Skyrora: Environmental Launch in the UK
First stage of Black Arrow on display at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum. Credit: Skyrora

Skyrora: Environmental Launch in the UK

21/07/2022Written by Guest Blog

In a bid to aid the global environmental clean-up mission and to set an example in reducing the use of petroleum-derived fossil fuels, Ecosene is being developed by Skyrora as an alternative environmentally friendly aerospace fuel.

Book online now and upgrade to a free annual pass

Book
mascot Telescope Right

In a bid to aid the global environmental clean-up mission and to set an example in reducing the use of petroleum-derived fossil fuels, Ecosene is being developed by Skyrora as an alternative environmentally friendly aerospace fuel.

Who are Skyrora?

Who are Skyrora?
Model of the Skyrora-XL rocket. Credit: Skyrora

Skyrora is a Scottish-based private rocket company, that is developing an environmentally conscious orbital rocket named the Skyrora-XL, which is being manufactured in Scotland. The Skyrora-XL is a 3-stage rocket dedicated to placing small satellites into low earth orbit, from between 200km to 1000km in altitude. Typically, small satellites range from 1kg to 180kg in size and the Skyrora-XL can carry 315kg of satellite payload to low earth orbit. The Skyrora-XL is being manufactured in the UK and is set to launch from the Shetland Islands at SaxaVord Spaceport by mid-2023.

Skyrora draws inspiration from Black Arrow, the first UK-designed and manufactured rocket that conducted the first and only successful UK orbital launch over 50 years ago. Skyrora has designed the Skyrora-XL based off the proven technology that was used on the Black Arrow rocket.

The Skyrora-XL rocket

The Skyrora-XL rocket
Combustion or fire triangle - three elements are needed for a fire to ignite: heat, fuel, and an oxidizing agent (usually oxygen). Credit: Gustavb CC BY-SA 3.0
The Skyrora-XL rocket
Example of a future Skyrora-XL Launch Credit: Skyrora
The Skyrora-XL rocket
Plastic bags that can be used as the feedstock for Ecosene. Credit: Skyrora

The Skyrora-XL is Skyrora’s main launch vehicle standing at 23m tall. Much like Black Arrow, the Skyrora-XL is a 3-stage rocket that uses kerosene and high-test peroxide (HTP) as fuel, in a fuel and oxidiser mix.

In the field of rocketry, rocket grade kerosene is also named RP-1. Simply put, RP-1 is a highly refined form of kerosene. A less refined version of kerosene is also used as Jet fuel.

HTP is a highly concentrated solution of hydrogen peroxide. You may even have hydrogen peroxide lying around your house! At home, 3-12% hydrogen peroxide is commonly used to lighten hair, whereas at Skyrora we use 98% strength hydrogen peroxide.

Although Skyrora are inspired by Black Arrow, there are still several differences between the fuel combinations of the two rockets. The Skyrora-XL uses a slightly fuel richer propellant, with six-parts HTP to one-part RP-1, whereas Black Arrow used eight-parts HTP to one-part RP-1.

At Skyrora our mission is to secure the future of Earth by enabling environmentally conscious access to space. In terms of harmful emissions from a Skyrora-XL launch, HTP only releases steam when it is burned, so this only leaves the emissions from the RP-1 to be dealt with.

Skyrora uses an eco-friendly version of RP-1 named Ecosene. This Ecosene and HTP fuel combination provides a reduction in toxic sulphur emissions compared to the conventional propellants of RP-1 and liquid oxygen. This minimises the environmental impact from launch of the Skyrora-XL. As well as producing lower sulphur emissions, Ecosene is made by taking unrecyclable waste plastics, and turning them into rocket fuel. Ecosene has been made to reduce plastic pollution in the UK and worldwide, by reusing and recirculating non-recyclable plastics. By 2030 Skyrora plans to launch 16 Skyrora-XL rockets per year from the UK. Using Ecosene during all 16 launches will remove 720 metric tons of plastic waste from local landfills per year.

 

Eco-friendly rocket fuel

Eco-friendly rocket fuel
Ecosene fuel in a flask Credit: Skyrora

Skyrora’s Ecosene technology uses the techniques of:

– catalytic pyrolysis, to convert plastics including Polypropylene (PP), Polyester (PE), and Polystyrene (PS) into liquid oil and other valuable products

– and hydrotreatment, to remove contaminants

so that the final product can be used as rocket fuel.

Plastics have become a great threat to life on Earth and this is a problem we must come together to change. Ecosene meets the essential need for a global change in attitude towards plastic waste by removing the end-of-life label on plastics and turning them into a resource. By offering a remedy for single-use plastic waste we also consequently reduce secondary microplastics production. Ecosene will also further alleviate the depletion of our Earths’ fossil fuels by providing a more sustainable option for RP-1 rocket fuel.

Skyrora have successfully recycled plastic waste using this plastic-to-fuel pyrolysis and hydrocracking process. This process produced kerosene, petrol, and diesel fractions. Ecosene has also been successfully tested on a Skyrora-XL third-stage 3.5 kN engine. The next step for Ecosene is to build the first Ecosene plant on Scottish soil, allowing for operations to begin commercially. Our Ecosene plant will be mobile and modular, meaning that it will have a small physical footprint on the local environment.

About the author: Rosie Hull is a Business Analyst at Skyrora