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Orbex Breaks Ground On UK Mainland's First Vertical Launch Facility

Orbex, a UK-based rocket service provider for small satellites, has begun the construction of the first vertical launch spaceport on the UK mainland, located on the North coast of Scotland.

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Jay Keegan

Jay Keegan

Thu May 04 2023Written by Jay Keegan

Orbex, a UK-based rocket service provider for small satellites, has begun the construction of the first vertical launch spaceport on the UK mainland, located on the North coast of Scotland. The site, named Sutherland Spaceport, will serve as the primary, and currently only launch complex for Orbex and their Orbex Prime smallsat launch vehicle.


The company says they plan to launch up to 12 Prime rockets per year from the spaceport to deploy satellites in Earth's orbit. While 12 launches per year do not sound like much, it marks a huge milestone for the British space program, which until now was lacking domestic launch capabilities. 


Spaceport Sutherland’s location means that it is significantly easier for Orbex to work with the local community to minimise interruptions and ensure public safety. “We're starting to see the physical representation of a dream that began several years ago. This is our way of regenerating this community and reversing population decline, by giving families a reason to stay or come back to this area.”, Dorothy Pritchard, Chair, Melness Crofters’ Estate says.

Orbex confirmed today that the ​​Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will contribute £3M to the development of Sutherland Spaceport, completing a public investment package that also includes just over £9m from HIE and the Scottish Government and £2.55m that the UK Space Agency announced in 2018. The NDA chose to support Sutherland Spaceport following the decommissioning of the nearby Dounreay nuclear power station, as part of its remit to retire the UK’s oldest nuclear sites while supporting affected communities and the environment.


Orbex has entered into a 50-year sublease agreement with HIE, which grants them the authority to oversee the construction and take full responsibility for managing the new facility located on the Melness Crofters Estate - a property owned by the local community. By serving as a key player in the spaceport, Orbex aims to catalyse substantial private investment that will have a positive impact on the area's economy, including generating employment opportunities, offering supply chain opportunities, and delivering other related benefits.


Jacobs, the international firm specialising in professional and technical services, has secured a contract for the development of the spaceport, as well as for providing operational assistance, consultancy, and engineering services. Their expertise in managing and operating sophisticated and heavily-regulated facilities in the space and nuclear sectors has equipped them with the necessary skills for this job. Jacobs has a proven track record of supporting agencies including NASA in several prominent Space Centers and spaceflight initiatives, including overseeing operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They have also played a key role in managing critical aspects of the Dounreay nuclear site situated on the North Coast of Scotland, near the spaceport.

“As an investor in Orbex, Jacobs is deeply committed to supporting this key project which is of immense importance to the UK’s fast growing space sector. We are looking forward to fulfilling our role as prime constructor for the spaceport, including design, procurement and management of the local supply chain, as well as providing operations support and engineering services.”  - Andy White, Vice President, Jacobs


Numerous commercial satellite manufacturers have shown a keen interest in Orbex's launch services, leading to the firm securing launch agreements with seven customers to date. Furthermore, Orbex recently concluded its Series C financing round, which resulted in the company obtaining an extra £40.4 million. Despite the difficult fundraising environment, Orbex managed to attract new investors while also retaining many of its existing supporters. This fresh injection of funds empowers the company to maintain its attention on the future beyond the initial launch phase.


In preparation for the first launch, Orbex is performing a wide variety of integration tests, as well as testing launch procedures including rollout, strongback deployment and fuelling procedures. To support the integration testing stage, over the last few months, Orbex has ramped up its recruitment efforts for its Forres headquarters, adding dozens of new team members. 


Kristian von Bengtson, Chief Development Officer and Interim CEO, Orbex said: “Sutherland represents a new breed of spaceport, for a new breed of rocket. This is 21st century, agile spaceflight with sustainability at its core. With the construction of Sutherland Spaceport underway, this is an important piece of the puzzle that will make the UK a modern space nation. Just as importantly, we’re hopefully also setting the tone for how business can be a force for good, creating jobs and opportunities while minimising the impact upon the environment.”