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Orbex, Arianespace link for launches

June 14, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Arianespace and UK-based launch company Orbex have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore possible joint offerings for small satellite launch customers.

In May 2023, Orbex began construction of Sutherland Spaceport (formerly Space Hub Sutherland) on the North coast of Scotland. It is the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland and will become Orbex’s ‘home’ spaceport, where the company will launch up to 12 rockets per year for the deployment of satellites into Earth’s orbit.

The MoU aims to increase the joint capabilities and flexibility of both partners’ services. In particular, it is expected that future collaboration would be particularly beneficial for customers planning small satellite constellations, providing a flexible solution for Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) payloads. Light and heavy-lift launch vehicles could jointly support customers in deploying their initial constellations into the required orbital planes, provide precise injections of a smaller number of satellites through dedicated missions, as well as provide replenishment and replacement launches.

Orbex’s Prime rocket is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket designed to transport small satellites weighing up to 180kg into Low Earth Orbit. Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable fuel, bio-propane, which 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 up to 96 per cent lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels.

Martin Coates, Orbex CEO, said: “This collaboration holds a lot of promise for the European launch market and we’re excited to see where we can take this. We are clearly very pleased that Arianespace has chosen to work with Orbex. We already have a strong position in the emerging European microlauncher market and this cooperation could take us even further commercially.”

Orbex has received widespread interest from satellite manufacturers and has already signed commercial launch contracts with seven customers. At the end of 2022, Orbex concluded its Series C funding round, netting the company an additional £40.4 million. Despite a challenging landscape for raising capital, Orbex attracted new investors and brought along many of its existing investors into the new round of funding.

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