Spanish company PLD Space launches rocket for 1st time

a white rocket launches into a night sky.
PLD Space's Miura 1 suborbital rocket launches on its debut flight on Oct. 6, 2023. (Image credit: PLD Space)

Spanish company PLD Space now has one launch under its belt.

PLD Space's Miura 1 suborbital rocket lifted off today from the El Arenosillo Test Center at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology in Huelva, Spain, at 8:19 p.m. EDT (0019 GMT and 0219 local time in Spain on Oct. 7).

The  mission was scheduled to last 12 minutes and get 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth's surface — the altitude at which space begins, according to NASA and the U.S. military. (That's not universally accepted, however; some organizations go with the Kármán line, which lies 62 miles, or 100 km, up.)

Miura 1 — which is named after a type of fighting bull — didn't get that high, topping out at 28.6 miles (46 km) on a flight that lasted 306 seconds, according to a company statement. But the rocket performed well enough on its first-ever test flight to have PLD Space celebrating.

Related: European spaceflight companies are racing to be the first to reach orbit

The Miura 1 is a single-stage rocket that stands 41 feet (12.5 meters) tall. It can carry about 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of payload on brief flights to suborbital space.

Miura 1 carried a payload on its debut mission — an experiment from the German Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity that studied microgravity conditions during the flight, according to PLD Space. The company also put photos of its employees on board to mark the milestone moment.

The mission ended with Miura 1's splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean. PLD Space had boats in the area, which aimed to recover the vehicle for inspection and analysis. (The Miura 1 is the first European rocket that's designed to be recoverable.)

The launch commentators for the debut mission of PLD Space's Miura 1 suborbital rocket celebrate its performance on Oct. 6, 2023. (Image credit: PLD Space)

PLD Space aims to learn a great deal about the vehicle from tonight's test mission, chiefly to inform the development of a more ambitious, more powerful vehicle.

"This launch is the result of more than 12 years of hard work, but it is only the beginning of what is to come," PLD Space launch director and co-founder Raúl Torres said in the same statement.

"Thanks to this experimental flight, we will be able to extract a large volume of information that will allow us to validate a large part of the design and technology that will serve as the basis for developing our orbital launcher, Miura 5," he added.

The Miura 5 could launch as soon as 2025 and enter service in 2026, if everything goes well. The orbital rocket, which features a reusable first stage, will fly from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Tonight's launch wasn't be the first attempt for the Miura 1. An initial try on June 17 was aborted 0.2 seconds before liftoff, after ground software determined that one of the cables connecting the rocket to its launch tower hadn't disconnected in time. PLD Space's investigation subsequently found that the cable had indeed been released, but 0.1 seconds later than planned.

The Miura 1 liftoff was one of four space missions planned for today. Already in the books today are Virgin Galactic's fourth commercial space tourism mission and the launch of Amazon's first two prototype internet satellites atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. France-based company Arianespace aimed to loft 12 satellites tonight at 9:36 p.m. EDT (0136 GMT on Oct. 7) with its Vega rocket, but that attempt was scrubbed late in the countdown clock.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9 p.m. EDT on Oct. 6 with the results of tonight's flight, then again at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Oct. 7 with information from PLD Space's post-launch statement.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.