imperative to adopt alternative methodologies, practices, and processes in order to keep afloat. Though immensely time consuming, Skyrora are miraculously set to achieve launch as previously scheduled.
I am tremendously proud of what Skyrora have achieved throughout such a limiting year, from both a technical perspective as well as in a business capacity. From the successful static fire test of the Skylark L suborbital launch vehicle which took place in May, to the launch of the Skylark Micro rocket from the Langanes Peninsula in Iceland which took place in August, Skyrora’s team have been able to implement social distancing measures and a more intensive health and safety strategy to ensure the safety of the team while they continue operations. At the beginning of the year, the technical team were additionally able to re-allocate operations to assist in the fight against coronavirus with the production of hand sanitiser and face visors, shifting operations from testing Skyrora’s eco-friendly rocket fuel known as Ecosene on the 3.5kN LEO engine developed in-house, which was completed in Q1 this year, pre-pandemic.
Within a business capacity, Skyrora’s business team have assembled an esteemed Advisory Board including Tim Peake who was the first British ESA astronaut and an ISS crew member, Baroness Susan Greenfield who is the CEO of the biotech company Neuro Bio, a member of the House of Lords and a world-renowned expert within the field of neuroscience, and Nick Laird who is the Director of Bombardier with extensive Military Service and Overseas Trade experience. The Right Honourable Lord Willets has also joined forces with Skyrora through the role of Senior Consultant. At the beginning of the year, Skyrora organised the 50th anniversary event for the launch of Black Arrow R1, having coordinated the transportation of the first stages of Black Arrow R2 and R3 which were exhibited at this event. Later in the year during the summer, Skyrora’s business team generated and launched our first webinar series in the summer, with panellists across the government, industry, and academia.
Upon reflection of the past year, I would like to not only thank everyone on the Skyrora team whose dedication to our mission has brought us so far so quickly, but also for the support we receive from our friends at the UK Space Agency, European Space Agency, Civil Aviation Authority, Scottish Enterprise, DiT, and DFT also promoting the development of the New Space industry. I look forward to working with my team to push the company further in 2021, and I look forward to unveiling the many achievements Skyrora are expected to attain in the following year.
We look forward to taking time over the Christmas holidays to rest and recharge, to come back even stronger in 2021. On behalf of all of us at Skyrora, I wish you a safe and relaxing Christmas period with loved ones where safe and possible.
CEO Skyrora Limited
Skyrora Successfully Conducts Vacuum Chamber Engine Tests to Simulate Space-Like Conditions
In November this year, Skyrora successfully conducted a series of 100 static engine firing tests including a vacuum chamber engine test of the 3rd stage LEO engine. The purpose of these tests was to imitate space-like conditions in order to further the process ahead of launch in 2023.
A total of 100 tests were successfully conducted at Skyrora’s Engine Test Complex in Fife, Scotland, with all results produced meeting Skyrora’s expectations and succeeding the test criteria. This subsystem of the Skyrora XL orbital launch vehicle is effectively now ready for launch.
This series of engine firing tests proved a fundamental step in Skyrora’s verification programme for the Skyrora XL third stage LEO engine, bringing Skyrora one step closer to the comprehensive development of the polar orbital vehicle. The gas-dynamic vacuum tube manufactured in-house was designed to lower ambient pressure conditions to approximately 10% of sea level pressure; an impressive technological achievement for a small to medium enterprise company such as Skyrora.
The main objective of the test programme was to substantiate the life cycle of the 3.5kN LEO engine according to ESA standards, as well as Thrust Vector Control (TVC), vacuum configuration testing, and operational envelope limits. In order to test all of these variables, the LEO engine was fired for a period three times the length of a regular mission and was re-ignited several times.
During this test programme, the 3.5kN LEO engine achieved 1,500 seconds of operating time within 20 engine firing tests under vacuum conditions: a major achievement in the development of Skyrora’s de-risking programme. The engine is to be operated in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, therefore Skyrora’s use of the vacuum tube was to simulate a space-like, low-pressure environment.
Due to its Hydrogen Peroxide pressure feed system, the 3.5kN LEO engine is conveniently and reliably able to re-ignite in orbit, which will allow multiple payloads to be deployed into their chosen orbits from the same launch as required for the mission and acting as a “taxi” service to launch customers.
