Two companies have secured over £6.7 million in funding to develop rocket launch technologies sustainably and help establish the UK’s position as Europe’s leading destination for commercial spaceflight activities.
The funding was awarded using UK Space Agency contributions to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme which aims to help companies develop world-leading space transportation services and bring them to market.
Scottish-based HyImpulse, a launch company working with SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland, and Orbex, working with Sutherland Spaceport, on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, will each receive over £3 million to enable spaceflight activities from UK spaceports.
Orbex, an orbital launch services company based in Forres near Inverness, will receive over £3.3 million to undertake activities to ensure it is environmentally sustainable.
This will include activities to install a green propellant plant to manufacture a clean propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material which will be used on-site. Sutherland spaceport aims to be the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world, both in its construction and operation.
The launch site will become the long-term ‘home’ spaceport of Orbex and will see the launch of up to 12 orbital rockets per year of its reusable and environmentally friendly rocket Prime, which is powered by the renewable biofuel which will be manufactured on site.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise anticipate that Sutherland Spaceport will support around 613 full-time equivalent posts throughout the wider Highlands and Islands, including an estimated 44 full-time equivalent posts at the site itself.
Based in Shetland, HyImpulse UK will receive nearly £3.4 million to undertake its Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme ahead of the proposed launch of their launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. By 2030 HyImpulse aims to achieve carbon neutral operations including the use of synthesised paraffin fuel and using renewable energy sources.
As a result of the funding, in partnership with Adamant Composites, HyImpulse will also establish a new UK-based joint venture called Carbon Launch Systems to manufacture their carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks. HyImpulse anticipates that its UK operations will support up to 200 direct jobs in Scotland and a further 1500 across the wider UK supply chain including in Shetland and at the spaceport.
Says Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency:
“Our investment in both Orbex and HyImpulse demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies.
“These contracts will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport and HyImpulse to prepare for its first launch from SaxaVord Spaceport, enhancing our launch capability, creating high skilled jobs and supporting the Government’s vision for the UK to be Europe’s most attractive launch destination by 2030.”
The UK invested £12 million into the Boost! programme in 2019, followed by another £12 million in 2022, one of the largest investments from ESA member states. Previous Boost! contracts were awarded to the companies in 2020 and 2021.