Scotland: the land of mist and mountains long associated with kilts, bagpipes, haggis ... and now space launches. Timed to coincide with the Queen's Speech to Parliament, British startup Orbex announced that it will build a new 2,000 m² (21,500 ft²) rocket production facility in Scotland and is scouting for a launch site on the north coast of the country to send small payloads into low Earth orbit.
The announcement comes on the tails of Orbex making a private presentation of its launch technology to potential investors at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport. It already has a 1,200 m² (12,900 ft²) factory in England, where it is building launch vehicle subsystems, and is now seeking to expand north of the border for the assembly and launching of the completed rocket.
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The goal is to create a booster that can lift payloads of up to 150 kg (330 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO) and, eventually, to send up payloads of up to 220 kg (485 lb) into LEO, polar, or sun-synchronous orbits at altitudes of up to 1,250 km (775 mi). To help achieve this, Orbex is working with regional and national agencies to draft detailed development proposals in line with the UK government's 2017 Spaceflight Bill intended to promote launch sites in the British Isles.
"We've already built ignition systems, main engines, avionics and cryotanks at our existing factory and have recently completed a series of main engine hot fire tests at our own engine test site," says Kristian von Bengtson, Orbex CTO. "Our engineering team has experience of building several rocket engines and launch vehicles, many of them with backgrounds working at NASA and ESA, which is a set of skills that gives us a very strong competitive advantage against global competition."
Orbex says it has quietly been developing its plans for the past two years while keeping regulatory authorities in the loop and says its vertical launch capability will form the missing link for the UK, which already has an established satellite manufacturing sector.