The unveiling of the first of a new generation of European launch vehicles - designed to launch a new category of very small satellites to orbit - represents a major step forward for the British rocket company as it prepares for the first ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from UK soil. Orbex's Prime rocket is the first 'micro-launcher' developed in Europe to reach this stage of technical readiness.
With the first full integration of the Orbex rocket on a launch pad now complete, the company is able to enter a period of integrated testing, allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures. Orbex recently revealed their first test launch platform at a new test facility in Kinloss, a few miles from the company's headquarters at Forres in Moray, Scotland.
Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket that is powered by seven engines, that is being designed and manufactured in the UK and Denmark. The six rocket engines on the first stage of the rocket will propel the vehicle through the atmosphere to an altitude of around 80km. The single engine on the second stage of the rocket will complete the journey to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), allowing the release of its payload of small, commercial satellites into Earth's orbit.
Uniquely, Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable biofuel, bio-propane, supplied by Calor UK. This fuel allows the rocket to reduce carbon emissions significantly compared to other similarly sized rockets being developed elsewhere around the world. A study by the University of Exeter showed that a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will produce 96 per cent lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also a re-usable rocket which has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.
“This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are. From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else […] we had to innovate in a wide number of areas – low-carbon fuels, fully 3D-printed rocket engines, very lightweight fuel tanks, and a novel, low-mass reusability technology,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex.