Sutherland is going boldly as launchpad site for Scotland's 62ft space rocket

Scotland has been confirmed as the launchpad for Europe’s very first microlauncher rocket.

By Stephen Wilkie
Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 10:01 am

Lifting off from Space Hub Sutherland, the Prime orbital rocket has been unveiled for the first time by spaceflight specialists Orbex.

A team of aerospace engineers will now press ahead with testing, allowing “dress rehearsals” of launches and the development of procedures for the 62ft long spacecraft.

Orbex recently revealed the first test launch platform in Kinloss, a few miles from the company’s headquarters at Forres, Morayshire.

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Towering: The Orbex Prime rocket is the pinnacle of space engineering and design

The innovative rocket makes the UK the first European nation to unveil a lightweight re-usable launcher designed to take a new category of small satellites to orbit.

Prime is a 19m (62ft) long, two-stage rocket powered by seven engines designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark. The six rocket engines on the first stage will

propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80km. The single engine on the second stage will complete the journey to Low Earth Orbit, allowing the release of

its payload of small, commercial satellites.

Test-firing the rocket's engines lights up the night skies

Underlining its green credentials, Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable bio-fuel, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK, which produces reduced carbon emissions and the rocket has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit. It is thought the new fuel will lead to 96% less emissions that rockets using fossil fuels.

The launch site at Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and will be fully operational later this year.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency: “We are on the cusp of an historic moment, with Orbex playing a leading role in generating a brand new launch capability in the UK, while creating opportunities for people and businesses across the country. I can’t wait to see Prime lift off from Space Hub Sutherland.”

UK Science Minister George Freeman added: “This is a hugely exciting time for the UK space and satellite sector as we count down to the first satellite launches from UK spaceports. Orbex Prime is a remarkable feat of engineering from a British rocket company, pioneering more sustainable and innovative fuels that cut carbon emissions. It is also

The Orbex Prime rocket towers above the gorse at its Morayshire test site

fantastic to see Morayshire-based Orbex creating more high-quality jobs, demonstrating the value of our thriving space sector to support emerging clusters of innovation to help level up the whole of the UK.”

The market for small satellites is increasing rapidly, as a wide range of new small satellite constellations are developed and deployed. Micro-launchers such as Orbex Prime give satellite manufacturers a

dedicated launch service, in contrast to larger, ‘rideshare’ launchers, where small satellites are a often a secondary payload, and frequently face significant delays.

Chris Larmour, CEO, Orbex, added: “From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else. To deliver the performance and environmental sustainability we wanted from a 21st century rocket we had to innovate in a wide number of areas – low-carbon fuels, fully 3D-printed rocket engines, very lightweight fuel tanks, and a novel, low-mass reusability technology.”

Up to 12 rockets could be launched each year from Space Hub Sutherland

.