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UK's Orbex secures funding for carbon-neutral spaceport development
Illustration of an Orbex prime rocket poised for launch.
UK's Orbex secures funding for carbon-neutral spaceport development
by Staff Writers
Forres, UK (SPX) Dec 13, 2023

In a significant step towards advancing sustainable spaceflight, UK-based Orbex has secured a GBP3.3 million grant from the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Boost! initiative. This initiative is a component of ESA's Commercial Space Transportation Services and Support program, aimed at propelling the development of leading-edge space launch technologies.

This substantial funding will be channelled into the development of the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport in Scotland, renowned for its commitment to sustainability. Poised to be the world's first carbon-neutral spaceport in both construction and operation, Sutherland Spaceport will facilitate up to 12 orbital rocket launches annually. Orbex has already established several commercial launch contracts with satellite manufacturers, underlining the growing demand for eco-conscious space services.

A crucial aspect of Orbex's environmental strategy is the design of its advanced, low-carbon Orbex Prime rocket. This 19-metre-long micro-launcher is uniquely tailored for deploying small satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. A key innovation of Orbex Prime is its propulsion using bio-propane, a renewable fuel source that drastically reduces the carbon footprint by up to 96% compared to traditional satellite launch vehicles reliant on fossil fuels. Moreover, it is engineered to leave no debris in orbit, addressing the critical issue of space pollution.

Martin Coates, CEO of Orbex, expressed gratitude and optimism, stating, "Receiving this funding from the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency's Boost! program is not only very welcome, it's further validation of our commitment to delivering low-carbon, high-performance space launch services in a way that respects the environment. The development of the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport is a critical step this journey, and this support will enable us to continue working toward our ultimate goal of making the UK a central hub for European space flight."

This sentiment is echoed by government officials, with Andrew Griffith MP from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology highlighting the UK's thriving space industry. He remarked, "The UK's space industry is thriving, and we're committed to becoming Europe's leading destination for small satellite launches and developing world-class commercial spaceflight capability up and down the country. Today's funding will not only help grow our domestic launch capability but also catalyse investment across the supply chain, creating highly skilled jobs and local opportunities right across the UK."

Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UKSA, also commented on the investment's significance, saying, "Our investment in Orbex demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe's leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies. This funding will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport, enhancing our launch capability, creating high skilled jobs, and supporting the government's vision for the UK to be Europe's most attractive launch destination by 2030."

The ESA's Boost! initiative and the UK Space Agency's funding for Orbex exemplify a concerted effort to foster a sustainable and competitive space industry in the UK. With projects like the Ultra-Green Launch Complex and the innovative Orbex Prime rocket, the UK is poised to become a key player in the environmentally responsible exploration and utilization of space.

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