Scottish-headquartered Orbex has publicly unveiled a full-scale prototype of its Prime orbital space rocket for the first time.

The vehicle is designed to launch a new category of very small satellites into orbit and represents a major step forward as Orbex prepares for the first-ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from UK soil. Prime is said to be the first "micro-launcher" developed in Europe to reach this stage of technical readiness.

With the first full integration of the rocket on a launch pad now complete, Orbex is entering a period of dress rehearsals to optimise its launch procedures. The company recently revealed its first test launch platform at a new facility in Kinloss, a few miles from its headquarters in the town of Forres on the Moray coast.


Prime is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket powered by seven engines. 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.

Orbex Prime is powered by a renewable fuel called bio-propane which is supplied by Calor UK. This allows the rocket to reduce carbon emissions significantly compared to other similarly-sized vehicles 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 fewer carbon emissions than comparable systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also a re-usable rocket that has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.

“I am deeply impressed with the speed at which the Orbex Prime rocket was developed," said Josef Aschbacher, director general of the European Space Agency.


"It is the first full orbital micro-launcher in Europe. But I am equally impressed by the low-carbon footprint technology applied.”

Orbex Prime will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, a new spaceport being constructed on the north coast of Scotland.

Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK and will be the first European spaceport brought into operation later this year. It is also the first and only spaceport worldwide that has committed to being carbon-neutral, both in its construction and operation.

Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, said: “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. To deliver the performance and environmental sustainability we wanted from a 21st century rocket 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.”