Developed by Orbex, the Prime rocket is said to represent a new generation of European launch vehicles designed to provide dedicated launch services to a new category of very small satellites.
Prime has been fully integrated onto a launch pad, allowing Orbex to enter a period of integrated testing involving rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures. Orbex recently revealed their first test launch platform at a new test facility in Kinloss, near to the company's headquarters at Forres in Moray, Scotland.
In a statement, Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency said: “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 Space Hub Sutherland.”
Designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark, Prime is a 19m long, two-stage rocket powered by seven engines. The six rocket engines on the first stage will propel the vehicle to an altitude of around 80km. The single engine on the second stage of the rocket completes the journey to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), allowing the release of its payload of small, commercial satellites into Earth's orbit.
Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable bio-fuel, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK. A study by Exeter University showed that a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will produce 96 per cent lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also re-usable rocket been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.
Chris Larmour, CEO, Orbex said: “This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are. From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else. To deliver the performance and environmental sustainability we wanted from a 21st century rocket we had to innovate in a wide number of areas – low-carbon fuels, fully 3D-printed rocket engines, very lightweight fuel tanks, and a novel, low-mass reusability technology.”
Orbex Prime will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, a new spaceport being constructed on the North Coast of Scotland. Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and will be the first European spaceport brought into operation later in 2022.