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Space race fuelled by rocket launch funding


Skyrora ready for take-off

Scotland’s space race was in full flight after two homegrown companies received funding towards their plans to launch commercial rockets from Scottish soil.

The European Space Agency has awarded Forres-based Orbex €7.45 million and €3m to Edinburgh headquartered Skyrora.

The funding comes through the ESA’s Boost! Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support (C-STS) programme, designed to support commercially sustainable space transportation services in Europe.

The award to Orbex is the largest made to date by the programme. Orbex will supplement the funding with an additional €4.7m in matched private investment. 

The funds from the award will go towards the completion of spaceflight systems in preparation for the first launches of Orbex’s 19-metre ‘microlauncher’ rocket, Prime. It will support the creation of a “significant number” of jobs at its Scottish headquarters.

Orbex Prime rocket

Orbex’s Prime rocket

Orbex has already signed six commercial customers for satellite launches, with the first launch expected in 2022 from its carbon-neutral home spaceport, Space Hub Sutherland on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Scotland.

Planning permission for the spaceport was granted in August last year, with construction expected to begin this year. Space Hub Sutherland is currently the only vertical launch spaceport in the UK that has received planning permission.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, said: Orbex’s environmentally sustainable microlaunchers will soon be launching for the first time from the UK, and ESA’s recognition of the commercial and scientific opportunities this brings to Europe is significant.”

The company announced in December 2020 that it had secured $24 million in a funding round led by BGF, the UK’s most active investment company, and Octopus Ventures, one of the largest VCs in Europe.

In February, the company also announced that it had commissioned the largest industrial 3D printer in Europe, capable of printing 35 rocket engines per year.

Skyrora said the funding not only represents significant support for its ambitions as a pioneer in the sector but puts it on track to be the first UK company to launch satellites from Europe.

It will use the funding to complete the crucial technology required to deliver consistent orbital launches from the UK with its XL launch vehicle.

Skyrora has launched test rockets

Skyrora XL is a 23-meter 56-tonne three-stage rocket capable of carrying up to 315kg into orbit. The vehicle is on course to be test-launched in 2022 from a UK spaceport. This project plans to create more than 170 jobs in the UK.

The company has established its comprehensive rocket engine testing and manufacturing facilities in Scotland.

Volodymyr Levykin, founder and CEO of Skyrora, said: “This ESA contract will accelerate Skyrora’s progress on its journey to be the first to achieve the UK’s sovereign orbital launch.”

Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station and an adviser to Skyrora, said: “Independent access to space is vital for the UK to realise the full potential of its space industry.

Tim Peake

Tim Peake: ‘exciting announcement’

“This exciting announcement for Skyrora brings us a big step closer to achieving that goal.

“Skyrora is bringing innovation and growth to the space sector, whilst setting new benchmarks for reducing carbon emissions.”

Ian Annett, deputy CEO, UK Space Agency. “This support to our thriving space sector, alongside our flexible regulations and strong international agreements, means the UK is well placed to benefit from the new commercial opportunities UK launch will bring.”

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