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Orbex signs up NASA expert for UK rocket launch

Orbex rocket
Orbex is getting ready to launch

A Scottish rocket manufacturer has signed up a NASA specialist to construct its spaceport in north-west Sutherland.

Orbex, based in Forres, Moray, has agreed a 50-year lease with development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to build the spaceport on community-owned land on the A’ Mhoine peninsula in north-west Sutherland.

HIE has been developing launch plans for several years and leases the site from Melness Crofters’ Estate. The sub-lease with Orbex has an option to extend for a further 25 years. 

The 10-acre launch site will become the long-term ‘home’ spaceport of Orbex and will see the launch of up to 12 orbital rockets per year, carrying satellites into low Earth orbit.

NASA provider Jacobs, which took part in Orbex’s Series C funding round, will be the main construction contractor.

Jacobs will provide spaceport operations support, operations consultancy, and engineering services, drawing on its experience of managing and operating complex, highly regulated sites such as Cape Canaveral in the United States.

It delivered mission-tailored solutions to NASA, including the Mars Perseverance Rover and the Artemis deep space human exploration programme.

The aim is to make Sutherland the world’s greenest spaceport, both in terms of its construction and its operation. Peat lifted during the construction will be re-used to repair large areas of peatland that have degraded over centuries.

Uniquely, the new Orbex Prime rocket is powered by a renewable biofuel, Futuria Liquid Gas. This fuel 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 96% lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels.

Prime is also a re-usable rocket which has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit. Orbex has already received a great deal of interest from commercial satellite manufacturers and has signed launch contracts with a number of customers.

Chris Larmour, CEO, Orbex: “We are very grateful for the work that HIE and the Melness Crofters Estate have done, in getting us to the point where we can take the baton and start construction.”

David Oxley, director of strategic projects, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said:  “The space industry represents a huge economic opportunity for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland.”

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