Congrats PLD Space!!! 1st Private Vertical Launch in Europe7th Oct 2023
Spain’s PLD Space became the first private company to successfully launch a sub-orbital rocket in Europe. The launch from a site near Huelva on the Gulf of Cadiz occurred at 0215 local time on 7th October.
Miura in a class of its own
The PLD Space rocket, the Miura 1, runs on a kerosene and liquid oxygen mixture that the company claims gives it a unique launch thrust profile. Maximum axial acceleration is reduced 70% compared to solid-fueled rockets. The engine, called the TEPREL-B, produces 30kN of thrust at launch.
While the TEPREL-B was a solid part of the rocket (despite being liquid-fueled), other assemblies proved more troublesome in the past. An attempt to launch on 17th June 2023 was scuttled at liftoff as some of the cables to the rocket failed to fall away in unison.
The company is working on a successor to the Miura-1, called the Miura-5, which they intend to use for orbital flights starting in 2025. In the mean time, another Miura-1 launch is expected.
PLD Space and European launch
The successful launch opens the way for other commercial launch and spaceport companies to push their governments and tech teams to catch up with the Spaniards. Europe still has never seen a commercial orbital launch, with companies between Huelva and Esrange in Sweden all vying for top honours.
Europe has been home to launch capacity and sites. However, these are all government-owned and utilised. Sewden’s European Space Center, near Kiruna above the Arctic Circle, launched the Skylark series of sounding rockets (developed in Britain) over the course of 28 years. The site is currently being upgraded to handle orbital launches.
While Spain is currently ahead in private launch, British efforts are not far behind. The first attempt, by horizontal launch company Virgin Orbit in January 2023, ended in failure and was a cause of the company’s demise. However, vertical launch efforts in Scotland are gaining steam, and multiple launch providers centered on SaxaVord Spaceport, at Unst in the Shetland Islands, are expecting to launch in the next few months.