The ability to re-ignite makes the LEO engine an ideal orbital manoeuvring unit or Space Tug. The potential applications of an orbital manoeuvring vehicle or Space Tug include the removal of dead satellites and other space debris or aiding in a moon mission.
In January 2020, Skyrora’s rocket fuel equivalent derived from unrecyclable plastic waste was successfully tested on the third stage engine, bringing Skyrora one step closer to becoming an eco-friendly launch provider with a heavy focus on the environmental impact of the Skylark L and Skyrora XL launch vehicles.
Skyrora’s next steps will be focused on the development of the 70kN engine which will be installed within the first and second stages of Skyrora XL, a commercial-class orbital launch vehicle.
Skyrora’s LEO Engine to be Utilised as Space Tug
Skyrora’s LEO engine, which most recently underwent numerous vacuum chamber tests, will also be integrated into our Space Tug. The Space Tug will allow multiple payloads to be deployed into their chosen orbits from the same launch, minimising Skyrora’s environmental impact by reducing the number of launches required to operate.
The Space Tug could also have the potential to remove dead satellites, replace faulty satellites and remove space debris, with the ability to de-orbit itself after use. The Space Tug would then fall back to Earth and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, which will emit very little pollution.
Another potential function of the Space Tug would be to retrieve satellites to bring them for repair or retrieval, or to service unmanned orbital platforms.
Skyrora Welcomes Senior Advisor the Right Honourable Lord Willets
The former UK Minister for Science and Universities, the Right Honourable Lord Willets has agreed to join forces with Skyrora through the role of Senior Consultant.
Skyrora are delighted that Lord Willets has accepted our offer to join Skyrora in this capacity. Throughout his time as Minister for Science and Universities, Lord Willets was involved with the formation of the strategy for the newly developed UK Space Agency, with heavy international influence on the development of the UK space industry and close links to the European Space Agency. Lord Willets is immensely knowledgeable in the applications and importance of satellites in relation to industries across the UK, as well as the UK’s necessity for launch capability. Lord Willet’s support for Skyrora’s aim in becoming the premier orbital launch provider in the UK will prove immeasurably valuable, improving the likelihood of Skyrora XL’s first launch to take place in 2023.
Successful Testing of Flight Termination System for Skylark L
In the last quarter of 2020, Skyrora were able to conduct 8 Flight Termination System (FTS) tests for the Skylark L suborbital launch vehicle. A Flight Termination System is activated when an error with the launch vehicle occurs, cutting the thrust of the vehicle and ending the flight in a controlled manner.
Successful testing of the Flight Termination System is a critical milestone in Skyrora’s de-risking programme, a major highlight being the FTS wireless activation, which succeeded all required criteria. The current version of the FTS will be used for the Skylark L vehicle.
The successful results achieved throughout these tests is part of the qualification programme for the Flight Termination System, a huge technical milestone for Skyrora ahead of launching the largest suborbital launch vehicle in the fleet, Skylark L.
Skyrora Unlocks Future of Space with Pioneering 3D Printing Technology
Skyrora have paved the way forward for the UK space industry ahead of the New Space revolution and is now at the forefront of 3D printing technology. With the prospect of unlocking the future of the UK space industry, Skyrora have optimised the production process with the company’s own hybrid 3D printer machine.
3D printing is often expensive and requires highly qualified engineers to appropriately operate such complex machinery. Components are often limited in size due to the size of the printer, and components often require post-machining which needs to be outsourced. Skyrora’s hybrid printer utilises a combination of a milling machine, a robotic arm and 3D printing. Such a combination enables the production of larger 3D printed components, in-house, printed in ‘open air’.
The hybrid machine utilises Direct Energy Deposition, which allows for rapid iteration in printing and prototyping, at any scale, and allows for the printing of exotic refractory alloys. This allows for a more accurate finish on each component, with the minimisation of risks and less waste generated.
Skyrora’s hybrid machine, Skyprint-1, is currently producing the components for the 70kN engine, which will be used in both the first and second stages of Skyrora’s orbital launch vehicle, Skyrora XL. To manufacture components such as the high-altitude nozzles for these engines currently in production, the machine uses a variety of materials, including Titanium and Inconel-718.
