The Spanish Miura 1 rocket plays it

The countdown has already begun. March, maybe April 2023. The first fully developed suborbital rocket in Europe will make its first test flight. Miura 1 will take off from Spain, the country where it was born and raised, in the PLD Space hangar, located by pure chance on Copernicus street, on the outskirts of the city of Alicante. Miura 1 is the starting point of a generation of rockets made in Spain that will serve to test the proper functioning of a pioneer, Miura 5.

Mission Embroidered Patch.

What makes the Miura mission an international milestone is that it involves the development of the first rocket capable of placing satellites in orbit at a low cost, without queuing up in the hangar of the large NASA and ESA launchers, and with the return of the rocket for reuse.

In this era, which is defined by the struggle between public and private companies to place useful satellites in the sky, Miura appears as an opportunity to democratize space. But, before becoming a reality, it has to pass its first litmus test.

What is a suborbital rocket?

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rocket trajectories. A and B correspond to suborbital flights.
Brian Brondel/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In its suborbital flight, the Miura 1 will not go around the planet completely, but will take off and land again somewhere nearby. She does not have enough kinetic energy either to continuously orbit or to escape from Earth. What it will reach is a considerable height in its flight, greater than 100 km (commercial airplanes fly at an altitude of about 10 km in traverse).

Miura 5 will be an evolution: it will be designed to put small satellites into orbit, using 2 stages, to then return to earth with the first stage, which can be used again and thus reduce launch costs.

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Recreation of Miura 5.
PLD Space, CC BY

Miura 1 in numbers

Miura 1 measures 12.5 meters and at takeoff time it will have a mass of 2,550 kilograms. The transportable payload is 100 kilograms and the duration of the flight is scheduled to be 12 minutes. It has a single engine with a thrust force of 30.1 kN at sea level, with a specific impulse of 240 seconds.

The rocket will climb up to 153 km in altitude and return safely with the payload. This is what makes him extraordinary. It is recoverable. A spacecraft capable of taking satellites into space and back is a milestone in the satellite age.

The return: an essay based on trial and error

But before celebrating, Miura 1 has to pass its litmus test. It will serve to test up to 70% of the technologies that will later form part of the final prototype, Miura 5, scheduled for 2025.

The rocket is a technological demonstrator prior to the main launcher, with which the PLD company hopes to lead the aerospace industry of “small” launchers in Europe, and to rank in the top three worldwide.

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First version of the TEPREL Engine.
PLD Space

Miura 1 is a single-stage launcher that is going to be powered by a single TEPREL-1B engine, which has needed an evolution of 5 versions, and which is very similar to the Kestrel from Space X. The fuel used by this rocket is Jet kerosene. A-1 (the same used by commercial aviation) and the oxidizing agent, necessary for combustion, is liquid oxygen.

The rocket recovery system is carried out with the vehicle re-entering the atmosphere with the bonnet pointing downwards, using parachute systems, with an initial or primary parachute and a second parachute. In this way, the speed will be reduced to 10 km/h at the time of splashdown, which is expected to be some 70 km away from the Spanish coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

In the words of Raúl Torres, CEO of PLD, “there is no manual to make a rocket motor in 10 steps”, wanting to highlight the great technical difficulty for the development of a launcher of this type, and that the best way to progress is by trial and error. For this reason, the 3 initial missions planned for Miura 1 will be learn-by-test missions in real conditions, to test and redesign both the rocket and the ground facilities.

Like any launch, it carries its risks despite having passed all the tests on the ground. A minor error can trigger the cancellation of the launch.

A failed fuel burn, which is why NASA’s Artemis mission had to be delayed twice, or a small deviation in trajectory are more than enough to abort the mission. That is why it is so important that the meteorological conditions are adequate: the speed of the wind, the proximity of storms or the types of clouds to cross in the flight path.

Teruel is postulated as Europe’s space airport

The static propulsion and validation tests of the rocket were carried out at the Teruel airport, where the company has engine test facilities. This airport has been postulated to be the only space airport in Europe since Teruel is considered a territory star lightwith one of the clearest skies and clean air traffic in the world.

Finally, the launch of the Miura 1 will take place in El Arenosillo (Huelva), where the National Institute of Aerospace Technology has the necessary equipment to allow the launch of suborbital rockets. Two launch windows have already been booked, one in March and one in April. This second would be used in case the weather conditions in the first were not conducive to launch.

Miura 1 missions will last about 12 minutes with 3 to 4 minutes in microgravity after main engine shutdown, due to oxygen limitation, at about 80 km altitude.

Why is this milestone so important?

So far there are only large satellite launchers that today are more profitable, which means that “small” satellites take much longer to be put into orbit. With Miura, the waiting time for this type of small satellite will be greatly reduced and it will also be affordable for modest companies or organizations with smaller budgets.

Another point to keep in mind is that the minor payloads in the large launchers do not decide the orbit, so they have to be adapted not only to the waiting launch window, but also to the orbit defined by the “big” launchers. ” loads on board.

The Miura 1 will put Spain and Europe in the headlines around the world with this milestone. An achievement in a country where the vocation and the scientific pruritus, with resources that cannot be compared, not even remotely, with the budgets in other countries, achieves wonderful adventures.

Good luck Miura!

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