Astronaut Tim Peake has teamed up with an Edinburgh-based rocket company to launch a mission to rescue a British satellite which was propelled into space over 50 years ago.

Skyrora has called on the UK space industry to support its efforts to find Prospero – the first and only British satellite to have been launched successfully by a British rocket – and remove it from orbit.

Chief executive Volodymyr Levykin was joined by British Major Tim Peake in issuing the call to government agencies, space companies, and academia to develop a technical plan to de-orbit the 66kg (145lb) satellite.

The now-defunct object, regarded as an important piece of UK space heritage by skyrora, is circling the globe on an elliptical orbit some 1,000km up.

Skyrora’s Space Tug orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) – which can refire its engines around 15 times to collect ‘space junk’ – is set to play a significant role in the mission.

Space junk – the ever-increasing volume of redundant satellites orbiting earth – is one of the biggest problems facing the global space industry. There is an estimated 170 million pieces of space junk orbiting the planet.

Speaking at the launch of Finding Prospero, Levykin said: “It’s 50 years since the UK launched a British satellite into orbit from a British rocket. The UK is a world leader in space technology, and today as a country we are embarking on a new chapter of space innovation.

“By recovering Prospero, we are not only coming together as a space nation and taking responsibility for what we have launched into orbit, but also confirming our commitment to the sustainable use of outer space.”

Prospero was launched on the Black Arrow rocket from Woomera, South Australia on 28 October 1971. In 2018, Skyrora recovered parts of the rocket which fell back to Australia in the course of the mission.

The satellite could be heard transmitting on 137.56 MHz (one million cycles per second) as late as 2004.

The launch event was hosted by TV presenter Dallas Campbell. Other speakers, as well as ESA Astronaut Major Tim Peake, included Black Arrow engineer Terry Brooke, senior advisor Lord David Willetts, and Joanne Wheeler, a leading practitioner in satellite regulation.

It is hoped the mission to retrieve Prospero will also seek to engage and inspire a new generation by shining a spotlight on one of the UK space industry’s “greatest achievements”.

A number of Year 13 pupils (equivalent to S6 in Scotland) from Allestree Woodlands School in Derby also attended the Finding Prospero launch event.

These students won the European Space Agency’s National Cansat competition, and will represent the UK at the European CanSat competition in Bologna, Italy at the end of June.

This space tug challenge is part of Skyrora’s efforts to lead the space industry in sustainability. The company also uses 3D printing in the manufacture of its rockets, and has also developed its own green rocket fuel, Ecosene. Made from waste plastic, Ecosene could prevent more than 3,000 tons of unrecyclable plastic going to landfill by 2030.