Scottish firm on ‘cusp of historic moment’ as it unveils micro-launcher rocket

OBREX has unveiled the first full-scale prototype of the Prime orbital space rocket on its dedicated launch pad publicly for the first time.

Designed to launch a new category of ‘very small’ satellites to orbit, the firm said the unveiling marks a ‘major step forward’ as it prepares for the first ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from UK soil.

The firm recently transported the rocket’s launchpad from Peterhead to Kinloss on two trucks accompanied by a police escort. The launchpad, which weighs in excess of 40 tonnes, was fabricated by Motive Offshore Group and will support test launches in Kinloss.

With the first full integration of the Orbex rocket on a launch pad now complete, the company said it is able to enter a period of integrated testing – allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures.

Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket that is powered by seven engines, that is being designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark. The six rocket engines on the first stage of the rocket will propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80km. The single engine on the second stage of the rocket will complete the journey to low earth orbit (LEO), allowing the release of its payload of small, commercial satellites into Earth’s orbit.

Uniquely, Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable bio-fuel, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK. Orbex explained this fuel allows the rocket to reduce carbon emissions significantly compared to other similarly-sized rockets being developed elsewhere around the world. A study by the University of Exeter 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 a re-usable rocket which has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.

Josef Aschbacher, director general at the European Space Agency (ESA), commented, “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.”

Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, added, “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.”

Chris Larmour, CEO of 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.”