Skyrora OTV

A Scottish rocket company has developed an innovative aerospace vehicle and is now calling on the UK space industry to support its effort to find Prospero – the first British satellite to have been launched by a British rocket in 1971 – and remove it from orbit.

Skyrora is hoping to de-orbit the historic 66kg satellite using its ‘Space Tug’ orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) in a move that could help address the world’s ‘space junk’ problem.

The company’s CEO Volodymyr Levykin has been joined by British astronaut Major Tim Peake in issuing the call to government agencies, space companies, and academia to develop a technical plan for the mission.

Prospero was launched on the Black Arrow rocket from Woomera, South Australia, on 28 October 1971. The successful launch stood as a testament to British engineering.

Half a century later, Prospero continues to orbit in the atmosphere, while, back on Earth, the UK space sector continues to celebrate its significance.

Prospero remains the only British satellite launched from a British rocket and could be heard transmitting on 137.56 MHz as recently as 2004.

Its longevity, however, serves to illustrate the importance of de-orbital services, which Skyrora is currently developing.

Speaking at the launch of the Finding Prospero campaign, Volodymr Levykin, Skyrora CEO and Founder, said: “It’s 50 years since the UK launched a British satellite into orbit from a British rocket.

“The UK is a world leader in space technology, and today as a country we are embarking on a new chapter of space innovation.

“By recovering Prospero, we are not only coming together as a space nation and taking responsibility for what we have launched into orbit, but also confirming our commitment to the sustainable use of outer space.”

Earlier this year, Skyrora successfully completed trials of the third stage of its XL rocket, including its Space Tug OTV, a vehicle that can re-fire its engines around 15 times to complete tasks such as de-orbiting defunct satellites.

A mission to de-orbit Prospero could be the Space Tug’s first real-world deployment and a demonstration of its long-term potential in removing space junk - the ever-increasing volume of redundant satellites orbiting Earth and one of the biggest problems facing the global space sector.

A leader in sustainability, Skyrora uses 3D printing to manufacture its rockets, and has also developed its own green rocket fuel, Ecosene.

Made from waste plastic, Ecosene could prevent more than 3,000 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic going to landfill by 2030.

Key takeaways:

  • It is estimated that there are 170 million pieces of space junk orbiting Earth today.
  • Skyrora has developed an innovative de-orbiting solution and is pushing for greater emphasis on sustainability in the space sector.
  • For more inspirational business content, head over to the UMi platform: https://www.weareumi.co.uk/webapp/inspiration/sectors/.
Richard Dawson
Article by Richard Dawson
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