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Spaceflight firm Orbex fired up with £40.4 million funding boost for first rocket launch from Highlands

Orbex rocket on launchpad.
New funding will allow Orbex to scale up resources.

Forres-based spaceflight company Orbex has secured £40.4 million from the Scottish Investment Bank to fuel its first launch from the Highlands.

The firm’s latest Series C funding round was led by the Scottish Government-owned development bank.

The new round of finance will allow the Moray company to scale up its resources as it counts down to the first vertical launch from UK soil, possibly in the first half of next year from Space Hub Sutherland.

Orbex recently revealed its “Prime” rocket in its final form making this the first full orbital micro-launcher to be unveiled in Europe. Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket designed to transport small satellites weighing up to 180kg into low Earth orbit.

Orbex rocket on launch pad.
Orbex is looking to reduce the carbon footprint of launches by using renewable bio-fuel.

Orbex’s rocket will launch from Space Hub Sutherland near Tongue on the north coast, which is expected to be the UK’s first operational spaceport. Orbex applied for a space launch licence from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority in early 2022.

The latest funding round saw a renewed commitment from existing investors BGF, Heartcore Capital, High-Tech Gründerfonds and Octopus Ventures.

New investors include:

  • The Scottish National Investment Bank
  • Jacobs, which is NASA‘s largest services provider, delivers solutions and full lifecycle aerospace capabilities including the Mars Perseverance Rover and the Artemis deep space human exploration programme. It also supports decommissioning and remediation projects at the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness
  • The Danish Green Future Fund, an investment fund designed to support the transition to green solutions both in Denmark and the rest of the world. The investment will be managed on behalf of the fund by Vækstfonden – the sovereign investment fund of Denmark
  • Verve Ventures, a network and technology-driven venture capital firm headquartered in Switzerland
  • British entrepreneurs Phillip and James Chambers, founders of Peakon and Hazport respectively

Space Hub Sutherland aiming to become carbon-neutral

Orbex says the Prime rocket will be the first orbital vehicle to be powered by a renewable bio-fuel, Calor’s Futuria Liquid Gas, a form of bio-propane which will play a part in reducing the carbon footprint of space launches by up to 96% when compared with similarly-sized launch vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

Space Hub Sutherland is also aiming to become the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceport.

Orbex is currently performing a variety of integration tests, including evaluation 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.

This will carry a payload developed by one of the world’s largest small satellite companies, Surrey Satellite Technology.

Orbex boss Chris Larmour.
Orbex CEO Chris Larmour.

Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said: “We’re delighted to have closed this new funding round led by the Scottish National Investment Bank.

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

Orbex team brings ‘huge amount of skill and experience’

“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.

“This significant new funding round is testament to the work of that team and will allow us to continue to build Orbex towards our long-term goal of establishing a reliable, economically successful and environmentally sustainable European space launch business.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) director of strategic projects David Oxley added: “This is great news for Orbex and the Highlands and Islands and a demonstration of investor confidence in the business as a leading player in the growing Scottish space sector.

Orbex’s headquarters on Forres Enterprise Park.

“We have been pleased to support Orbex’s development in Moray where it has created dozens of high-quality manufacturing jobs over the past couple of years and recently announced plans for many more.”

Orbex recently unveiled plans to recruit an additional 50 staff in the next six months with the majority in its Moray headquarters as the company nears the final push for the first vertical rocket launch from UK soil.

The company estimates 40 of the new jobs would be based at its headquarters in Forres, Moray with many of the roles supporting integrated testing of the complete rocket at the Orbex LP1 launch platform test facility at nearby Kinloss.

The new positions will strengthen existing teams responsible for areas of rocket development including propulsion, structures, avionics, CNC machining and embedded software.

Orbex has ‘exciting future’ at forefront of sustainable space travel

For her part, Karen Wiemelt, Jacobs energy, security and technology SVP added: “We are impressed by the progress made by Orbex, which has an exciting future at the forefront of sustainable space travel, having developed technology with the potential to deliver positive benefits for generations to come.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with Orbex over the long term in areas such as operational support and the provision of a range of technical, engineering and consultancy services, bringing major economic and social benefits to north Highland and Moray.”