Private Spanish firm PLD Space launched its Miura 1 rocket this past Friday on a suborbital flight that lasted for five minutes, marking a significant milestone for Europe’s nascent spaceflight industry.
PLD Space launched its reusable Miura 1 rocket on Friday, October 6 at 8:19 p.m. ET. The rocket took off from the El Arenosillo Experimentation Centre facilities in Mazagón, near Huelva on the southern coast of Spain, which is part of the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA).
Miura 1’s flight lasted 5 minutes and 6 seconds, reaching a peak altitude of 46 kilometres. This is notably less than half the official boundary of space, which starts at a height of 100km. The mission didn’t go completely as planned, as PLD wanted the rocket to fly for at least 12 minutes. What’s more, the company sought to recover the rocket following splashdown, but it was unable to do so, despite successful parachute ejection and deceleration.
“This launch culminates over 12 years of relentless effort, yet it marks just the start of our journey,” Raúl Torres, PLD Space’s launch director, said in the press release. Torres further emphasized the mission’s significance in validating key design elements crucial for its upcoming Miura 5 orbital launcher. PLD Space plans to launch another Miura 1 before shifting focus to the Miura 5. This forthcoming rocket, set to be as tall as an 11-story building, aims to launch 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) satellites by 2025. Torres and Raúl Verdú established PLD Space in 2011.
At 12.5 meters tall, the one-stage Miura 1 stands as high as a four-story building. Its name, “Miura,” is inspired by a cattle farm known for Spanish fighting bulls. PLD had wanted to launch Miura 1 as early as May, but development issues pushed the launch to October.
In its press release, PLD Space claims that Miura 1 is the first rocket launched by a private European company, which, as Ars Technica points out, is not exactly true; British company Skyrora and Dutch company T-Minus Engineering already beat them to the punch. Still, the launch of Miura is a big deal, but PLD Space will face stiff competition, including from Isar Aerospace from Germany and the aforementioned Skyrora, among several others.
It’s also worth noting that Arianespace—a France-based rocket company that specializes in satellite launch services—has enjoyed a stranglehold in the European market, thanks in part to substantial state support from European governments. But that dominance appears to be coming to an end. The European Space Agency set up the boost! program to accelerate the creation and use of European commercial space services led by the private sector. PLD Space has benefited from this initiative, receiving both financial and technical aid as it develops its rocket technologies, mirroring how NASA collaborates with commercial U.S. space companies.
While this suborbital flight does not qualify Spain as having direct space capabilities, the country is undoubtedly making strides in the new space race. With limited access to launch vehicles in Europe due to delays with the Ariane 6 as well as Vega rocket failures, PLD Space’s success is a welcome sign.
Europe has been trailing in the commercial space game for a while now, especially when you stack the continent up against the United States. The launch of Miura 1 is a solid move, but honestly, it’s about time. Across the pond, heavy hitters like SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Blue Origin, and FireFly Aerospace are continually pushing boundaries and staking, or at least attempting to stake, claims in the market. Europe’s been missing out, and while the PLD Space launch marks a start, there’s a whole lot of catching up to do.
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