Forres-headquartered space company Orbex has secured $24 million (£18 million) in funding to accelerate new UK space projects.
Orbex has already confirmed six commercial satellite launch contracts, with the first expected in 2022. The company’s preferred launch site will be the Sutherland port which was granted planning permission in mid-August 2020.
Commenting on the funding, Orbex CEO Chris Larmour said: “This financing round is an important step forward for Orbex. It helps us maintain our rapid pace and allows us to move forward with certainty towards our first launch from the Sutherland spaceport.
“With BGF and Octopus Ventures we have found significant strategic partners who recognise our vision, and who have the capability to support our development through both the early flights and into subsequent growth and production.”
Orbex will carry out the launch with its new Orbex Prime rocket, which uses bio-propane, a renewable biofuel that cuts CO2 emissions by 90% compared to traditional kerosene-based rocket fuels.
The rocket is designed to be recoverable and re-usable and leaves no debris in the ocean or in orbit around the Earth. The company is constructing the rocket vehicle at factories in Forres, near Inverness in Scotland, and Copenhagen in Denmark.
“This is great for Forres, Moray and the Highlands and marks further strong progress for Orbex,” said Scottish Minister for Trade, Investment, and Innovation Ivan McKee.
“Our aim is for Scotland to secure a £4 billion 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.”
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The announcement will bring significant new investment and employment opportunities at large-scale production facilities in the Scottish Highlands, close to the launch site at the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland. The A’Mhoine site was granted planning permission in August this year and is expected to begin construction in 2021.
Commenting on the created opportunities for Scotland’s, space sector, UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “We want the UK to be Europe’s leading destination for launching small satellites – driving economic growth in communities up and down the country.
“Companies like Orbex are playing a vital role in the UK’s thriving commercial spaceflight market and today’s funding reflects the confidence that investors have in Orbex, helping to bring small satellite launch from Sutherland one step closer.”
The funding round is completed by a €2.5 million 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 £5.5 million in grant funding from the UK Space Agency’s Launch UK programme in 2018.