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The piece of news barely made a blip here in the US, but Scotland-based Skyrora held its first successful suborbital rocket launch. The Skylark Nano, a 9 ft tall test launch vehicle, reached a peak altitude of 21,000 feet above the surface of the Earth, reaching Mach 1.45 during the test flight. The company said the flight tested the engine system the company plans to build into future larger orbital vehicles.

“This particular launch enabled us to test a system on a small scale using commercially available propulsion systems,” said Robin Hague, the company’s lead engineer, in an interview with BBC. “It is a cost-effective and a quick way for us to try things out for real in advance of a big liquid-powered rocket coming together.”

The launch took place at Kildermorie, but the company plans to bid for a spot in the UK’s first spaceport, which will be built on a peninsula on Scotland’s north Highland coast. The UK government has allocated £2.5 million ($3.2 million) in funding for the project.

There are a number of other launch providers considering becoming tenants at the proposed spaceport, including Orbex and Lockheed Martin. The spaceport, which will serve vertical launches, could be up and running by the 2020s. The UK government is also allocating £2 million ($2.5 million) in a development fund for horizontal launch spaceports across the UK.

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UK space agency chief executive Graham Turnock has said the government is hoping to offer dedicated launch platforms for small launch vehicles. “The market in satellites up to 100kg, and especially up to 10kg, is growing massively at the moment but nobody is really providing the kind of launch capabilities that those companies are looking for,” Turnock said in an interview with BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio program. “So this would put the UK in an even stronger position as a leading commercial space nation.”

The agency has stated it hopes to become the major small sat launch provider to serve Europe, and it wants to capture 10% of the global space economy by 2030. The UK accounts for about 44% of global small satellite market.

“We’re conscious of the need to move quickly. There is a lot of focus on the crystallization of demand from 2020 on,” Claire Barcham, the director of the agency’s satellite launch program, said earlier this year.

Related more: Edinburgh satellite launcher Skyrora selects site for ‘historic’ tests

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Kendra R Chamberlain
Editor and analyst at The Enterprise Orbit, covering new space business and technology developments; freelance journalist covering telecom, renewable energy technology & smart infrastructure.

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