UK launch startup Orbex closes fresh funding in push to first orbital launch next year • TechCrunch
The UK is famous for many things, but missile launches are not among them. Spaceflight startup Orbex is part of a slew of UK-based companies that are hoping to change that by introducing a vertical launch on UK soil for the first time. Orbex aims to launch its first orbital rocket early next year, and today the company announced it has closed 40.4 million pounds ($46.1 million) in funding to run its latest batch there.
Orbex is developing a small 19 m (62 ft) two-stage ejector called the Prime. The company rolled out the first full-scale prototype of the orbital rocket in May, calling it “the first of a new generation” of launch vehicles capable of carrying very small satellites into space. Once operational, the Prime will have a payload capacity of 180kg into low Earth orbit.
The rocket is powered by seven engines, six in the first stage and one in the second stage, all powered by bio-renewable propane called Calor’s Futuria Liquid Gas. Orbex says this will reduce carbon emissions at launch by up to 96% compared to similarly sized rockets. The Scotland-based company is in the midst of a testing campaign ahead of its first launch in 2023, which will carry a test payload from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
The company said in a statement that the new Series C funding will enable it to expand its resources and support future endeavours. The round was led by a new investor, the Scottish National Investment Bank, and the participation of existing investors included BGF, Heartcore Capital, High-Tech Gründerfonds and Octopus Ventures. Other new investors include Jacobs, Danish Green Future Fund, Swiss venture capital firm Verge Ventures, and British entrepreneurs Philip and James Chambers.
The new lead investor, the Scottish National Investment Bank, is particularly notable as the latest sign that major UK government institutions are looking at the space sector as a major source of economic growth. Earlier this year, the government released a plan to invest 1.4 billion pounds ($1.5 billion) in military satellites and other space technologies for the defense sector over the next decade. This and other funding announcements are part of a comprehensive national space strategy aimed at “upgrading” the nation’s space economy.
Prominent ministers from the Scottish Parliament and the UK have praised the funding, with UK Science Minister Nusrat Ghani calling it a “vote of confidence” in the country’s “ambitious plans to make the UK one of the world’s most innovative and attractive space economies, supporting long-term economic growth”.
Orbex was one of two companies selected by the UK government in 2018 to conduct launches at a new facility, the Space Hub Sutherland Spaceport on the north coast of Scotland. It will be the UK’s first vertically launched spaceport, Orbex applied for a launch license with UK regulators in February and recently announced it was increasing its staff by 50 in the final countdown to launch.