Spaceport in Sutherland

Orbex will launch orbital vehicles from the newly-announced spaceport in Sutherland

Rockets to launch small satellites into orbit using renewable fuel.

Orbex has announced that it has secured £30 million in public and private funding for the development of orbital space launch systems. Orbex will launch orbital vehicles from the newly-announced UK Vertical Launch spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands as part of the main consortium.

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. The company has received funding from the UK Space Agency (UKSA), two of Europe's largest venture capital funds, Sunstone Technology Ventures and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as private investors, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.

Orbex is constructing a completely re-thought and re-designed orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit. The Prime launcher has a novel architecture that eliminates the fundamental mass challenge of small launchers. Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic litre than many heavy launchers. The Prime vehicle will launch satellites to altitudes up to 1,250km, inserting them into sun-synchronous or polar orbits.

“It is our ethos to invest in exceptional entrepreneurs with bold visions,” said Jimmy Fussing Nielsen, Managing Partner of Sunstone Technology Ventures. “Behind the scenes, Orbex has made huge strides forward over the past three years, reaching a level of technical and commercial sophistication that is surprising for a young company. This explains why Orbex has been able to attract such high-profile public and private backers, as well as experienced team members. Just out of stealth mode, Orbex is already well on its way to becoming the leading private space launch company in Europe.”

Minimising the environmental impact of launches was a key consideration in the rocket’s design. Prime is a low-mass and low-carbon launcher, using a single renewable fuel, bio-propane, that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to old-fashioned hydrocarbon fuels. The rocket uses a novel zero-shock staging system called Magic, which leaves zero orbital debris. It also features a novel reusability concept, with an innovative new low mass recovery and reflight system.

“It was clear to us from the start that Orbex had the potential to disrupt and fundamentally improve the satellite launch market in Europe and beyond,” said Yann Fiebig, Senior Investment Manager at the High-Tech Gründerfonds. “The company has made rapid progress, taking their innovations from concept to reality in short order. Their very strong management team deserves full credit for its ability to execute and we look forward to being part of their positive disruption over the coming months and years.”

Orbex has already secured commercial engagements with major aerospace organisations. The European Space Agency has contracted Orbex to study the development of a European micro launcher solution. Also, an engagement with a leading European aerospace company will be announced on Tuesday 17th July.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former Director General of the European Space Agency has joined Orbex as Chairman of the Advisory Board. He is joined by other notable figures from the space industry, including Jan Skolmli, Orbex’s recently-appointed Chief Commercial Officer, who was formerly Head of Launch at SSTL, the world’s leading small satellite manufacturer. Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. Equipment developed by Orbex team members has flown on more than 50 deep space missions, and collectively they have developed more than 50 rocket engines and a wide range of orbital and suborbital launch vehicles.

“Orbex is one of the very few private spaceflight companies whose staff have credible, practical experience in the development of micro-launch vehicles and rocket engines,” commented Chris Larmour, Orbex CEO. “With our collective experience, we have developed a low mass, low carbon, high performance 21st century orbital launch vehicle, designed specifically to support the needs of the rapidly growing smallsat industry. There is a significant launch backlog for small satellites globally and Orbex is primed to give industry and science a cost-effective, reliable and responsive route into space, directly from Europe.”

photos credited to Orbex/Anders Bøggild

 

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