Credit: SaxaVord Spaceport

Two companies have secured over £6.7 million to develop their world-leading launch technologies in a sustainable way and help cement the UK’s position as Europe’s leading destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

The funding was awarded using UK Space Agency contributions to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme which aims to help companies develop world-leading space transportation services and bring them to market. Scottish-based HyImpulse, a launch company working with SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland, and Orbex, working with Sutherland Spaceport, on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, will each receive over £3 million to enable spaceflight activities from UK spaceports.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said: We want the UK to become Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches, building on our expertise in satellite design. Pioneering innovations like building the world’s most eco-friendly space rocket signal our commitment to being at the forefront of the next generation of space technology, while raising our standing as a leader in space sustainability. Our funding alongside further private sector investment will enhance the work of our ambitious space sector while creating highly skilled jobs across the UK that grow our economy.

Orbex, an orbital launch services company based in Forres near Inverness, will receive over £3.3 million to undertake activities to ensure it is environmentally sustainable. This will include activities to install a green propellant plant to manufacture a clean propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material which will be used on-site. Sutherland Spaceport aims to be the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and operation. The launch site will become the long-term ‘home’ spaceport of Orbex and will see the launch of up to 12 orbital rockets per year of its reusable and environmentally friendly rocket Prime, which is powered by the renewable biofuel which will be manufactured on site.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise anticipate that Sutherland Spaceport will support around 613 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands, including an estimated 44 full-time equivalent posts at the site itself. 

HyImpulse UK, based in Shetland, will receive nearly £3.4 million to undertake their Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme ahead of the proposed launch of their launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. By 2030 HyImpulse aim to achieve carbon neutral operations including the use of synthesised paraffin fuel and using renewable energy sources. As a result of the funding, in partnership with Adamant Composites HyImpulse will also establish a new UK-based joint venture called Carbon Launch Systems, to manufacture their carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks. HyImpulse anticipate that their UK operations will support up to 200 direct jobs in Scotland and a further 1500 across the wider UK supply chain including in Shetland and at the spaceport.

Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency, said: Our investment in both Orbex and HyImpulse demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies. These contracts will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport and HyImpulse to prepare for their first launch from SaxaVord 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 UK invested £12 million into the Boost! programme in 2019, followed by another £12 million in 2022, one of the largest investments from ESA member states. Previous Boost! contracts were awarded to the companies in 2020 and 2021.

ESA’s head of Space Transportation strategy, Lucía Linares, said: Environmental aspects are moving more and more into the focus of space activities for the sustainable use of outer space. ESA supports Orbex in its aim to develop the most environmentally friendly launch system possible.

ESA’s Commercial Services Manager and Technical Officer for Boost!, Jørgen Bru, said: HyImpulse has made remarkable progress towards bringing hybrid propulsion to operations and ESA is dedicating further support to the orbital launch services under development.

Martin Coates, Chief Executive Officer, Orbex said: We would like to thank the UK Space Agency for awarding us this funding as part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme. Orbex Prime will be the world’s most environmentally friendly space rocket, and a single launch of the rocket will produce up to 96 per cent less carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. This new funding will allow us to undertake activities to build the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport, from where we look forward to providing the small satellite industry with an option to launch direct from the Europe.

Christian Schmierer, Co- Chief Executive Officer of HyImpulse, said: Commencing this next phase of orbital launch vehicle development, launching our first sounding rocket demonstrator and rapidly expanding our UK operation are very significant milestones for 2024. We have a long history of working with SaxaVord and conducting our motor testing in Shetland and look forward to this next phase of that relationship. We thank the UK Space Agency for this support, their enthusiasm and continued efforts to enable UK launch.

About HyImpulse

UK Ltd, Saxavord Spaceport and Carbon Launch Systems Ltd received ESA Boost! support to undertake the Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme and establish manufacturing for ultra-light carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks in the UK. This investment begins a step change in HyImpulse’s UK operations and will accelerate the strategic partnership with SaxaVord Spaceport towards commercial launch operations. Budget: £3,392,423 ESA Boost! funding with a view to catalysing HyImpulse’s launch vehicle, UK operations and partnership with SaxaVord Spaceport. Total investment £6,784,848 with 50% match funding from company sources.

About Orbex

Orbex received ESA Boost! support to undertake activities to undertake activities to to ensure it is environmental sustainability. This will include activities to install a green propellant plant to manufacture a clean propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material which will be used on-site. Budget £3,192,894 ESA Boost! funding. Total investment £6,385,788 with 50% match funding from company sources.

Source: UK Space Agency

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Kris Christiaens

This article was published by FutureSpaceFlight founder and chief editor Kris Christiaens. Kris Christiaens has been passionate and fascinated by spaceflight and space exploration all his life and has written hundreds of articles on space projects, the commercial space industry and space missions over the past 20 years for magazines, books and websites. In late 2021, he founded the website FutureSpaceFlight with the goal of promoting new space companies and commercial space projects and compiling news of these start-ups and companies on one website.