Scottish spaceport’s prototype rocket unveiled


The first full-scale prototype of a rocket designed for launching small satellites from a Highlands spaceport has been unveiled.

Forres-based Orbex said its final version of the 19m (62ft) long Prime rocket would be re-useable and powered by a renewable bio-fuel, bio-propane.

The rockets will be launched from Space Hub Sutherland, which could be operational later this year.

The prototype will undergo trials at a testing facility in Kinloss in Moray.

A separate plan to launch satellites from a facility in Shetland has also taken a major step forward.

SaxaVord UK Spaceport and US-based Astra Space have agreed to collaborate on a planned programme of launches from a site on Unst. The spaceport secured planning permission earlier this year.

Astra Space has already completed its first commercial rocket launch from Kodiak in Alaska. Launches from SaxaVord could start next year, subject to agreements and regulatory approvals.

Rocket launch

Astra Space

Orbex, which has manufacturing sites in the UK and Denmark, plans to launch micro satellites from Space Hub Sutherland, near Tongue.

Chris Larmour, 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.”

He said the rocket’s innovations included the use of low-carbon fuels and having 3D printed engines.

Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the £17m Sutherland project

Plans for up to 12 launches a year from a single launch pad were approved by the Highland Council in 2020.

Scottish Land Court approval, which was also required as the proposed development is on crofting land, was granted the following year.

Prime rocket


While the project has the support of the local Melness Crofters’ Estate, it had faced opposition from some residents in the area as well as billionaires Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen who own land near the site.

One of the Povlsen’s companies, Wildland Ltd, lodged an unsuccessful legal challenge against the project.

Earlier this year, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with HIE to “work constructively” for the benefit of local communities.

Wildland Ltd would make no further challenges to the spaceport, provided any further development of the project were deemed minor.

Meanwhile, SaxaVord UK Spaceport director of business development Robin Huber has welcomed the agreement with Astra Space.

He said: “Astra is an agile, fast-moving company on pace to establish a successful track record.

“We look forward to working with their team to build new launch capabilities in the UK.”

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