Orbex Prime during its reveal. ©Orbex

UK launch company awarded £3.3 Million from UK Space Agency and ESA

On the 13th of December, the UK-based space launch service company Orbex announced it had received 3.3 million Pound sterling, which is roughly equivalent to 4.165 million United States Dollars as of writing, from the UK Space Agency under the European Space Agency's 'Boost!' program.

Orbex has said they will use the funding to build its 'Ultra-Green Launch Complex' at the Southerland Spaceport in northern Scotland. The Southerland Spaceport and Orbex's launch complex are being designed to be the world's first carbon-neutral spaceport.

Orbex also hopes to fly its 'low-carbon' rocket, Orbex Prime, from Southerland Spaceport to polar orbit, sun-synchronous orbit, and high inclination low Earth orbit.

In a press release Martin Coates, Chief Executive Officer of Orbex, said the following about being awarded the funds:

“Receiving this funding from the UK Space Agency as part the European Space Agency’s Boost! programme is not only very welcome, it’s further validation of our commitment to delivering low-carbon, high-performance space launch services in a way that respects the environment. The development of the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport is a critical step this journey, and this support will enable us to continue working toward our ultimate goal of making the UK a central hub for European space flight.”

In the same press release Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency, said the following about the funding:

“Our investment in Orbex demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies. This funding will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport, enhancing our launch capability, creating high skilled jobs, and supporting the government’s vision for the UK to be Europe’s most attractive launch destination by 2030."

What is Orbex Prime?

Orbex Prime's second stage 1/1 scale model. ©Orbex
Orbex Prime's second stage 1/1 scale model. ©Orbex

Orbex Prime is an in-development two-stage small satellite launch vehicle planned to be partially reusable. Orbex currently plans to have both stages burn liquid oxygen and BioLPG, liquefied petroleum gas.

In its current stage of design, Orbex Prime is 19 meters tall and 1.45 meters wide. The fairings are also 1.45 meters wide and will split into two halves.

The Engines of Orbex Prime are currently unnamed with details unknown, what is known is that there will be six engines on the first stage and one engine on the second stage. The total mass of the rocket is eighteen tons currently so during flight each first-stage engine will need to produce roughly four tons of thrust for flight, assuming a liftoff thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.3.

Orbex claims Orbex Prime could send up to 200 kilograms to certain orbits, but mainly plans to launch up to 180 kilograms to sun-synchronous orbit.

Orbex is also planning to reuse Orbex Prime but hasn't specified what parts of the rocket. It will likely be the first stage and its engine in a recovery and reuse process similar to Rocket Labs Electron rocket, which lands downrange at sea under parachutes.

Who is Orbex?

Orbex's facility in Denmark. ©Orbex
Orbex's facility in Denmark. ©Orbex

Orbex, full company name Orbital Express Launch Ltd., is a commercial launch company founded in 2015 based out of Forres in Scotland. The current Chief Executive Officer of Orbex is Martin Coates.

Orbex is currently headquartered in Forres, Scotland, with some production facilities and also has design and production facilities in Denmark.