Orbex unveils a full-scale prototype of its Prime smallsat rocket

Prime rocket prototype on launchpad

Capitalism in space: Orbex today unveiled a full-scale prototype of its Prime smallsat rocket, positioned on its own launchpad at the Sutherland Space Hub spaceport in Scotland, now under construction.

The photo to the right shows that prototype, held vertical with its own strongback. From the press release:

With the first full integration of the Orbex rocket on a launch pad now complete, the company is able to enter a period of integrated testing, allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures. Orbex recently revealed their first test launch platform at a new test facility in Kinloss, a few miles from the company’s headquarters at Forres in Moray, Scotland.

Note that Sutherland Space Hub is not the SaxaVord Shetland Island spaceport also being developed in Scotland. The two are competing with each other to successfully complete the first launch from the United Kingdom in history. Also competing for this honor is an airport in Cornwall, which has a deal with Virgin Orbit to do its own launch later this year. And regardless who wins this race, the three sites will likely give the UK the first European-based spaceports in history.

The United Kingdom’s decision in 2016 to shift from a single government-run spaceport to competition and capitalism appears to be now finally paying off.

Orbex installs launchpad at test site

Capitalism in space: Orbex has now completed the installation of the first launchpad build in Great Britain in more than a half century, and will use it for static fire tests of its Prime rocket.

Full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures for the Orbex ‘Prime’ rocket can now take place at the test site. Orbex Prime is a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. It will eventually launch from its ‘home’ spaceport at Sutherland in the North of Scotland.

Actual launches will occur on a different launchpad at Sutherland. Whether it will be this launchpad, moved to Sutherland, or a second new pad built at Sutherland, has not yet been decided by the company. Either way, according to earlier releases, the company is targeting that first launch before the end of the year. Since it took about two months to build this first launchpad and deliver it, the decision to build a second pad will not impact that schedule.

Orbex applies for UK launch license

Capitalism in space: The British smallsat rocket company Orbex has now submitted its application for a launch license to the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The press release does not mention a launch date, but it does state that ground tests of Orbex’s Prime rocket, designed to launch smallsats, are about to begin.

The Orbex ‘Prime’ rocket is soon to be tested on the Orbex LP1 launch platform at a facility in Kinloss, close to the Orbex headquarters in Forres, where full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures will take place.

Actual launches will take place at Space Hub Sutherland in Scotland. A previous announcement in 2020 had suggested the first launch would occur in ’22. Whether that date can still be met is unclear, but without doubt Orbex is moving forward towards launch.

Orbex begins construction of launch platform

Capitalism in space: Orbex announced today that it has awarded a contract to a Scottish company to begin the construction of the launch platform it will use with its smallsat Prime rocket.

Orbex has commissioned Motive Offshore Group, a leading Scottish company specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, to fabricate and install the Launch Platform at a dedicated test site near Kinloss, close to the Orbex headquarters in Forres, Scotland.

The Launch Platform, known as Orbex LP1, is expected to be fully operational by early 2022. … The new Launch Platform will support the testing of Orbex´s Prime rocket, a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. Although actual launches of the Orbex Prime rocket will not take place at the Kinloss site, the Launch Platform will be fully capable of launching an orbital rocket, allowing for full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures.

This platform is likely similar to the very transportable launch platform used by Astra. The present plan is to do launches from Orbex’s launch facilities at the Sutherland spaceport in Scotland, presently under construction and the first such launch facility being built in the United Kingdom in more than a half century. If designed to be portable, however, Orbex will also be able to ship the Prime rocket to other launch locations, depending on the orbital requirements of each launch.

ESA awards UK’s Orbex 7.45 million euros to fund rocket development

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded the new United Kingdom smallsat launch company Orbex 7.45 million euros to help fund the development of its Prime rocket.

This will supplement the 4.7 million euros that Orbex has raised from private capital.

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. €11.25 million of the total funding will be assigned to work undertaken in the UK, in particular the lightweight avionics designed in-house by Orbex in Forres, and the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software subsystem being designed by Elecnor Deimos, a strategic investor and partner of Orbex. The remaining €900,000 of the total funding package will support the development of the GNC for the orbital phase being developed by Elecnor Deimos for Orbex in Portugal.

If all goes right, Prime will make its first launch from Sutherland, Scotland, in ’22.

The contract award signals the shift at ESA that resembles what happened at NASA in the past decade, moving from designing and building its rockets and spacecraft to buying the product from private companies. While ESA might be providing a large bulk of the capital to develop Prime, it appears ESA is not involving itself heavily in the development itself, leaving that instead to the company.

Smallsat rocket company Orbex signs two launch deals

Capitalism in space: The new smallsat rocket company Orbex today announced the signing of two different launch deals, one with In-Space and the other with Innovative Space Logistics both with companies focused on procuring launch services for smallsat companies.

Both are for its as yet untested Prime rocket, which they hope to launch by 2021 from the United Kingdom’s new spaceport in Scotland.