UK-based spaceflight company Orbex has unveiled the first full-scale prototype of its Prime orbital space rocket on its dedicated launch pad at a new test facility in Kinloss, a few kilometres from the company’s headquarters at Forres in Moray, Scotland.
The first ‘micro-launcher’ developed in Europe to reach this stage of technical readiness, Prime will now undergo a period of integrated testing, including dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures.
Designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark, Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket powered by seven engines The six rocket engines on the rocket’s first stage will propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80 kilometres. 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. If successful, this will be the first ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from UK soil.
Uniquely, Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable bio-fuel – bio-propane – supplied by Calor UK that according to a University of Exeter study, will produce 96 per cent lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also re-usable, engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.
Orbex Prime will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, a new spaceport being constructed on the north coast of Scotland. Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and later this year will be the first European spaceport brought into operation. It’s also the first and only spaceport worldwide that has committed to being carbon-neutral, both in its construction and operation.
‘This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are,’ said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. ‘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.’