The first full-scale rocket prototype designed to launch small satellites to orbit from a Moray-based spaceport has been unveiled.

The development by launch services company Orbex, which has its headquarters in Forres, was described as a major step forward for the UK launch industry.

Orbex has claimed the 19-metre long Prime rocket is the first 'micro-launcher' to reach this level of readiness in Europe. 

The final version of the rocket with a low-carbon footprint will be re-usable and powered by bio-fuel, bio-propane

A study by the University of Exeter showed that a single launch will result in 96 per cent less carbon emission than similar launch systems run by fossil fuels. 

Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency Ian Annett said we are on the "cusp of a historic moment". 

READ MORE: Blow for billionaire as Scottish spaceport clears second legal challenge

The UK Space Agency contributed £5.5 million of funding to boost small satellite launches from UK spaceports. 

Orbex will now enter a period of testing to optimise the launch procedures ahead of planned launches from Space Hub Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland.

It is understood the first satellite launches could take part later this year. 


Science Minister George Freeman said: "This is a hugely exciting time for the UK space and satellite sector as we count down to the first satellite launches from UK spaceports later this summer.

"Orbex Prime is a remarkable feat of engineering from a British rocket company, pioneering more sustainable and innovative fuels that cut carbon emissions."

It comes after the firm recently revealed its first test launch platform at a facility in Kinloss.

The spaceport is expected to create 60 jobs in Caithness and Sutherland, and more than 600 jobs in the wider region.

The MP added: "It is also fantastic to see Moray-based Orbex creating more high-quality jobs, demonstrating the value of our thriving space sector to support emerging clusters of innovation to help level up the whole of the UK."

Chris Larmour of Orbex said alongside using low-carob duel, the Prime rocket uses fully 3D-printed rocket engines. 

“This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are," he said.

"From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else.

READ MORE: Scotland bids to be greenest space port in the world

"To deliver the performance and environmental sustainability we wanted from a 21st century rocket we had to innovate in a wide number of areas."

Space Hub Sutherland was the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK, with the £17m project being led by the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

It is expected to accommodate 12 rocket launches each year.

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

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

"My sincere congratulations to the whole Orbex team for this impressive achievement."