UK Invests £6.7M to Boost Domestic Launch Industry

Image: Orbex

The UK Space Agency awarded £6.7M ($8.6M) to two small launch startups that plan to lift off from UK spaceports.

  • Scotland-based Orbex, which aims to fly its sustainable micro-rocket from Spaceport Sutherland on Scotland’s north coast, received £3.3M ($4.2M). 
  • HyImpulse, a German launcher associated with SaxaVord Spaceport on the Shetland Islands, was awarded £3.4M ($4.3M), the UK Space Agency said in a statement.

Orbex’s plan: Orbex will use the funding to build an on-site biofuel plant at the Sutherland Spaceport, which will make biopropane fuel for its Prime rocket from vegetable waste. Orbex has dubbed Prime the “world’s most environmentally friendly rocket” and, together with the Sutherland Spaceport, wants to run the world’s first carbon neutral satellite launch business. 

The company is planning to launch from Surtherland a dozen times per year, lofting small satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits.

HyImpulse’s plan: HyImpulse is putting the money towards testing the propulsion system of its SL1 microlauncher, which combusts synthetic paraffin, a novel type of fuel manufactured “using renewable energy sources,” the firm said in a statement. The rocket company will also build its carbon fiber liquid oxygen tanks in the UK as part of a new venture.

Long time coming: The UK first announced plans to develop a commercial spaceport in 2014, with a goal of seeing rockets lift off from British soil by 2020—a goal that remains on the country’s to-do list. In 2018, the UK Space Agency provided funding for the Sutherland Spaceport, SaxaVord, and Spaceport Cornwall. 

The latter hosted the debut attempt to launch a rocket from the UK in January: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket failed shortly after being released from the company’s converted Boeing 747.
What’s next: HyImpulse plans to launch a demonstrator sounding rocket from Australia in early 2024. Orbex has not yet announced its timeline for a debut flight.

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