Scottish space firms win £8.5m funding for satellite launch

Two Scottish space companies have secured a total of £8.5 million funding to develop their world-leading small satellite launch technologies.

Orbex and Skyrora received the funding under the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! initiative and will use the money to develop their world-leading launch technologies further and bring them to market.

New small satellite constellations aim to improve access to data and communications and revolutionise services such as satellite navigation and earth observation.

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Orbex, an orbital launch services company based in Forres near Inverness, has been awarded more than £6m – the largest Boost! award so far, to support development of their innovative Prime launch vehicle that will launch small satellites into orbit from Space Hub Sutherland in 2023.

Skyrora is one of two firms to win funding.

Prime is fuelled by bio-propane – a clean-burning, renewable fuel that reduces CO2 emissions by 90 per cent, compared to kerosene-based fuels and has been designed to leave zero debris in orbit around the Earth.

The Prime rocket is being built in Orbex’s Forres design and manufacturing site, which employs 40 people and is looking to expand further to cater for the growing market for UK launch.

Rocket company Skyrora has received £2.5m to complete the development of their Skyrora XL launch vehicle, which will carry small satellites into orbit.

This will contribute to the creation of an additional 170 jobs directly within the company and will trigger onward job creation across the UK’s space, manufacturing and engineering sectors. The vehicle is on course to be test-launched in 2022 from a UK spaceport.

Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, said: “Orbex’s environmentally sustainable rockets will soon be launching commercially for the first time from the UK, and ESA’s recognition of the economic opportunities this brings to the whole of Europe is significant to our progress.”

Volodymyr Levykin, of Edinburgh-based Skyrora, said: “Receiving funding from the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency is excellent news. It will help Skyrora accelerate progress towards our orbital launcher's flight readiness, Skyrora XL, from UK soil in 2022."

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Ian Annett, deputy chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “This funding is great news for the UK space sector and will ensure companies such as Orbex and Skyrora really are at the forefront of the European space industry.

“This support to our thriving space sector, alongside our flexible regulations and strong international agreements, means the UK is well placed to benefit from the new commercial opportunities UK launch will bring.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “It’s fantastic news that two Scottish companies are getting funding to help them develop innovative space technology.

“Investment in Scotland’s space industry is currently at an all-time high, supporting highly skilled jobs and boosting economic growth. The UK Government is determined to secure the UK’s position at the global forefront of the space sector, and Scotland is at the centre of this ambition.”

Earlier this month, the UK Government published its response to the Spaceflight consultation, paving the way for the installation of a regulatory and guidance framework to enable commercial small satellite launch from 2022.

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