The countdown to launch has begun

It’s been an extremely busy and highly successful year for Orbex so far, with the completion of many important milestones which move us closer to first launch from Scotland.

Orbex Prime Unveiling

The first of these highlights was the unveiling of the Orbex Prime rocket in May, the first full-stack rocket to be revealed in Europe. Designed to deliver small satellites into low Earth orbit, the rocket was unveiled at a private event with invited VIPs from the UK and European space community as well as local community stakeholders before being shared more widely by the national and international media.

Orbex Prime received a warm welcome and the reveal provided an opportunity to witness the outcome of some of the innovative technologies and novel methods have been used to create this new breed of launcher such as the lightweight carbon fibre structures and tanks and 3D printed engines.

Josef Aschbacher, Director General, European Space Agency (ESA): “I am deeply impressed with the speed at which the Orbex Prime rocket was developed. It is the first full orbital micro-launcher in Europe. But I am equally impressed by the low-carbon footprint technology applied. My sincere congratulations to the whole Orbex team for this impressive achievement.”

Orbex Prime will launch from Sutherland Spaceport, a new spaceport being constructed by Orbex on the North Coast of Scotland. Sutherland Spaceport was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and will be the first European spaceport brought into operation in early 2023. It is also the first and only spaceport worldwide that has committed to being carbon-neutral, both in its construction and operation.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency: “We are on the cusp of an historic moment, with Orbex playing a leading role in generating a brand new launch capability in the UK, while creating opportunities for people and businesses across the country. I can’t wait to see Prime lift off from Sutherland.”

UK Science Minister George Freeman: “This is a hugely exciting time for the UK space and satellite sector as we count down to the first satellite launches from UK spaceports. Orbex Prime is a remarkable feat of engineering from a British rocket company, pioneering more sustainable and innovative fuels that cut carbon emissions. It is also fantastic to see Moray-based Orbex creating more high-quality jobs, demonstrating the value of our thriving space sector to support emerging clusters of innovation to help level up the whole of the UK.”

The market for small satellites is increasing rapidly, as a wide range of new small satellite constellations are developed and deployed. Micro-launchers such as Orbex Prime give satellite manufacturers a dedicated launch service, in contrast to larger, ‘rideshare’ launchers, where small satellites are a often a secondary payload, and frequently face significant delays.

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Orbex Prime on the launch platform at the Orbex test site

Closing a £40.4 million Series C funding round

In October we announced the successful completion of our Series C funding round, raising £40.4 million. The funding round was led by the Scottish National Investment Bank and saw a number of new investors joining the round along with renewed commitments from many existing investors.

This new funding will allow us to ramp up resources as we count down to the first vertical launch from UK soil, as well as unlocking additional funding to support future projects, such as the development of a new state-of-the-art production facility in Scotland employing around 400 people.

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Alastair McMillen, Associate and Nicola Douglas, Executive Director (The Scottish National Investment Bank) and Simon Beswick, CFO, Orbex

Orbex takes over development of Sutherland Spaceport

At the beginning of November we shared the exciting news that we have acquired a 50-year lease for the property of Sutherland Spaceport from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which will see us leading the construction and operation of the first vertical spaceport on the UK mainland.

Orbex will be the first space launch company in Europe to also directly build and operate a spaceport. Our investment will give us more flexibility and control over schedule and other important competitive advantages.

The project will stimulate private investment, creating jobs and new supply chain opportunities in the local area. The spaceport will also be the world’s first carbon neutral spaceport in terms of its construction and operation.

Jacobs contracted to deliver spaceport construction

Following their participation in Orbex's Series C funding round, Jacobs will collaborate with Orbex to provide spaceport construction and operations support, operations consultancy, and engineering services, drawing on its experience of managing and operating complex, highly regulated sites such as Cape Canaveral in the United States.

Karen Wiemelt, Senior Vice President, Jacobs Energy, Security and Technology: “The Orbex Prime rocket promises to be a game changer for small satellite developers and operators, enabling them to launch light satellites much more efficiently and cost-effectively.

"Sutherland Spaceport is an important development for the European space industry and will bring major economic and social benefits to North Highland and Moray, where our business has been active for decades in supporting operations, decommissioning and remediation at the Dounreay nuclear site.”

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Artist's impression of Orbex rocket launching from Sutherland Spaceport

Investment in new facilities and capabilities

Over the last 12 months we have extended our footprint in both Scotland and Denmark, to provide additional space for our growing production and testing operations. Our testing facility at Kinloss opened and the first launch platform capable of an orbital launch to be built in the UK for over 50 years was installed, allowing us to perform a wide variety of integration tests, including the testing of the main propellant tanks and engines, as well as testing launch procedures including rollout, strongback erection and fuelling procedures in advance of the first launch.

We have also continued to deliver our capital investment programme, further strengthening our in-house manufacturing capability with the introduction of two new huge CNC machines in Copenhagen and Forres extending our machine shop facility, which already includes large-scale, high precision 3D printing, depowdering and CNC capabilities. These new machines will ensure that we can produce specific parts and components in-house, putting the production schedule firmly in our control.

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Launch platform at Orbex test site

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New CNC machine at Forres factory

New partners to support new ESA contracts

During 2022 we worked with a number of partners to deliver contracts on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). We worked with Force Technology in Denmark to further develop an X-Ray Inspection System for rocket engines and with the University of Exeter and Imperial College London to deliver a study on Ultra-Green Launch & Space Transportation Systems which demonstrated the significant effect that black carbon emissions at high altitude have on the overall Life Cycle emissions generated by launch vehicles.

The findings from this latter study reinforce the importance of Orbex Prime’s environmental credentials and, in particular, the use of low carbon bio-propane fuel, which reduces the carbon emissions from a single launch of the rocket by 96% in comparison with launchers using fossil fuels.

Underpinning these milestones and achievements is the Orbex team which has continued to grow as we have welcomed new colleagues from across the globe to help us deliver our mission. The team is now set to grow by a further 50 people over the next 6 months. We have also launched our biggest internship programme to-date with 6 interns joining teams across the business for the 10-month 22/23 programme, giving them a unique opportunity to learn from our team of experts.

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Members of the Orbex Intern Team 2022/23

Chris Larmour, CEO, Orbex: “2022 has been a really important year for the Orbex team with some enormous milestones: unveiling ‘Prime’ for the first time, concluding our Series C funding round and being awarded a 50-year lease to construct and operate Sutherland Spaceport.

"Orbex has made significant progress to get to this point, with the invention of ground-breaking, innovative technology, the rapid development and testing of the launch vehicle, the expansion of our manufacturing footprint in the UK and Denmark, the creation of the UK´s first orbital spaceport in mainland Scotland, and the growth in customers from the UK, Europe and America signing up to launch dedicated payloads with Orbex.

"These results have only been made possible by the maturity and dedication of the entire Orbex team, who bring a huge amount of skill and experience to their tasks from a wide variety of industries, launch systems and spacecraft. Together we will continue to build Orbex towards our long-term goal of establishing a reliable, economically successful and environmentally sustainable European space launch business.”