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Satnews Daily
July 17th, 2018

The UK is Launching into a New Space Age — Lockheed Martin and Orbex Developing Launch Plans

Lockheed Martin and Orbex are investing in space launch operations and bringing innovative new technology to Britain, the UK's Business Secretary Greg Clark announced on Monday, July 16, during the Farnborough International Airshow — under the plans, Lockheed Martin and Orbex will launch rockets into space from the north coast of Scotland..

Lockheed Martin will establish vertical launch operations in Sutherland, Scotland, and develop innovative technologies in Reading, Berkshire, with support from two UK Space Agency via grants totaling £23.5 million. A further £5.5 million will go to British company Orbex to build an innovative new rocket for launch from Sutherland as part of Government’s modern Industrial Strategy

Artistic impression of a vertical launch from the UK spaceport.

Image is courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

This builds on awards of £2.5 million to Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland and UK government support for launch is the first step toward a potential Space Sector Deal and the development of a national space program. The grants from the UK Space Agency consist of:

  • Two separate grants worth a combined £23.5 million to Lockheed Martin to establish vertical launch operations at Sutherland using proven technology and to develop an innovative new system in Reading for deploying small satellites. Known as an orbital maneuvering vehicle, this will be the upper stage of Lockheed Martin’s rocket and will deploy up to six smallsats to separate orbits.
  • £5.5 million to UK-based Orbex to build an innovative new rocket for launch from Sutherland, with the support of British manufacturing operations and supply chains. Their orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, will deliver smallsats into Earth’s orbit, using a single renewable fuel, bio-propane, that cuts carbon emissions by 90% compared to hydrocarbon fuels.


The companies will work together with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which has been awarded £2.5 million to develop a vertical launch site in Sutherland.

Artistic rendition of the Orbex 960.

Image is courtesy of Orbex.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said that the UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the country in a leading position to develop vertical and horizontal launch sites. This program will build on the global reputation for manufacturing smallsats and help the entire country capitalize on the huge potential of the commercial space age.

Horizontal launch sites have significant potential in a future UK spaceflight market, which could attract companies from all over the world to invest in Britain. Sites such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia will be boosted by a new £2 million fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, added that the UK’s space sector is thriving and satellite benefits lives every day, from banking to transport, and agriculture to entertainment. The UK's Space Industry Act will allow the nation to tap into and develop new commercial space opportunities, with the potential for hundreds of new regional jobs and billions of revenue for British business across the country. This announcement is  exciting for Sutherland and will also drive growth and further regional opportunities in England, Scotland and Wales.

An artistic rendition of the Sutherland, Scotland, launch site.

Britain’s Space Sector has set out ambitious plans to build on its global leadership in satellites and applications using space data to create a hub in the UK for new commercial space services, as set out in the Prosperity from Space report published in May. The Government’s modern Industrial Strategy identified spaceports as a key economic opportunity and a priority for the UK’s space strategy. The UK is an attractive destination for space businesses and the north of Scotland is well-placed to reach in-demand satellite orbits.

Patrick Wood, Lockheed Martin’s UK Country Executive for Space, stated that the UK Space Agency’s strategic vision for a world-class launch market will position the nation for a bright future in space. Lockheed Martin will apply the firm's 50 years of experience in smallsat engineering, launch services and ground operations, as well as a network of UK-based and international teammates, to deliver new technologies, new capabilities and new economic opportunities.

Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, added that the company is one of the few private spaceflight companies with credible practical experience in the development of launch vehicles and rocket engines. With the support of this grant from the UK Space Agency, the company will soon be launching smallsats into orbit from British soil and helping to transform the UK into an important hub for commercial space launch operations.

Following its call for grant proposals in Spring 2017, the UK Space Agency assessed 26 proposals to determine what would deliver the best value for money and strategic opportunity for the growth of the UK space sector. A number of sites across the UK are developing their spaceport plans and engaging with regulators, demonstrating the scale of the industry’s ambition and confidence in a future UK spaceflight market, which could attract companies from all over the world to invest in Britain. Launches will be regulated under the Space Industry Act 2018.

The UK and U.S. will also soon begin formal negotiations toward a Technology Safeguards Agreement, which will establish the legal and technical safeguards that can support U.S. space launch vehicles to operate from UK launch sites. Attracting US operators to the UK will enhance the nation's space capabilities and boost the whole market.