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WATCH: Orbex reveals full-scale prototype Prime rocket set for launch at Space Hub Sutherland

By John Davidson

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A pioneering prototype rocket that is due to take off from Space Hub Sutherland has been unveiled for the first time.

Orbex today unveiled its full-scale prototype Prime orbital space rocket on its dedicated launch pad.

The new generation model is claimed to be the world's most environmentally friendly rocket and is designed to launch very small satellites into orbit.

The Prime is the first 'micro-launcher' developed in Europe to reach this stage of technical readiness.

The company, based in Forres, will now enter a period of integrated testing, allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures.

Orbex recently revealed its first test launch platform at a new test facility in Kinloss.

The Prime rocket will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, which is due to be constructed later this year at A'Mhoine near Tongue. The hub was the first vertical launch spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and is the first and only spaceport worldwide that has committed to being carbon-neutral, both in its construction and operation.

The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex
The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex

Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “We are on the cusp of an historic moment, with Orbex playing a leading role in generating a brand new launch capability in the UK, while creating opportunities for people and businesses across the country.

"I can’t wait to see Prime lift off from Space Hub Sutherland.”

Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket that is powered by seven engines, that is being designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark. The six rocket engines on the first stage of the rocket will propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80km.

The single engine on the second stage of the rocket will complete the journey to Low Earth Orbit (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, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK. Orbex claims this fuel allows the rocket to reduce carbon emissions significantly compared to other similar-sized rockets being developed elsewhere around the world.

The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex
The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex

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.

Josef Aschbacher, director general at the European Space Agency (ESA), said: “I am deeply impressed with the speed at which the Orbex Prime rocket was developed. It is the first full orbital micro-launcher in Europe. But I am equally impressed by the low-carbon footprint technology applied. My sincere congratulations to the whole Orbex team for this impressive achievement.”

Chris Larmour, CEO at Orbex, said: “This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are. 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.”

UK Science Minister George Freeman added: “This is a hugely exciting time for the UK space and satellite sector as we count down to the first satellite launches from UK spaceports.

"Orbex Prime is a remarkable feat of engineering from a British rocket company, pioneering more sustainable and innovative fuels that cut carbon emissions. It is also fantastic to see Moray-based Orbex creating more high-quality jobs, demonstrating the value of our thriving space sector to support emerging clusters of innovation to help level up the whole of the UK.”

The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex
The prototype Prime rocket is unveiled. Picture: Orbex

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