PLD Space’s Private Rocket Launch Opens New Era for European Space Industry

Spain’s PLD Space launched its recoverable Miura-1 rocket from a site in southwest Spain early on Saturday. It carried out Europe’s first fully private rocket launch in a glimmer of hope for the region’s stalled space ambitions. The startup’s test night-time launch from Huelva came after two previous attempts were scrubbed. The Miura-1 rocket, named after a breed of fighting bull, is as tall as a three-story building and has a 100-kg (220-pound) cargo capacity. The company says its first flight carried a payload for test purposes, but it would not release details of the experiment.

The test was a significant milestone for the Elche-based startup, established in 2012 to boost access to space. The company’s founders, CEO Raul Torres, and engineering director Raul Verdu, say they want to build Europes first micro-launcher service to orbit small satellites. A consortium of private investors backs the firm.

PLD Spaces mission control video showed engineers cheering and congratulating each other as the rocket reached its peak altitude of 46 kilometers (27 miles) over the Atlantic Ocean. The mission lasted just over half an hour before the rocket dropped its parachute into the ocean and slowed to a stop in the Atlantic. The rocket will be recovered later in the day from the Atlantic, the company said. It will then be transported to Teruel in eastern Spain for a thorough analysis, after which its components can be salvaged and rebuilt for future launches.

While PLD Spaces’ first flight fell short of the rocket’s intended altitude, its success has positioned the startup as one of a handful of companies worldwide capable of delivering small satellites into orbit regularly. The firm also has the technology to make its vehicles reusable, and it plans to begin testing that on the next stage of its Miura series — the Miura 5 suborbital micro launcher, which is due to fly in 2025 from French Guiana.

The reusable system will allow the company to fly multiple times with the same rocket, saving time and money. It will use a particular engine called the TEPREL-B, which will be tested on its upcoming flights. Torres and his team have already completed several tests with the engine, including a successful 122-second burn.

The company says it will take about a year to develop its next vehicle, which will be able to reach an orbit of more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) and could carry commercial satellites for global communications, navigation, and search and rescue. The project could lead to new jobs for the company, which has a workforce of about 30. It hopes to hire an additional 80 people by the end of the year. Its first customers are expected to include private and academic institutions. The company expects to be licensed for commercial operations in 2025.

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