A Scottish rocket firm is readying for Icelandic rocket launches

Skyrora believes Iceland could serve as a launchpad for its sub-orbital rocket launches.

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A Skyrora rocket lifts off on a May 2019 test mission. (Skyrora)

Better known for serving as a proxy for other worlds for scientists and filmmakers, Iceland is being eyed by a Scottish rocket-maker as a testing site for rocket launches.

Space agencies typically prefer to launch rockets from areas with stable weather conditions closer to the equator, but Skyrora says Iceland’s sparsely populated coastline should make it easy to find a site where it can launch over water, while its geographic location makes it possible to launch satellites into polar orbit.

Skyrora representatives announced in January while visiting Iceland that the company is seeking permission from national and local authorities to conduct launches. Once those are approved, the company plans to complete three experimental launches from Iceland during a 12-month period.

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Founded in 2017, Skyrora specialises in building and launching sub-orbital rockets for satellites. The company reports having 130 employees working at offices in Scotland, England, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Iceland has no official space agency, and is only in the early phases of joining the European Space Agency, but foreign space agencies, including NASA, as well private firms, have been using Iceland as a stand in for the Moon and Mars since the 1960s.

Skyrora said the recent visit allowed it to meet it with public agencies and local firms that have experience with space technology.

“We’ve had a very good partnership with the Iceland Space Agency and hope to be able to work with more interested parties,” said Owain Hughes, a Skyrora spokesperson.

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Despite its official-sounding name, the Iceland Space Agency is a private organization. Founded two years ago, its goal is to attract space firms to Iceland. This past summer, it was involved in testing of a prototype of a Mars-exploration suit.

While the organisation markets Iceland as a “launchpad” for trips to the Moon or Mars, co-founder David Leeb explained in a recent interview that the term was meant figuratively.