Orbex, a startup which plans to develop and launch UK' s first rocket has opened its headquarters in Forres, Moray. The firm has also unveiled a 3D printed rocket engine to propel cargo into space.
Currently with just three full-time employees on site, the company hopes to bring more than 130 jobs to the region by the end of the year.
At a launch event near Inverness in Scotland on Thursday, the company unveiled its Prime rocket which is designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit.
Built from specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and an aluminium composite, it includes what the company claims is the world's largest 3D printed rocket engine.
The 3D printed engine in the new Orbex Prime rocket (Orbex/PA)
The engine, the company said, is manufactured in a single piece without any joins. That means it's stronger and less likely to suffer from weaknesses in the joins and around welds. Orbex said the rocket's engine was the first commercial rocket engine to be designed to work with bio-propane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions. The company claims it's fuel is 100 per cent renewable and cuts carbon emissions by 90 per cent.
Prime has been designed to take satellites to altitudes of up to 776 miles (1,250 km). The company says it is scheduled to launch in 2021 carrying an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), which manufactures small satellites.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Orbex’s new rocket design facility brings Britain one step closer to having its own domestic commercial launch capability and firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities.
“The new facility and future spaceport operations will help unlock vast economic and societal benefits not just in Scotland but right across the UK.”
To house the rocket and engineering staff Orbex has built a 2,000 square metre HQ in Forres, in the north east of Scotland. The headquarters building will combine a rocket design and integration facility, an operations centre and executive offices.
UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The plans for a spaceport in Sutherland have already attracted significant investment, and Orbex’s rocket design facility will bring more than 100 new jobs to the Scottish Highlands region – this is our modern Industrial Strategy in action.
“The space sector is a great British success story and we are working closely with industry to ensure we thrive in the commercial space age.
“New innovations, capabilities and expertise are driving significant growth, with the sector generating close to £15 billion in income each year.”
Chris Larmour, Orbex chief executive, said: “Since the announcement in July 2018 that we had been chosen to launch from the Sutherland spaceport, Orbex has been on an incredible journey, largely behind-the scenes.
“That is changing today, as we publicly reveal the company’s technical and commercial momentum.
“Not only do we have a full engineering prototype of the complete Stage 2 of the Prime rocket, but also a growing roster of customers hoping to be among the first to launch satellites from Scotland.”