Skyrora to open test facility for rocket engine supporting 3D printing

Independent rocket manufacturer Skyrora is one of many companies leveraging additive manufacturing in the production of satellite launch vehicles. However, being headquartered in Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh, the company is one of the few contributing this expertise to the founding of civil space activity in the UK.

In its latest update, the company has announced that it intends to open a new engine test facility in Scotland. Dedicated to completing burn and gimbal tests of its 30kN rocket engine, the facility is a fundamental step toward a full rocket launch which is currently scheduled for Q4 2021.

If this Q4 2021 launch is successful, Skyrora will make it into the record books as the first ever company to complete an orbital launch from western Europe.

“This is a huge milestone for Skyrora and marks the start of our test program for our larger engines,” comments Skyrora CEO and founder Volodymyr Levykin. “Our team has worked incredibly hard to develop our engine technologies so Skyrora can help make space more accessible for all.”

“Skyrora will continue to work to ensure the world-changing benefits of space are realized here in the UK and in Europe.”

Skyrora's "From Scotland to Space" motto. Image via Skyrora
Skyrora’s “From Scotland to Space” motto. Image via Skyrora

Skyrora – preparing for launch in the UK

Skyrora was founded in 2017. In the production of its engines and vehicles, the company uses a combination of traditional and additive manufacturing techniques. For this purpose, the company has reportedly developed a proprietary hybrid manufacturing system. Combining robotics, 3D printing and CNC milling, the system is currently at the prototype stage.

Two rockets are currently in development at Skyrora – the Skyrora 1 suborbital launch vehicle, and the Skyrora XL, made for orbital launches.

Making significant progress for the launch of the XL, a third-stage test firing was recently completed for the Leo, a precursor to the engine which will eventually propel the rocket into orbit. The Leo is tipped to be “the first commercially fully 3D printed bi-liquid rocket engine to be tested in the UK” and is capable of producing 3.5 kN of thrust. It was test fired by Skyrora at Newquay Airport in partnership with Spaceport Cornwall. Following this successful run, the company has confirmed plans to begin testing of a more powerful, 3-ton thrust 3D printed engine, which will hopefully take place in Scotland.

In August 2018, the company also performed a successful commercial test launch of its Skylark Nano, a 2.5 meter long rocket demonstrator, at Kildermorie Estate in the Scottish Highlands. The same location was selected for another test launch in July 2019.

The official site of Skyrora’s new test facility is yet to be confirmed. Earlier, in September 2019, Rosyth Dockyard in Fife was identified as a potential candidate after the company had its application for engine testing was approved by the local council.   At the time of this announcement, a company spokesperson said, “We are considering many options and are looking for locations that can serve our needs, which will provide us with access to skills […] We are in the early stages and discussions are ongoing with landowners regarding all potential options.” Due to location, the developing Sutherland spaceport could also be a potential site.

3D printing and private aerospace 

The aerospace industry is rife with opportunities for independent companies seeking to provide more affordable satellite launches and the supply of payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) (or beyond). In the U.S., space exploration companies seem to be the new pet project of almost any tech-tycoon – there’s Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, to name just a few. Recently, Californian 3D printed rocket manufacturer Relativity Space raised an astounding $140 million for its development, highlighting just a sliver of the potential open to these companies.

Back in the UK, Orbex could be considered one of Skyrora’s main competitors for orbital airspace. Briefly exiting stealthmode in February this year, Orbex has been working with Germany’s SLM Solutions to 3D print an engine for its Prime rocket.

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Featured image shows a demonstration of Skyrora’s rocket at liftoff. Screengrab via Skyrora Limited – From Scotland to Space