Space company Orbex expands facilities

11/07/2023
The exterior of the new Orbex facility

FORRES-based spaceflight company, Orbex, has extended its footprint by over thirty percent across its Scottish and Danish design and production facilities, in preparation for the launch of its Prime rocket. 

The company is adding an extra 1,500 square metres of factory and office space to its existing 4,750 square metre estate in Forres, Scotland and Copenhagen, Denmark. The additional space will increase the company’s launch vehicle production and propulsion system manufacturing capacity and add an extra software laboratory and an avionics clean room space with ISO 8 and ISO 9 sections. The additional capacity in Forres is just 3km from its test site at Kinloss, allowing for quick turnaround between the two sites, as Orbex ramps up its testing in the countdown to launch.

Orbex Prime became the first full orbital microlauncher rocket to be unveiled in Europe in May 2022. Prime is a 19-metre long rocket designed to launch small satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. Orbex has already announced several commercial launch contracts with satellite manufacturers.

Orbex received one of the largest rounds of VC funding in the global space sector in Q4 of 2022, when it secured £40.4 million in its Series C round, from existing and new investors. This funding has allowed for critical expansion of its production and business facilities, in the run-up to the first launch and beyond. The company also announced last year that it was hiring an additional fifty staff in preparation for launch.

Sustainability has been a focal point in the design of the reusable rocket, which has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit. The rocket is fuelled by a renewable form of propane, meaning that a Prime launch has a carbon footprint up to 96 percent lower than traditional launch vehicles powered by fossil fuels, according to a study by the University of Exeter.

Prime will launch from Orbex’s ‘home’ spaceport, Sutherland Spaceport (formerly Space Hub Sutherland) on the north coast of Scotland. The facility is being built and operated by Orbex, under a fifty-year lease, with the option of extending for a further twenty-five years. As with Prime, Sutherland Spaceport is being built with sustainability in mind and is intended to be the first spaceport globally to be carbon-neutral in its construction and operation.

The UK Space Agency awarded £5.5 million to Orbex in 2018 to build a new rocket for launch from Sutherland Spaceport.

Martin Coates, Orbex CEO, said:

“Many people are eager to see the first successful launch of a satellite from British soil, as are we. But our focus has to be bigger than that, as we aim to build a robust and sustainable launch capability in the UK. Expanding our footprint is just one more step forward in that process. We are able to press ahead with our expansion, thanks to the incredible team we have in place and the confidence placed in us by our investors and customers.”

Scottish Government: Richard Lochhead, Innovation Minister, commented:

“Companies like Orbex are vital to achieving our vision to make Scotland one of the world’s most innovative small nations. The firm’s Prime rocket, which I have been lucky enough to see up close, not only revolutionises launch technology but puts us at the forefront of the transition to a low carbon economy.

“This latest expansion is testament to the hard work and determination of Orbex which is continuing to make excellent progress towards a launch from Sutherland, bringing high value jobs and increased opportunities in engineering and science to Scotland.”

UK Space Agency: Matt Archer, Launch Director, said:

“Orbex is an important partner in our ambitions to become the leading provider of small satellite launch in Europe by 2030, and the company’s significant progress is a clear example of how our funding is catalysing further investment and creating high-skilled jobs.  

“It’s great to see Orbex expanding its footprint and creating state-of-the art facilities here in the UK, as we look ahead to the first vertical launches from Scotland.” 

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