UK rocket company Skyrora has reached another significant milestone with the opening of a new rocket engine testing facility in Scotland.
Located in Midlothian, the site is a significant contribution to Scotland’s space infrastructure, adding to Skyrora’s fast-growing portfolio of development, manufacturing, and testing facilities across the country.
The state-of-the-art facility, which is the largest of its kind in the UK - is a national first for space sector advancement and a huge leap towards establishing launch as a final sector in the space ecosystem. Given the site’s status and location, it provides Skyrora with a number of competitive advantages, especially given its proximity to the company’s other facilities.
From an environmental and sustainability perspective, having a local test facility means a lower carbon footprint compared to having to transport engines and equipment to third-party facilities. The Midlothian site harnesses its natural surroundings and uses rainfall from the Scottish Lowlands as part of the cooling systems of the test stand. The stand itself was designed, manufactured and commissioned in less than eight months, making it one of the world’s fastest stands to be built.
The site allows Skyrora to concentrate its launch development operations for the purpose of conducting acceptance tests for engines on its orbital Skyrora XL vehicle, as it aims to become the first British company to complete an orbital launch from UK soil.
After three separate planning applications, the Midlothian facility was commissioned and brought into service within just six months. The site was made possible in part by a grant awarded in 2021 by the European Space Agency (ESA) as part of its mission to foster new commercial space transportation services.
The extensive Midlothian site, occupying an area of over 120,000ft² (at a former quarry) will serve a team of up to 20 engineers once the testing site is running at full capacity. So far, the site has already seen 15 engine tests completed, with regular weekly tests being conducted. Skyrora’s 70kN bi-propellant engine, which emits half the carbon emissions of engines using liquid oxygen and kerosene, is currently deep into verification testing at the new facility.
Nine of these engines, fuelled by Skyrora’s non-cryogenic propellant, a more stable fuel that doesn’t need constant cooling, will power the 23-metre Skyrora XL rocket on its launch from the UK, scheduled for later this year.
Skyrora's head of engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow, said: “The new purpose-built Midlothian site allows us to take direct charge of the development cycle in-house. By reducing our reliance on third parties and cultivating specialist knowledge within the company, the Midlothian location gives us much closer control of the quality and rapid development of Skyrora XL as we prepare for its first demo launch. The site also allows us to optimise our manufacturing processes, and to scale up launch vehicle production over the long term. This milestone was only made possible due to the dedication and talent of the Test Site Team.”