Scottish rocket company Skyrora has called on the UK space industry to support efforts to find the first British satellite launched by a British rocket and remove it from orbit.
Speaking at the ‘Finding Prospero’ launch event yesterday, Skyrora CEO Volodymyr Levykin was joined by British astronaut Major Tim Peake in issuing the call to action, urging government, academia and commercial space companies to develop a technical plan to de-orbit Prospero.
Hosted by TV presenter Dallas Campbell, the launch event featured speakers such as Black Arrow engineer Terry Brooke and Joanne Wheeler, a leading practitioner in satellite regulation.
On 27th October 1971, the iconic Black Arrow rocket launched from a testing facility in Woomera, South Australia. With it, Black Arrow carried Prospero, the first and only satellite launched by the UK.
Weighing a little over 66kg, Prospero was launched for scientific purposes. Its primary aim was to test new telemetry systems and analyse micrometeoroid particles in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Nearly 50 years later, Prospero and Black Arrow stand as testament to the expertise of British engineering. The latter is now on public display at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) Museum while Prospero continues to orbit the Earth.
While both conjure feelings of great pride in British engineering, Prospero also serves as an example of humanity’s growing impact on space. The satellite is still up there, along with countless other satellites and various pieces of debris.
Recent figures suggest there are more than 34,000 objects larger than 10cm in size orbiting the Earth – and of these, 3,000 are redundant satellites.
Although the debris humans have left in space thus far seems small in the grand scheme of things, the volume of space junk is growing and shows no signs of stopping as the commercial space race continues to heat up.
Speaking yesterday, Levykin said that as the country prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Prospero’s launch, the occasion marks an opportunity to commit to a more sustainable future in space.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Levykin added.
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Earlier this year, Skyrora successfully completed trials of the third stage of its XL rocket, including its OTV, a vehicle that can re-fire its engines around 15 times to complete tasks such as de-orbiting defunct satellites.
Skyrora revealed that 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 mission to retrieve Prospero will also seek to engage and inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts by showcasing one of the UK space industry’s greatest achievements.
Skyrora’s space tug forms just one part of the company’s efforts to lead the space industry in sustainability.
The Edinburgh-headquartered firm uses 3D printing in the manufacture of 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.