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Orbex sets its sights on becoming a leading European launch business

Last updated: May 2024

Find out how inward investment in Orbex is giving liftoff to Scotland’s £4 billion space sector through multi-partner European collaboration and a shared vision. 

Spaceflight company Orbex is on an upward trajectory after securing even more capital to help boost its operations in Scotland’s booming space sector. Founded in 2015, the Forres-based company plans to ramp up the development and launch of its 19-metre long Prime rocket, a two-stage system designed to transport small satellites into low Earth orbit.

Supported by a £14.6 million investment package from Scottish Development International (SDI) partner Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the business has announced that it is filing two active patents. These are in a number of European countries and America that cover various parts of its rocket technology. 

Thinking sky-high and beyond: Orbex is planning around 12 launches a year.

Inward investment with stratospheric vision

Orbex has been working with HIE for more than five years. Initially, as an early-stage, pre-revenue company, it explored options for a location for its operations and for funding to take its rocket from the research and development phase to commercialisation.

Alongside the investment package from HIE, the company is supported by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the UK Space Agency and the Scottish Government. 

Orbex will launch its rockets from the Sutherland Spaceport on the Mhòine peninsula, which is expected to be the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceport, both in its construction and operation.

With pre-launch testing underway, Orbex aims to achieve full readiness and scalability for around 12 launches a year from the spaceport. 

The company strongly reflects SDI’s innovation mission: it lays claim to being one of only two space rocket manufacturers in the UK, and the only one that also operates its own commercial vertical launch spaceport. 

Blasting off: Scotland’s space success story  

Earlier in 2024, Orbex joined SDI and companies from across Scotland’s space sector at the Space Scotland Nordics Summit in Denmark. This event was hosted by the British Embassy in Copenhagen and attended by Scottish Government External Affairs Secretary, Angus Robertson.

The summit was the latest in a series of international engagements showcasing Scotland’s fast-growing space industry. Orbex is part of a sector that is expected to generate 20,000 jobs and billions of pounds for the country's economy within the next decade. Including international collaboration as part of our trade and export activities is key to enabling those ambitions.

The 19-metre long Prime rocket is designed to transport small satellites into low Earth orbit.

Ideal space infrastructure and skills 

Scott McKnockiter, Senior Development Manager with HIE in Moray, says: “The company came in as an inward investment proposition and was looking at various potential locations for its base.

“Moray ticked a lot of boxes. We had the infrastructure required, as well as relevant skills from two large military bases, the oil and gas industry and the area’s indigenous advanced engineering and fabrication sectors."

“Everything aligned for us. We had a vacant 14,000 square foot building at Enterprise Park Forres, which matched the company’s requirements for headquarters, a rocket design and integration facility and a space mission control centre.”

Kristian von Bengtson, Orbex's Chief Development Officer, says that the company’s headquarters in Forres offers a location with short travel distances for satellite companies based in Scotland and to Sutherland Spaceport.

Orbex, which also has design facilities in Denmark and a registered office in England, officially opened its headquarters in Forres in February 2019.

European Space Agency (ESA) experience

By May 2021, Orbex’s workforce had grown to 63, an increase of around 125% on the previous year, with many of its new employees bringing previous professional experience from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and other commercial spaceflight organisations.

The company now occupies three buildings at Enterprise Park Forres, where it has established a specialised manufacturing facility in addition to its other operations.

“It’s also an amazing location for people joining the team to come live," von Bengtson says of the site.

With testing and launch now in its sights, Orbex will soon enter a new phase of growth, which will aim to secure its long-term prospects as the leading orbital launch business in Europe.

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