Orbex reveals biofuel rocket on test launch pad

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Scotland-based launch systems developer Orbex has revealed the first full-scale prototype of its orbital rocket on its launch pad.

The Prime rocket, which is designed to launch very small satellites into orbit will be the first ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from the UK when it lifts off as planned later this year. The rocket’s test launch will take place at Space Hub Sutherland, a new spaceport being constructed on the North Coast of Scotland.

Orbex is conducting integrated testing of the rocket on the test launch pad at the company’s test facility in Kinloss, Scotland. The integrated testing will include rehearsals of launches and the optimization of launch procedures .

The 19m (62ft) high, two-stage Prime rocket is powered by seven engines and is being designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark.

The six rocket engines on the first stage of the rocket 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.

Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable biofuel, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK, which has significantly lower carbon emissions than conventional fuels. Prime is also a re-usable rocket designed to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.

Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and will be the first European spaceport brought into operation this year. Orbex was founded in 2015 and has been running propulsion tests since 2016.

Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency 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.

“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 of Orbex said, “This is a major milestone and highlights 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.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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