By Kristy Dorsey

Scottish rocket company Skyrora said it has signed nearly two dozen letters of intent with prospective customers interested in using its orbital launcher to take their satellites into outer space.

The company, which is headquartered in Edinburgh, is developing the Skyrora XL with an expected launch date in 2023. The orbital vehicle is being constructed at the company’s production facility in Loanhead, with trialling at its engine test complex in Rosyth.

Skyrora XL comes in three parts, or “stages”, the third of which is the smallest but most complex. This is the element responsible for “dropping off” the satellites at their intended destination.

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The third stage has successfully completed 100 rounds of testing at the facility in Fife, Skyrora said, meaning it is ready for test launch. Stages one and two are still to go through similar trials, with an initial test flight scheduled for the final quarter of 2022.

The third stage, known as the LEO engine, is unique in that it can re-ignite numerous amounts of times while in orbit.

This means it will offer the equivalent of a “taxi service” that takes satellites to the exact altitude required, as opposed to the more common “bus stop” service, in which the satellites must have their own technology to push them to their final destination.

“These tests were a fundamental step for our verification programme for the third stage LEO engine, which makes us a stage closer to fully developing our polar orbital vehicle, Skyrora XL,” head of engineering Jack-James Marlow said.

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“We designed and manufactured a vacuum tube to allow us to lower ambient pressure conditions to approximately 10 per cent of sea level. This is a great technological achievement for Skyrora.”

About 80% of the company’s potential customers work in the field of earth observation, using their satellites to monitor deforestation, flooding and a wide variety of other circumstances to draw conclusions about climate change. Skyrora has also attracted interest from companies in the telecoms sector.

With its heavy focus on environmental concerns, the company plans to use its own kerosene equivalent made from unrecyclable plastic waste as a more eco-friendly rocket propellant.

This fuel, known as Ecosense, has been successfully tested on Skyrora’s LEO engine.

The company was set up in 2017 by its chief executive, Volodymyr Levykin, who has funded the business to date. It currently employs about 100 people, but expects to create between 150 and 170 further jobs at its engine test complex by 2030.