WATCH: Isles play host to first test rocket launch

The first rocket launch from the isles took place on Saturday as a company with an aim to reach for the stars carried out a crucial suborbital test exercise.

Workers for Edinburgh-based Skyrora visited the North Mainland to test their smallest “vehicle” and measure conditions.

But while small – the projectile used measures in at a socially distant two metres – the Skylark Nano can still pack a supersonic punch.

The five-strong team say the rocket is capable of reaching speeds of around 1,300mph at maximum velocity.

They say the rocket typically reaches altitudes of six kilometres.

The Civil Aviation Authority was notified of the plans.

The launch was completed for educational purposes, collecting meteorological data, measuring wind profiles, analysing the vehicles trajectory and providing critical training in support of Skyrora’s future plans.

Skyrora hopes to be launching satellites into space, potentially from the Unst Space Centre, as soon as 2022.

Plans to launch Skylark Nano from a makeshift base at Fethaland failed to get off the ground on Friday afternoon, after technical difficulties caused a parachute to deploy just as final preparations were taking place.

But the group were back on Saturday and succeeded in sending the rocket to the skies.

Head of launch Robin Hague said he was delighted to have reached the isles to carry out the test.

Robin Hague, head of launch at Skyrora.

“We’re interested in the possibility of launching larger rockets in the future, and this is a small test rocket,” he said.

He added the “vehicle” used for the launch – the Nano – was “very useful” for measuring the environmental conditions and for practice for the larger rockets.

“Such practical experience is vital training,” he said.

“In this case, of particular interest is the meteorological conditions.”

He said the company aimed to be launching satellites in the long term.

“Launching small rockets like this means we can measure real vertical wind profiles.

“The wind isn’t just the same as at ground level. It doesn’t just get stronger, it changes in direction as well.

“Small flights like this mean we can record data to see what the wind is like to greater heights than you can normally get forecasts for.”

He said the company was already “friends” with Shetland Space Centre and was talking about the possibility of flying from Unst at a later date.

“We’re looking to launch satellites from Scotland in the near future. We would hope to be making our first launch from 2022. Where, depends on the spaceports, but it could be from Unst.”

Founded in 2017, Skyrora also has headquarters in Europe and Ukraine, but Scotland is currently a key focal point for future launches.

That Skyrora representatives were even able to be here during lockdown may, in itself, be seen as questionable by some.

But the head of launch said the team felt it was essential to visit the isles for a summer launch.

He insisted all necessary precautions were being taken to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We have discussed the operation with the council,” he said.

“There is a particular time pressure because we need to measure the conditions in the summer.

“We wouldn’t have entertained it in lockdown in phase zero, but as we’re moving into phase one we asked about the possibility.

“Obviously, the team itself are working together but we are being careful about social distancing and interaction with the islands.”

In a statement, he added: “We’re ecstatic and truly proud. This is a great success for Skylark Nano, and the Skyrora team in general.

“Launching from Shetland is very important for us because it’s a potential option for our Skyrora XL orbital commercial launch vehicle.

“To understand the local launch conditions learning more about the wind profiles in Shetland is critical.”


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