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Scottish space firms secure £6.7m for green rocket fuel

Orbex is developing green rocket fuel
Image credit: Orbex

Two companies developing technology to launch satellites from Scotland have received more than £6.7m in funding as Britain ramps up its efforts to launch a rocket into orbit from home soil.

Orbex, which is building low-carbon orbital launch services at Sutherland Spaceport on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, secured £3.3m.

HyImpulse has received nearly £3.4m to test its hybrid propulsion system ahead of its launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland.

Both companies plan to use the funding to support carbon-neutral operations and develop green rocket fuel.

The funding has been awarded via the UK Space Agency’s contributions to a European Space Agency programme to bring space transportation services to market.

It comes as the UK prepares to make new attempts to launch satellites into orbit in 2024 and beyond.

At the start of 2023, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit attempted the first orbital launch from UK soil.

The Spaceport Cornwall launch failed to reach the orbit required to deliver its satellite payloads. Virgin Orbit later went out of business, underscoring the high-risk, high-reward nature of private space companies.

“We want the UK to become Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches, building on our expertise in satellite design,” said Andrew Griffith MP, minister for space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

“Pioneering innovations like building the world’s most eco-friendly space rocket signal our commitment to being at the forefront of the next generation of space technology, while raising our standing as a leader in space sustainability.”

Orbex will use the capital injection to install equipment to manufacture fuel based from renewable feedstocks.

The plant will be installed at Sutherland Spaceport. Construction work at the site began in April 2023 and it aims to be the first carbon-neutral spaceport in the world.

When fully operational, Orbex plans to launch up to 12 orbital rockets per year.

HyImpulse UK, the Scotland-based wing of its German parent company, will use its funding to achieve carbon-neutral operations and develop a green rocket fuel from synthesised paraffin.

HyImpulse is also establishing a UK-based joint venture called Carbon Launch Systems, to manufacture carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks.

Sutherland Spaceport and HyImpulse’s operations are expected to support a combined 813 jobs.

Matt Archer, director of launch at the UK Space Agency, said: “These contracts will help Orbex to develop the launch site at Sutherland Spaceport and HyImpulse to prepare for their first launch from SaxaVord Spaceport, enhancing our launch capability, creating high skilled jobs and supporting the Government’s vision for the UK to be Europe’s most attractive launch destination by 2030.”