Funding boost to put Orbex on Scottish launchpad

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Plans by Orbex to launch small satellites from Scotland have received a boost following a $24m funding round led by BGF and Octopus Ventures.

Image: Orbex

The latest investment puts the Forres headquartered company on course to the first launch from Scotland’s Space Hub Sutherland spaceport.

“Orbex is an impressive UK company which is developing a strongly differentiated and innovative launch solution for the rapidly-growing small satellite market,” said Keith Barclay, investor at BGF. “In Europe, they are a recognised leader with an experienced team, substantial institutional support, a growing customer list and patented technology. The private space sector remains a key future industry for both Scottish and UK governments.”

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Orbex’s Prime rocket uses bio-propane that is claimed to cut CO2 emissions by 90 per cent compared to kerosene-based rocket fuels. Designed to be recoverable and re-usable, Orbex Prime is intended to leave no debris in the ocean or in orbit around the Earth. The company’s rocket vehicle for low-cost orbital launches is being built at factories in Forres, near Inverness, and Copenhagen in Denmark.

Six commercial satellite launch contracts have been confirmed, with the first launches expected in 2022. Orbex’s preferred launch site will be the Sutherland spaceport on the northernmost coast of Scotland, which was granted planning permission in August 2020 and is expected to begin construction in 2021.

In a statement, Scottish minister for trade, investment and innovation Ivan McKee said: “Our aim is for Scotland to secure a £4bn slice of the global space market by 2030 - an ambitious but realistic target. The Scottish space sector has a unique selling point - using space as a force for good - designing lighter, more efficient rockets, developing clean burning and renewable fuel and using satellite data to combat climate change and promote scientific discovery. This investment will help Orbex take a significant step towards their goal of placing small satellites into orbit from Space Hub Sutherland and help build an innovative new industry for Scotland’s economy.”

The funding round is completed by a €2.5m grant from the European Horizon 2020 SME Instrument programme – the first for a UK space-sector company – to support the development of patented coaxial tanking technology. Orbex previously won £5.5m in grant funding from the UK Space Agency’s Launch UK programme in 2018.