Spanish space startup PLD Space has just presented the flight model of the Miura 1 suborbital rocket and the main activities of its official launch campaign from the coast of Andalusia to the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez.
At an event held at the El Arenosillo Experimentation Centre (CEDEA) - located in the municipality of Moguer, in Huelva - belonging to the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA), PLD's president, Ezequiel Sánchez, confirmed that the Ministry of Defence has already granted the company "several launch windows during the months of April and May", which means that D-Day, the first effective launch date, is expected in less than 45 days.
Details of the activity process for the maiden flight of the Miura 1 rocket were announced by Raúl Torres and Raúl Verdú, co-founders of the company based in Elche (Alicante). The presentation of the Miura 1 flight model was attended by the Minister of Science, Diana Morant; the Secretary General for Innovation, Teresa Riesgo; the commissioner of the Aerospace PERTE, Miguel Belló; and the Director General of INTA, Lieutenant General of the Air Force Julio Ayuso.
The Miura 1 is a recoverable rocket with a single propulsion stage, with a length of 12.5 metres, a take-off weight of 2.55 tonnes and a capacity to carry 100 kilos of payload up to a height of 150 kilometres. It flies thanks to its Teprel-B rocket engine which, in mid-September 2022, was validated on PLD's test bench at Teruel airport. On that day, it operated uninterruptedly for 122 seconds, the same amount of time that it must remain in ignition on the day that the Miura 1 ascends into space without entering orbit around the Earth.
The firing will be carried out from a ramp developed by PLD to be located at the Medano del Loro manoeuvring and firing range, where the army's anti-aircraft artillery units carry out live-fire exercises with the various types of surface-to-air missiles in service. The range covers an area of 250 hectares, borders the Andalusian coast, is in the municipalities of Almonte and Lucena del Puerto and is about 15 kilometres from the town of Mazagón.
Roughly speaking, Miura 1 will ascend towards the sea until it reaches an altitude of approximately 150 kilometres. It will then drop completely over the Atlantic, supported by a large parachute, and will be retrieved by a ship equipped with an articulated crane. The take-off will be given the green light provided that the surface wind speed is less than 20 km/h, that the winds at altitude are calm and that there are no potential storms in the vicinity.
In addition, for the safeguarding of maritime and air traffic, the authorities have defined an exclusion zone of 120 x 30 kilometres. It will be in force hours before the day of take-off, which is only known to be on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday. It is on those days when, apparently, most of the boats of the fishing guilds of the nearby towns do not go to sea to fish.
The main objective of the inaugural Miura 1 demonstration mission - and, if successful, of a second firing that the company also plans for 2023 - is to validate the technology developed by PLD in real conditions.
Why? In order to finalise the fine-tuning of the Miura 5, a micro-launcher that is also recoverable, which PLD is already working on and with which the Spanish start-up aims to enter the commercial launch services market. In the President of the Government's speech at the campaign launch, Pedro Sánchez stated that his goal is to put Spain "at the forefront of the emerging but powerful space transportation industry".
But the Miura 1 is just a test vehicle, designed to pave the way for the Miura 5, its big brother. It is the preliminary step that the company from Elche considers "essential" to make the Miura 5 a reality, PLD's great bet for the future, a micro launcher with two propulsion stages and much larger dimensions: 34.4 metres high, a take-off weight of 68.7 tonnes and with the capacity to place up to 540 kilos in orbit.
The campaign is progressing according to plan
At the launch campaign presentation on 11 March, PLD president Ezequiel Sanchez announced that the Miura 5 is scheduled to fly "from the Kourou space base in French Guiana at the end of 2024", unlike the Miura 1, which will be launched from French Guiana. But there is already talk that the launch from French Guiana will not take place until 2025, although for the time being, all efforts are focused on the success of Miura 1.
In his capacity as Business Development Director, Raúl Verdú confirmed to Atalayar on 15 March that pre-launch activities in the hangar that PLD has set up in El Arenosillo "are progressing according to plan". Preparations are being carried out there "which include different types of tests and trials, including the loading of the fuel tanks for the rocket's propulsion". When they are completed, Miura 1 will be installed horizontally on its mobile launch platform and moved to the launch site at Médano del Loro.
Once at the launch site, the Miura 1 will again be subjected to rigorous tests such as, for example, performing all the pre-launch steps without igniting the propulsion rocket engine, all to certify that the rocket is ready to fly into space.
But the critical and final test is the static firing test. This involves igniting the rocket engine for 5 seconds to check that all initial firing parameters are correct. If the test is successful, INTA and PLD will complete the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) documentation, "which will lead to the final pre-flight simulations and technical checks".
Before liftoff, PLD technicians will load the experiments provided by the German Centre for Applied Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen onto the upper part of the launcher. The aim is to validate in orbit new application technologies for the space industry. Finally, the launch director, Raúl Torres, and his team, together with INTA technicians, will carry out the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) which, once passed, will give the green light to the countdown for the liftoff of the first private Spanish launcher.