UK Space Agency boosts plans for launches

By Tom Dunlop,
Published by UK Defence Journal, 8 January 2024

The UK Space Agency has announced a £6.7 million investment in two companies, Orbex and HyImpulse, to develop sustainable launch technologies.

This investment, part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme, aims to position the UK as Europe’s leading destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

Orbex, based in Forres near Inverness, will receive over £3.3 million for activities ensuring environmental sustainability, including the installation of a green propellant plant at Sutherland Spaceport. This plant will produce clean propane from renewable sources like plant and vegetable waste.

The Sutherland Spaceport, aiming to be the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceport, will serve as the primary launch site for Orbex’s reusable and eco-friendly rocket, Prime.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said in the announcement, “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.”

HyImpulse UK, based in Shetland, will receive nearly £3.4 million for their Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme. The funding will support their launch vehicle, SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. By 2030, HyImpulse aims to achieve carbon-neutral operations, including the use of synthesised paraffin fuel and renewable energy sources. The investment will also help establish a UK-based joint venture, Carbon Launch Systems, to manufacture carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks.

Martin Coates, CEO of Orbex, commented, “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 Europe.”

Christian Schmierer, Co-CEO 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.”

Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency, also stated, “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.”

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