Although Orbex will eventually operate its launches from Space Hub Sutherland, on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, the test launch platform at Kinloss is intended to allow for full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures.
Specifically, the company has commissioned Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish company specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, to build and install the Launch Platform at the dedicated test site.
Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, and design and testing facilities in Denmark. The site location is close to the company’s HQ in Forres, Scotland.
The Launch Platform, known as Orbex LP1, is expected to be fully operational by early 2022. It will support the testing of the company’s Prime rocket, a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit.
Although actual launches of the Orbex Prime rocket will not take place at the Kinloss site, the Launch Platform will be fully capable of launching an orbital rocket, allowing for full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures.
The plan is to eventually launch Prime from its ‘home’ spaceport, Space Hub Sutherland, in the North of Scotland. According to the parties involved, it is the only spaceport in the UK to have received full planning permission.
Construction of the spaceport is due to begin early in 2022 ahead of the first expected launch of Orbex Prime later in the year.
“The construction of this new facility marks another major milestone in our ambitions to become a modern, agile spacefaring nation,” said Ian Annett, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency (UKSA).
“Orbex is an innovative spaceflight company developing its own launch vehicle which will be tested at this new facility, before launching from Space Hub Sutherland. This is a very exciting time for the UK space sector, as we look ahead to the first ever satellite launches from UK soil next year.”
The UK Space Agency supported the development of Orbex’s Prime Rocket with £5.5 million of funding, as part of the government’s plans to enable small satellite launch from UK spaceports.
High Down Rocket
The LP1 is the first launchpad of its kind to be built in the UK since the High Down Rocket Test Site facility on the Isle of Wight, which was decommissioned in the early 1970s, says Orbex. High Down was the test site for the Black Arrow rocket, the first – and only – British-made rocket to successfully deliver a satellite into Earth’s orbit, launching from Woomera in Australia on 28 October 1971.
“The ability for our engineers to test Prime on its own launchpad is a major advancement on the roadmap to launch, and we are happy to already be constructing this major piece of infrastructure with Motive Offshore, a partner which has a very strong track record in other relevant industries,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex.
“This will be the first launchpad of its kind built in the UK for more than half a century and we look forward to seeing it completed and ready to go into service in the New Year.”
Space Hub Sutherland is one of seven potential spaceport sites across the UK and is being developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The spaceport is expected to generate around 60 jobs in Caithness and Sutherland, and a total of 250 jobs in the wider region, says the UKSA.
Pictured above is an artist’s visualisation of the new facility.
See also: Measuring size and health of 2021 UK Space Industry