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Orbex begins construction of new rocket launchpad in the UK


Small satellite launch services provider Orbex has started construction of its first launch platform – the first orbital space launchpad to be built in the UK for more than half a century.

It has commissioned Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish company specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, to fabricate and install the platform at a dedicated test site near Kinloss, close to the Orbex headquarters in Forres.

Known as Orbex LP1, the platform is expected to be fully operational by early 2022.

It will support the testing of Orbex’s Prime rocket, a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit.

Although actual launches of the Orbex Prime rocket will not take place at the Kinloss site, the platform will be capable of launching an orbital rocket, allowing for full ‘dress rehearsals’ of launch procedures.

It is the first launchpad of its kind to be built in the UK since the High Down Rocket Test Site facility on the Isle of Wight, which was decommissioned in the early 1970s.

High Down was the test site for the Black Arrow rocket, the first – and so far only – British-made rocket to successfully deliver a satellite into Earth’s orbit, launching from Woomera in Australia on 28 October 1971.

The new platform should accelerate plans to launch rockets from Orbex’s ‘home’ spaceport at Space Hub Sutherland, the only spaceport in the UK to have received full planning permission. Construction of the spaceport is due to begin early in 2022, ahead of the first expected launch of Prime later in the year.



Steel fabrication of the platform is underway at Motive’s headquarters in Banff
Steel fabrication of the platform is underway at Motive’s headquarters in Banff

All equipment is for the Kinloss platform is being manufactured onsite at Motive’s headquarters in Banff.

A variety of integration tests are set to take place during launch campaign preparation, including the testing of the main propellant tanks and multi-engine hot fire testing under vertical firing conditions. It will also enable the launch operations team to test launch procedures including rollout, erection and fuelling procedures.

Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, stated: “The ability for our engineers to test Prime on its own launchpad is a major advancement on the roadmap to launch, and we are happy to already be constructing this major piece of infrastructure with Motive Offshore, a partner which has a very strong track record in other relevant industries.”

James Gregg, chief operating officer at Motive Offshore Group, added: “While the aerospace arena may be new territory for Motive, we are completely focused on the standards and performance required to deliver outstanding custom engineering, so very much look forward to transferring our skills and expertise on this project.”

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