UK firm opens new facility to build rockets using laser additive manufacturing
UK rocket company Skyrora has opened a new production facility in Cumbernauld, Scotland, and has commenced production on two launch vehicles.
The three-stage rockets, dubbed ‘Skyrora XL’, feature what the firm says is the most powerful (70kN) commercially-produced liquid engine in the UK, which it builds using additively manufactured components from its proprietary laser 3D metal printer 'Skyprint'.
The system enables various multi-composite parts to be produced simultaneously from materials such as inconel, titanium alloys and aluminum alloys.
The new ‘Skyrora Vehicle Assembly Building’ in Cumbernauld consists of 55,000 sq ft of factory floor and office space, along with a 67,000 sq ft yard large enough to contain future Skyrora XL launch facilities for rehearsals, integration works, and launch preparation.
Altogether, the facility roughly equates to the size of two standard football pitches and can accommodate up to 16 Skyrora XL vehicles for assembly, integration, and launch per annum, which the firm aims to achieve by 2030.
In doing this Skyrora endeavours to become the first British company to launch a rocket from UK soil, which it intends to do so from the SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands.
Following the recent opening of its other new site – an engine test facility in Midlothian – Skyrora will now be able to concentrate its launch development practices purely to domestic facilities, further strengthening its status as the ‘leader in the UK space race’, according to the firm.
‘This purpose-built manufacturing and assembly site, combined with the Midlothian testing facility, allows Skyrora to take direct charge of the development cycle in-house,’ confirmed Skyrora's head of engineering, Dr Jack James Marlow. ‘As a business, we now have a full set of domestic facilities to allow for close control of the quality and rapid development and testing of Skyrora XL ahead of its demo launch. The site will also allow us to further optimise manufacturing processes developed by our colleagues in Ukraine and scale-up launch vehicle production in the long term, enabling further expansion and growth in the future.’
The Second Stage of the Skyrora XL launch vehicle. (Image: Skyrora)
According to the firm, the Cumbernauld site boasts unique capabilities for space infrastructure in the UK, as certain tests that would typically be outsourced to facilities in other countries can now be conducted domestically.
‘For the very first time, the UK has an asset capable of conducting full-stage structural and pressure testing and full-stage functional and cold flow testing,’ Skyrora confirmed in its announcement of the new facility. ‘Conducting these tests domestically saves significant time and costs, and represents a key advantage for UK space efforts.’
As such, the maiden testing of the second stage of the Skyrora XL rocket can now be performed from UK soil, having been fully manufactured and assembled in-house. A critical milestone for the development of the rocket, the hot fire testing, will see the second stage attached to a stand at the Midlothian test facility as the engine simulates a real launch. This enables important telemetry data to be collected and analysed on-site.
Sovereign launch capabilities
Skyrora founder and CEO Volodymyr Levykin believes that to play a significant role in the emerging global space economy, the UK has to develop sovereign launch capabilities.
‘This isn't just about offering different locations for launch, but everything that precedes that moment,’ he said. ‘Being able to offer end-to-end domestic capabilities from development, manufacturing, testing, and launch provides the UK with a crucial advantage as it looks to unlock its capabilities and deliver on its potential on the global stage. This crucial asset would not have been possible without the dedication and talent of the entire Skyrora team, both here in Scotland and in Ukraine.’
The Cumbernauld manufacturing and production facility has been made possible in part by the support and collaboration with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), who both share in Skyrora’s vision for the future of launch capabilities and assured access to space from these shores.
Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency said: ‘As we approach the UK’s first commercial space launch this Autumn, Skyrora’s new manufacturing and production facility in Cumbernauld will further enhance the UK’s reputation as Europe’s most attractive destination for launch activities. Scotland is home to around one-fifth of all space jobs in the UK and, by harnessing the opportunities provided by commercial spaceflight, we are creating highly skilled jobs and local opportunities in Scotland and across the country.’
The manufacturing and production site will generate new employment opportunities both in the North Lanarkshire area and in the rest of Scotland, boosting local economic prospects by accommodating up to 100 high-skilled technical and business roles.
‘We’re proud to be leading the way for the UK space sector, promoting further STEM job creation that will be vital to the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda,’ remarked Levykin. ‘As outlined in the National Space Strategy, SMEs will be central to the Government’s wider plans for the space sector, and this new site is a prime example of this. There is an enormous commercial opportunity to be seized here, and a chance for the UK to play a key strategic role in the new space economy. However, in order to do this, investment is needed at the highest level of Government to support the efforts of private companies, otherwise we risk missing the chance to future-proof the British economy and letting talent slip through our fingers.’