Orbex to start construction of rocket launch site in Scotland


Scottish rocket manufacturer Orbex is set to start construction of the first vertical launch site for satellites in the UK after signing a lease for the site.

Orbex has signed a 50-year lease with regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for the spaceport on the A’ Mhoine peninsula in northwest Sutherland.

Orbex will oversee the construction of the spaceport on the 10-acre site and assume full operational management of the facility. Orbex plans to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year, carrying satellites into low Earth orbit.

Private investment over the first three years is expected to be up to £20 million. Construction at the site could create up to 250 local jobs, said the HIE. Orbex expects to create up to 40  jobs on-site to support the operation and maintenance.

HIE has been developing plans and has conducted environmental studies for the Sutherland spaceport since 2018. The Highland Council granted planning permission for the spaceport in August 2020.

Jacobs is to head up the construction of the spaceport and provide operational support and consultancy as well as engineering services once it is built. Jacobs manages sites such as Cape Canaveral in the USA and is NASA’s largest services provider,

Orbex’s Prime is a reusable rocket designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit. Orbex revealed the rocket in its final form in May, making it the first full orbital micro-launcher to be unveiled in Europe.

The Orbex Prime rocket will be the first orbital rocket to be powered by a renewable biofuel, a bio-propane. A study by the University of Exeter showed that a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will produce 96% lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels.

Orbex said it has received a “great deal of interest” from commercial satellite manufacturers and has signed launch contracts with a number of customers.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex: “Orbex is the first European launcher company to also manage a dedicated spaceport. It is an important competitive advantage to the company, which will make it easy for us to work with customers as we scale up our operations.”

Karen Wiemelt, senior vice president of Jacobs Energy, Security and Technology said, “The Orbex Prime rocket promises to be a game changer for small satellite developers and operators, enabling them to launch light satellites much more efficiently and cost-effectively.

“Sutherland Spaceport is an important development for the European space industry and will bring major economic and social benefits to North Highland and Moray, where our business has been active for decades in supporting operations, decommissioning and remediation at the Dounreay nuclear site.” –

Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency said, “The 50-year lease is fantastic news for Orbex and the wider UK space sector.

“Construction of Sutherland Spaceport will mark a major step forward for Scotland’s vertical launch capability. I’m confident that this new agreement will allow Orbex to strengthen the UK’s position as the leading destination in Europe for commercial spaceflight services and international investment.”

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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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