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Blast off: Scottish space companies secured funding to develop satellite launch technologies

Orbex and Skyrora have secured £8.5 million in funds
Orbex and Skyrora have secured £8.5 million in funds

A pair of Scottish space companies have successfully secured a total of more than £8.5 million to develop their world-leading small satellite launch technologies.

Forres-based Orbex and Skyrora, of Edinburgh, received the funding under the European Space Agency (ESA) Boost! initiative and will use it to further develop their projects and bring them to market.

Orbital launch services company Orbex was awarded in excess of £6 million, the largest Boost! grant so far, to support development of its Prime launch vehicle, which will deliver small satellites into orbit from the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland.

The firm said it would supplement the funding with an additional £3.4m in matched private investment.

Orbex currently employs 40 people but plans to create up to 300 more jobs as it scales up rocket production in Moray.

The firm’s Boost! funding will go towards the completion of spaceflight systems in preparation for the first launches of Prime – a 62ft “microlauncher” rocket fueled by bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel which has been designed to leave zero debris in orbit around the Earth.

Most of the funding package, including the matched sum, will be spent in the UK, in particular on the lightweight avionics being designed by Orbex in Forres, and a guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software subsystem from Spanish company Elecnor Deimos. About £657,000 will support GNC development work in Portugal.

Orbex has already signed six commercial customers for satellite launches, with the first expected to take place in 2022 from Space Hub Sutherland (SHS).

Planning permission for the spaceport was granted last August, with construction expected to start this year. SHS is currently the only vertical launch spaceport in the UK that has received planning permission.

Orbex chief executive Chris Larmour said: “We very much appreciate the investment in new, commercially-focused microlauncher technologies from ESA’s new Boost! programme.

“Orbex´s environmentally sustainable microlaunchers will soon be launching for the first time from the UK, and ESA’s recognition of the commercial and scientific opportunities this brings to Europe is significant.”

ESA commercial space transportation programme manager Thilo Kranz said: “There is excitement and momentum in European spaceflight and privately-led initiatives, like the one from Orbex, are going to be a critical component of the long-term success of the European space industry.”

Skyrora has received £2.5m to complete the development of its XL launch vehicle, which will also carry small satellites into orbit.

The funding will contribute to the creation of an additional 170 jobs at the company and is expected to trigger onward job creation across the UK’s space, manufacturing and engineering sectors. The vehicle is on course to be test-launched in 2022 from a UK spaceport.

Skyrora chief executive Volodymyr Levykin said: “Our pioneering work on championing environmental spaceflight, our proprietary eco-fuel and green innovations, together with the support of the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency, will help establish the UK not only as a world leader in space technology but the greenest space industry in the world too.”

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