British rocket company takes one big step towards orbital launch from UK soil with new rocket engine factory

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Photo credit: Skyrora

UK rocket company Skyrora has taken another big step towards achieving an orbital rocket launch from British soil by opening a new manufacturing and production facility – the largest of its kind in the UK.

Headquartered in Edinburgh, Skyrora are developing launch vehicle technology to ensure that the life-changing benefits of space are realised here on Earth – all whilst proudly flying the British flag.

After recently opening its engine test facility in Midlothian, this new facility in Cumbernauld allows the company to concentrate its launch development practices in custom-built domestic facilities, further strengthening Skyrora’s status as the leader in the UK space race.

The production of two Skyrora vehicles has already commenced at the Cumbernauld site, which will increase up to 16 per year once mass production begins. The site boasts unique capabilities for space infrastructure in the UK, as certain tests that would typically be outsourced to facilities in other countries can now be conducted domestically.

For the very first time, the UK has an asset capable of conducting full-stage structural and pressure testing and full-stage functional and cold flow testing.

Conducting these tests domestically saves significant time and costs, and represents a key advantage for UK space efforts. As such, the maiden testing of the second stage of the Skyrora XL rocket can now be performed from UK soil, having been fully manufactured and assembled in-house. This includes the assembly of the 70kN engine, the most powerful commercially-produced liquid engine in the UK, which has been built using 3D-printed engine components.

A critical milestone for the development of the Skyrora XL, the hot fire testing will see the second stage attached to a stand at the newly-opened Midlothian test facility as the engine simulates a real launch. This enables important telemetry data to be collected and analysed on-site. As a three-stage launch vehicle, the second stage of Skyrora XL will start its engines at approximately 62km before releasing the third stage at around 190km for orbital launch.

The Skyrora Vehicle Assembly Building in Cumbernauld consists of 55,000 sq ft of factory floor and office space, along with a 67,000 sq ft yard large enough to contain the entire Skylark L launch complex and future Skyrora XL launch facilities for rehearsals, integration works, and launch preparation.

Altogether, the facility roughly equates to the size of two standard football pitches and can accommodate up to 16 Skyrora XL vehicles for assembly, integration, and launch per annum.

The manufacturing and production site will generate new employment opportunities both in the North Lanarkshire area and in the rest of Scotland, boosting local economic prospects by accommodating up to 100 high-skilled technical and business roles.

Aerial shot of Cumbernauld facility

Skyrora’s Head of Engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow, said:

“This purpose-built manufacturing and assembly site, combined with the Midlothian testing facility, allows Skyrora to take direct charge of the development cycle in-house. As a business, we now have a full set of domestic facilities to allow for close control of the quality and rapid development and testing of Skyrora XL ahead of its demo launch. The site will also allow us to further optimise manufacturing processes developed by our colleagues in Ukraine and scale-up launch vehicle production in the long term, enabling further expansion and growth in the future.”

Skyrora’s readiness to enter mass production comes at a pivotal time in the UK space race, as the company endeavours to become the first British company to launch a rocket from UK soil with its orbital vehicle, Skyrora XL. By 2030, Skyrora aims to conduct 16 launches per year from Saxavord launch complex in the Shetland Islands alone.

Skyrora founder and CEO Volodymyr Levykin said:

“To play a significant role in the emerging global space economy, the UK has to develop sovereign launch capabilities. This isn’t just about offering different locations for launch, but everything that precedes that moment. Being able to offer end-to-end domestic capabilities from development, manufacturing, testing, and launch provides the UK with a crucial advantage as it looks to unlock its capabilities and deliver on its potential on the global stage. This crucial asset would not have been possible without the dedication and talent of the entire Skyrora team, both here in Scotland and in Ukraine.”

Sneak Peak at the Second Stage of Skyrora XL

Levykin continued:

“We’re proud to be leading the way for the UK space sector, promoting further STEM job creation that will be vital to the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda. As outlined in the National Space Strategy, SMEs will be central to the Government’s wider plans for the space sector, and this new site is a prime example of this. There is an enormous commercial opportunity to be seized here, and a chance for the UK to play a key strategic role in the new space economy. However, in order to do this, investment is needed at the highest level of Government to support the efforts of private companies, otherwise we risk missing the chance to future-proof the British economy and letting talent slip through our fingers.”

Pamela Humphries, Head of Planning and Regeneration at North Lanarkshire Council, said:

“North Lanarkshire is an ideal location for businesses to set up and grow, with excellent transport links, support, and a skilled workforce, and we are very pleased to welcome Skyrora to the area. The company operates in a very exciting and dynamic industry and is ambitious for its development, offering many opportunities for other local businesses to provide support services which can only be positive for our local economy.”

The Cumbernauld manufacturing and production facility has been made possible in part by the support and collaboration with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), who both share in Skyrora’s vision for the future of launch capabilities and assured access to space from these shores.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO, UK Space Agency said:

“As we approach the UK’s first commercial space launch this Autumn, Skyrora’s new manufacturing and production facility in Cumbernauld will further enhance the UK’s reputation as Europe’s most attractive destination for launch activities.

“Scotland is home to around one-fifth of all space jobs in the UK and, by harnessing the opportunities provided by commercial spaceflight, we are creating highly skilled jobs and local opportunities in Scotland and across the country.”

 

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