Orbex also revealed the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine and confirmed the first satellites to be launched from Scotland.

Orbex has publicly unveiled its Prime rocket for the first time at the opening of its new headquarters and rocket design facility in Forres in the Scottish Highlands. Designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit, the rocket was unveiled at an opening ceremony attended by VIPs from the UK and European space community as well as local community stakeholders.

The completed engineering prototype of the Stage 2 rocket (the stage that will transit into orbital flight after launch) is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite and includes the world’s largest 3-D printed rocket engine. Orbex Prime is a completely re-thought and re-engineered two-stage rocket, designed by Orbex aerospace engineers with professional experience from organisations including NASA, ESA and Ariane, as well as other commercial spaceflight companies. Thanks to its novel architecture, Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic litre than many heavy launchers.

Seen for the first time, the 3-D printed rocket engine was uniquely manufactured in a single piece without joins in partnership with additive manufacturer SLM Solutions. Given the extreme temperature and pressure fluctuations involved in space flight, this gives the engine an advantage over other rocket engines, which can suffer from weaknesses associated with joining and welding. It is also the first commercial rocket engine designed to work with biopropane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to fossil hydrocarbon fuels, supplied by Orbex’s new exclusive BioLPG fuel partner Calor.

Orbex first came into the public eye in July of 2018, when the UK Space Agency announced that Orbex had been chosen to launch from the proposed spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, as part of the main consortium.

At that time, the company announced that it had already won £30 million in private and public backing for the project, making it Europe’s best-funded private launch company, straight out of stealth mode.

The company revealed the identities of more customers that would be among the first to launch their satellites from the Sutherland spaceport. On Orbex Prime’s maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, the rocket will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), the world’s leading manufacturer of small satellites. This launch will represent an important first for the UK commercial space industry, demonstrating the UK’s end-to-end launch capability with a UK rocket launching a UK satellite from a UK spaceport.

Orbex also announced that Swiss-based Astrocast SA, has selected Orbex to launch multiple nanosatellites for the development of a planet-wide Internet of Things (IoT) network.

Astrocast’s satellite-based IoT network will eventually include 64 nanosatellites, spread across eight strata above the Earth to deliver IoT connectivity across the planet, including regions currently considered remote or inaccessible.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

“The plans for a spaceport in Sutherland have already attracted significant investment, and Orbex’s rocket design facility will bring more than 100 new jobs to the Scottish Highlands region – this is our modern Industrial Strategy in action. The space sector is a great British success story and we are working closely with industry to ensure we thrive in the commercial space age. New innovations, capabilities and expertise are driving significant growth, with the sector generating close to £15 billion in income each year.”

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive, UK Space Agency said:

“Orbex’s new rocket design facility brings Britain one step closer to having its own domestic commercial launch capability and firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities. The new facility and future spaceport operations will help unlock vast economic and societal benefits not just in Scotland but right across the UK.”

13 COMMENTS

  1. It’s truly astounding what the UK is achieving in commercial space. This in the same week that the French are asking for a continuous subsidy for Arian 6 launches because they can’t compete against space X. Add in reaction engines with orbex, SSTL and Clyde space and UK space looks even more exciting than the USA.

    • Lol, I wish it was more exciting than USA. They are launching humans again soon and will have 4+ different company’s with different designed capsules and rockets that can launch people and space tourists and the end goal is two company’s NASA and space x will be looking to get humans to mars and back. I wish Richard Branson would have built his virgin galactic business and craft in the UK but the USA is the place to be with space company’s and if anyone has the choice most would choose California. But Britain should be the place to be for European launches of small satellites and hopefully building all types of satellites, Glasgow builds more satellites than any other city in Europe. But we British should still open a bigger launch facility on one of our Atlantic over seas territory’s for human launch and bigger rockets in future. I’m not sure if France would be happy though.

      • The sabre engine from reaction engines may well become the engine of choice for the very US space companies we are all so inspired by.

        It may be the case that Space X, et al. end up using British SABRE engines!

      • I think we are looking for the profitable parts of space tech rather than the glory stuff that Space X excels at. Fact is Space X is cutting back massive on aspects of its plans to save money to finance its core rockets and indeed simplified those designs too for similar reasons. You need a Musk to keep companies like that going based purely on his magnetic will over any real financial sense. Thats not for our space Industry, concentrating on what we are good at within a sustainable budget is best way ahead and expansion beyond that if ever only when the Industry/market as a whole worldwide makes such moves feasible. British industry has blind sided the traditional industry here with micro satellites and innovative propulsion tech and thats easier than fighting head on. The Sabre may change things further and into more mainstream even but that will be done mostly with US and International cooperation I suspect.

        • Space X is doing just fine. They have all all the block 5 Falcon 9’swith improved reuseability to meet all their contracted commercial launches.
          Meanwhile things are progressing well with the BFR, even as they’re making radical breakthroughs such as the move to stainless steel instead of composites, or bleeding fuel through pores in the heat shield to cool it.

    • You can certainly guarantee as soon as these companies start making a real impact they will start being sold off for a quick profit. I remember when RACAL was the darling of the tech field but taking the money and investing in property seems to be the sole aim for investors here.

  2. Launching humans has very little industrial benefit or potential at this stage. Everything on earth will be changed by giant constellation’s of micro satellites providing communications globally, this is what gives space x it’s tremendous value rather than Musk ambition for a mars colony.

    As good as space X has made its rockets I doubt the technology will ever truly take us to space in the way that the jet engine took us to the air. Sabre has much more potential for that especially when it can leverage the Long haul travel market on earth. Much as I love space X I just can’t see people realistically boarding a rocket bigger than a Saturn 5 to fly from Singapore to London in 29 minutes. Imagine the carbon foot print alone much less the danger.

    I truly wish the UK would replace ESA in funding Sabre and even put the money in to develop the Skylon concept. You could launch this from Ascension Island if you wanted a UK equatorial launch site and from Prestwick or Macrahanish for polar orbit. However no chance that the British government would ever stump up a few billion over the years for this. Too high profile and too ambitious for a country who’s total ambition is to pump a few more quid into the NHS.

  3. We should definitely invest as a country in Skylon, it would bring great prestige to our country, 21st century Britain needs this, it would be like this century’s Stephenson’s Rocket or Flying Scotsman.

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