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The new funding from Orbex could put the Prime microlauncher into orbit




The new funding from Orbex could put the Prime microlauncher into orbit

UK-based small launch developer Orbex got another boost from the National Bank of Scotland and other investors as it gears up for its first orbital launch, although that mission still doesn’t have a set date.

Founded in 2015, Orbex is one of a handful of companies racing to develop the next generation of European launch vehicles. These companies are trying to fill the huge gap left by the retirement of the Ariane 5 and the major delays to the Ariane 6 and Vega C rockets; the absence of these vehicles means that there is essentially zero indigenous launch capacity coming from Europe.

But the absence also means opportunities for Orbex. The company is developing what is also called a microlauncher: a two-stage vehicle called Prime, which is only 19 meters high and designed to carry payloads of up to 180 kilograms. The best comparison is Rocket Lab’s Electron, which is one meter shorter but can carry up to 300 kilograms.

For Orbex, this small stature is an advantage, not a disadvantage, and Orbex CEO Philip Chambers told JS via email that the company sees “positive market conditions” for its product.

“We are seeing an exponential growth in the number of satellites being launched in LEO and the demand for launches is far exceeding supply – at the moment it is not possible to launch even one kilogram from Europe and there is pent-up demand for sovereign launch capabilities,” he says. said. “We will offer European customers freedom of action to control their own launches and launch European Payloads from European soil.”

Prime will launch from a new spaceport in Sutherland, northern Scotland, which is being built with funding from the UK’s National Space Agency. The goal is ultimately to integrate a patented recovery technology that the company calls REFLIGHT. This is an intermediate stage structure located between the rocket stages; after the booster releases, four ‘petals’ unfold and, together with a parachute, create enough drag to allow a gentle splash into the ocean.

A larger vehicle could also eventually be in the plans, although Chambers was clear that Prime was the company’s first priority. However, he said many of that rocket’s core technologies could be scaled to support larger payloads.

“The laws of physics dictate that if you want to compete on cost per kg, you have to do it with larger vehicles. That’s why I think it makes sense for Orbex to consider this.”

The company is kicking off its Series D with £16.7 million ($20.7 million) in new funding, with additional contributions from Octopus Ventures, BGF, Heartcore, EIFO and others. The new capital comes after Orbex closed a £40.4 million ($50 million) deal Series C in October 2022. While a spokesperson confirmed that the new funding “will help Orbex ramping up development of Prime… to ensure full readiness and scalability for the launch window,” a final launch window has yet to be announced.