A full-scale model of a rocket planned to launch tiny satellites from a Highlands spaceport has been presented. Forres-based Orbex claims that the ultimate version of the Prime rocket will be reusable and run on bio-propane, a renewable bio-fuel.
The rockets will be launched from Space Hub Sutherland, which is expected to be operational by the end of the year.
A testing centre in Kinloss, Moray, will put the prototype through its paces.
A separate plan to launch satellites from a Shetland facility has also made significant progress. SaxaVord UK Spaceport and Astra Space, based in the United States, have agreed to collaborate on a planned launch programme from a facility on Unst. Earlier this year, the spaceport received planning approval.
Astra Space has already launched its first commercial rocket from Alaska’s Kodiak. SaxaVord’s launches might begin next year, pending agreements and regulatory approval.
Orbex, which has factories in the United Kingdom and Denmark, aims to launch mini satellites from Space Hub Sutherland, near Tongue.
“This is a big milestone for Orbex and demonstrates just how far along our development path we are currently,” stated Chris Larmour, of Orbex.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is in charge of the £17 million Sutherland project. The Highland Council authorised plans in 2020 for up to 12 launches per year from a single launch pad.
The next year, the Scottish Land Court granted approval, which was also required because the proposed development was on crofting land.
While the Melness Crofters’ Estate supports the idea, it has received criticism from certain locals as well as billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen, who own land near the site.
Wildland Ltd., one of the Povlsen’s businesses, filed an unsuccessful legal challenge to the project.
HIE and the corporation struck an agreement earlier this year to “operate constructively” for the benefit of local communities. If any future progress on the project was deemed modest, Wildland Ltd. Would make no further challenges to the spaceport. Meanwhile, Robin Huber, director of business development at SaxaVord UK Spaceport, has praised the partnership with Astra Space.