PLD Space postpones first launch to September

WASHINGTON — Spanish launch vehicle startup PLD Space has postponed a suborbital test flight to September after weather and a technical glitch thwarted earlier launch attempts.

The company announced on June 27 that the launch of its Miura-1 missile from a military base in south-west Spain would be postponed until September. The company cited “mandatory compliance” with a Spanish law and military directive that restricts such forest fire prevention activities.

PLD Space had planned to conduct the suborbital launch in late May from the shore facility operated by the government’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology. However, it postponed a launch attempt on May 31 in the hours before launch, citing strong high winds that lasted for days.

The company was preparing for a second attempt early June 17 (June 16 US time). The countdown reached zero and the vehicle’s first stage engine fired, then immediately shut down. PLD Space later said it aborted the launch because all of the umbilicals attached to the rocket’s avionics bay did not detach as required.

“Launching a rocket designed from scratch is a huge challenge and we have successfully completed 99.9% of all preparatory operations up to the countdown,” said Raúl Torres, CEO and co-founder of PLD Space, in a statement on the launch delay. “The entire pre-launch phase was a complete success and we are close to the successful launch of Europe’s first reusable rocket.”

Miura 1 is a suborbital vehicle whose single stage is designed to be parachuted down and recovered. It can carry a payload of up to 100 kilograms to an altitude of 150 kilometers.

The vehicle is primarily a technology demonstrator for the company’s small Miura 5 launch vehicle, which is expected to deliver up to 500 kilograms into orbit starting in 2025. “For every second Miura 1 is in the air, we will learn and collect data on the development of Miura 5,” PLD Space executive president Ezequiel Sanchez said in a May statement on the planned launch of Miura 1.

While Miura 1 remained on the launch pad, PLD Space continued to make progress on Miura 5. The company announced on June 21 that it had signed a binding contract with French space agency CNES to use the former Diamond launch site in Kourou, French Guiana , has signed Miura 5. The company previously announced its intention to launch from Kourou.

Under the agreement, CNES will be responsible for basic infrastructure such as roads and utilities, while PLD Space will build its own launch facilities there. German launch vehicle developer Rocket Factory Augsburg also announced on June 21 an agreement with CNES to use the Diamant site, which is earmarked for supporting multiple small launch vehicles.

PLD Space separately announced an agreement with Arianespace on June 14 to explore “possible future collaboration” in space transportation. Arianespace signed a similar agreement on June 13 with Orbex, a UK-based developer of small launch vehicles.

The agreements came as a bit of a surprise as Arianespace executives had previously expressed skepticism that there would be high demand for so-called “micro-launchers” like the Miura 5. The company has turned its attention to the Vega C, which has a much larger payload capacity than micro-launchers, and the much larger Ariane 6.

Pablo Gallego, senior vice president of sales and customers at PLD Space, suggested in a statement on the Arianespace agreement that his company could complement Arianespace’s offering by launching multiple small satellites into specific orbits. “Possible collaboration could enable solutions that are highly demanded by our customers and give the Smallsat community the confidence to go into any orbit at any time.”

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