Construction begins at UK mainland’s first vertical launch spaceport
Orbex has announced that construction has begun at Sutherland Spaceport (formerly known as Space Hub Sutherland) in Scotland, making this the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland.
Located on the North coast of Scotland, the spaceport will be the ‘home’ spaceport of Forres-based rocket and launch services company, Orbex, which will use the site to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year for the deployment of satellites into Earth’s orbit.
The groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction was attended by a number of officials and stakeholders including Richard Lochhead, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade for the Scottish Government, Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, David Oxley, Director of Strategic Projects with Highlands & Islands Enterprise, and Dorothy Pritchard, Chair of Melness Crofters Estate as well as many local representatives that have supported the development of the spaceport over the years.
Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and its operation. One illustration of this is how peat lifted during the construction will be re-used to repair large areas of peatland that have degraded over centuries.
The establishment of a commercial spaceport in Sutherland is expected to support around 250 new employment opportunities in the Highlands and Islands over the coming years, including 40 jobs in Sutherland and Caithness. Economic impact assessments commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) conclude that the presence of the spaceport has the potential to generate almost £1 billion in gross value added (GVA) for the Highlands and Islands economy over the next 30 years.
Last May 2022, Orbex revealed its innovative Prime rocket in its final form, the first time a full orbital micro-launcher has been unveiled in Europe. Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket designed to transport small satellites weighing up to 180 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO). The six rocket engines on the first stage of the rocket will propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80 km. The single engine on the second stage of the rocket will complete the journey to LEO, allowing the release of its payload of small commercial satellites into Earth’s orbit.
Uniquely, Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable bio-fuel, Futuria Liquid Gas, supplied by Calor UK. 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 per cent 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.
Kristian von Bengtson, Chief Development Officer and Interim CEO of Orbex, said: “Sutherland represents a new breed of spaceport, for a new breed of rocket. This is 21st century, agile spaceflight with sustainability at its core. We’re hopefully also setting the tone for how business can be a force for good, creating jobs and opportunities while minimising the impact upon the environment.”
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish government’s Minister for Small Business, Innovation & Trade, said: “It is an incredibly exciting time for the space sector, with the first orbital launch from UK soil expected to take place in Scotland later this year. Despite our relatively small country, Scotland plays a leading role in the space sector and with the global market projected to grow to £490 billion by 2030, we are well placed to become Europe’s leading space nation by 2030.”
Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, and design and testing facilities in Denmark.
Photo (from left): Richard Lochhead, Minister for Small Business, Innovation & Trade, Scottish Government; Kristian von Bengtson, Chief Development Officer & Interim CEO, Orbex; Dorothy Pritchard, Chair, Melness Crofters’ Estate; Bart Markus, Chairman, Orbex; Ian Annett, Deputy CEO, UK Space Agency; and David Oxley, Director of Strategic Projects, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE).