That's the Spirit - Belfast joins space race with Scotland's version of Elon Musk

Announcing the Spirit-Skyrora collaboration in Belfast are (from left) Volodymyr Levykin, founder and chief executive of Skyrora; Nick Laird, managing director, European Space & Defence, Spirit AeroSystems; David Morris MP, National Space Champion; and Matt Archer, director of launch at UK Space Agency
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BELFAST is set to join the space race - by building rocket launch parts for a company run by Scotland's answer to Elon Musk.

Spirit AeroSystems in the Harbour Estate will collaborate with Cumbernauld-based launch-vehicle manufacturer Skyrora on orbital launch capability.

The announcement was confirmed as the UK Space Convention opened in Belfast, home to Spirit’s largest UK manufacturing facility.

Skyrora is currently developing an agile end-to-end launch service to provide access to space for small satellites globally.

It has already conducted a test launch of the suborbital Skylark L vehicle, and says it is just months away from launching a rocket at Unst in the Shetland Islands, deploying the first satellite in orbit from UK soil. It expects to conduct up to 16 launches a year once operating at scale.

Its founder and chief executive Volodymyr Levykin - who like Elon Musk once worked in IT before turning to the space race - said: “This alliance with Spirit is a real testament to the strides Skyrora has made, and continues to make, towards our mission of being the first British company to launch from UK soil.

“It will allow us to renew our focus on localising our supply chain as much as possible, which is a key part of our mission to create a responsible and sustainable approach to orbital launch.

“By collaborating with innovative partners like Spirit, Skyrora will be able to access manufacturing and testing capacity right here in the UK.

“Historically, space has not been an environmentally friendly industry, but we are committed to being a responsible player that continues to foster talent and skills nationally as the ambitious new space economy goes from strength to strength.”

Spirit (formerly Short Brothers) makes aerospace components, including wings for the Airbus A220 aircraft, but its presence in UK space is growing.

Its broad offering of highly adaptive manufacturing and testing solutions in metallics and composites, at both its Scotland and Northern Ireland facilities, brings significant industrial capacity to Skyrora’s launch proposition.

Under the new deal, the two companies will explore opportunities to transition Skyrora’s orbital launch vehicles from development to full-scale production.

Sir Michael Ryan, vice president of European space and defence at Spirit AeroSystems, said: “Through our support of innovative, sustainable, space technologies and clusters, we can add real value to building UK launch capability.

“Our role will be to fully industrialise Skyrora’s future production requirements, ensuring a smooth path from development to manufacture.”

This week's UK Space Conference is seen as providing a platform for companies like Spirit to cement relationships, enabling commercial success within the space sector, notably UK launch activity.

The UK Government has made orbital launch a key priority, with the National Space Strategy outlining plans to secure an increased portion of a global space economy expected to be worth £490 billion by 2030.

“This collaboration between Skyrora and Spirit clearly demonstrates the attractiveness of the UK’s thriving launch sector and the growing interest from both UK-based and international companies,” said Matt Archer, Director of Launch, UK Space Agency.

“Relationships such as this will not only build our domestic spaceflight capability but also help deliver Government’s ambition for the UK to be Europe’s leading provider of small satellite launch by 2030.