Skyrora’s newly constructed hybrid machine is a compelling demonstration of growth in additive manufacturing technology, with the ability to offer and enable innovative opportunities as part of the New Space revolution. Looking to the future, Skyrora aim to expand the hybrid 3D printer machine to be able to print even larger and more complex aerospace components.
Ecosene Achieves Finalist Status for BQF UK Excellence Awards 2020
Skyrora are proud to announce that the un-recyclable plastic waste derived rocket fuel equivalent known as Ecosene has been shortlisted as a BQF Environmental Responsibility Finalist for the 2020 UK Excellence Awards.
The winner for this award will be announced on a live virtual stream which is set to take place at 5PM on Thursday 17th of December. BQF Patron, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal will formally open this year’s ceremony as the awards for excellence are announced. Click here to watch live.
Skyrora was also selected as a 2020 NASA iTech Cycle I Top 10 Finalist this year, on account of the company’s RP-1 equivalent known as Ecosene.
Skyrora Responds to UK’s Defence Investment
Skyrora was delighted to hear of the announcement made by Boris Johnson on the 19th November detailing the most prominent investment programme into British defence since the 1990s. Part of the £16.5bn injection into the Military of Defence will be allocated to the new RAF Space Command, which will assist with the UK’s first rocket launch from Scotland in 2022 and the deployment of British satellites into space. This will bolster the progress toward launch capability from the UK, generating thousands of employment opportunities. Skyrora are proud to be working alongside the government to achieve UK launch capability.
Skyrora will continue with the development of the launch programme with the ultimate aim being to help achieve the UK’s Green Plan by 2030, as well as benefiting the UK space industry. Skyrora are enthused and driven to assist in the deliverance of launch capability within the UK, already having demonstrated imperative technological milestones, such as the third stage in-vacuum simulation tests of the LEO engine, completing the third stage programme.
As reflected in the Secretary of State Defence speech, Reactive Sovereign Launch capability central to the UK’s future vision is a mission that Skyrora is pursuing vivaciously. The UK stands in great stead to capitalise on the imperatives required to place the UK as an enhanced, confident, and responsible space actor with mature space capability, as proven by the innovative progress already made by the UK space sector.
World Space Week 2020
World Space Week is a UN declared celebration of space which is held annually from the 4th – 10th October. With over 8,000 events reported in 2019 and held across 96 countries, World Space Week is considered the largest international space event. The event is organised through the collaboration of thousands of different organisations including space agencies, astronomy clubs, museums, and aerospace companies. World Space Week 2020 was dedicated to satellites and the many applications and benefits that they offer under the theme “Satellites Improve Life”.
In celebrating World Space Week 2020, Skyrora offered an array of interactive online content keeping in line with restrictive measurements in place as a result of the pandemic. With the intention of bringing people together to celebrate space, Skyrora provided several initiatives around the celebration, including an online quiz, a video interview with Skyrora’s Head of Launch Robin Hague, an in-class lesson presentation explaining the importance of satellites, as well as a science fiction book of the week social media campaign.
Skyrora’s Continued STEM Efforts
Skyrora have continued to focus on the production of online STEM content aimed at the younger generation to continue and strengthen engagement concerning STEM-related topics.
In November 2020, Skyrora virtually attended the Engineering Careers Day 2020 with St Andrews University as well as the University of Edinburgh virtual Engineering Careers Fair. This involved one-to-one encounters with students interested in potential ventures, internships, and graduate roles within Skyrora.
In November this year, Skyrora’s STEM ambassador team additionally took part in the Year 5&6 Career’s Event held in conjunction with the National Space Centre to promote space to the younger generation.
What to Expect in 2021
With the hope of lifted restrictions and a normal year ahead, Skyrora have a high list of achievements scheduled for 2021. Skyrora expect 2021 to see the first launch of the suborbital launch vehicle Skylark L, the second largest vehicle in the suite, as well as testing of the third stage of the largest and only orbital launch vehicle in the design suite, Skyrora XL. We will be announcing our first commercial clients for the Skyrora XL launch in 2023, as well as focusing on the development of Skyrora’s 70kN engine which will be installed within the first and second stages of the Skyrora XL launch vehicle. The launch of Skyrora’s online merchandise store can also be expected in early 2021, featuring designs created both by our own creative team and previous competition winners.