Orbex starts UK rocket launch site build

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Orbex, a private, small satellite launch services provider, has started construction of its first launch platform – the first orbital space launchpad to be built in the UK for more than half a century.

Orbex says it has commissioned Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish company specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, to fabricate and install the Launch Platform at a dedicated test site near Kinloss, close to the Orbex headquarters in Forres, Scotland.

Orbex is UK-based but currently with design and test facilities in Denmark. The company is now funded by two of the UK’s largest venture capital funds, BGF and Octopus Ventures, who join two of Europe’s large venture capital funds, Heartcore Capital and the High-Tech Gründerfonds, as well as strategic investor Elecnor, parent company of Deimos Space, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme.

Its new LP1 Launch Platform will support the testing of Orbex´s Prime rocket, a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. Although actual launches of the Orbex Prime rocket will not take place at the Kinloss site, the launch platform will be fully capable of launching an orbital rocket, allowing for full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures.

Orbex LP1 is the first launchpad of its kind to be built in the UK since the High Down Rocket Test Site facility on the Isle of Wight, which was decommissioned in the early 1970s. High Down was the test site for the Black Arrow rocket, the first – and so far only – British-made rocket to successfully deliver a satellite into Earth’s orbit, launching from Woomera in Australia in October 1971.

The company says the new launch platform in Kinloss will enable Orbex to accelerate plans to launch Prime from its ‘home’ spaceport at Sutherland in the North of Scotland. Space Hub Sutherland is the world’s first carbon neutral spaceport and the only spaceport in the UK to have received full planning permission. Construction of the spaceport is due to begin early in 2022 ahead of the first expected launch of Orbex Prime later in the year.

Motive Offshore Group has a rich heritage in the design and manufacture of bespoke deck and subsea equipment, and is a major supplier across the energy, oil and gas industries. All equipment is manufactured onsite at Motive’s headquarters in Banff, Scotland, and is built and tested to meet strict international standards across highly regulated industry sectors.

The new launch platform will be comprised of all the infrastructure and supporting services that will enable a wide variety of integration tests to take place during launch campaign preparation, including the testing of the main propellant tanks and multi-engine hot fire testing under vertical firing conditions. It will also enable the launch operations team to test launch procedures including rollout, strongback erection and fuelling procedures in advance of the first expected launch.


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