Orbital Express Launch Ltd.
TypeCommercial launch services
United Kingdom[1]
Key people
Chris Larmour (CEO)[1]
ProductsPrime launch vehicle
Number of employees
15 [1] (2018[1])

Orbital Express Launch Ltd., or Orbex, is a UK-based[2] aerospace company that is developing a small commercial orbital rocket called Prime. Orbex is headquartered in Forres, Moray, in Scotland and has subsidiaries in Denmark and Germany. Its future launch complex is proposed to be built on the A' Mhòine peninsula in the county of Sutherland, northern Scotland.


The company was founded in 2015 as Moonspike Ltd., with the goal of crowdfunding a private spacecraft mission to the moon.[3] A Kickstarter campaign running from 1 October to 1 November 2015 raised less than £79,000 ($122,000) out of a goal of £600,000 ($925,000), rendering Moonspike ineligible for the funds.[4] Moonspike was renamed Orbital Express Launch Ltd. in 2016, with the company now aiming to provide commercial launch services of nano- and microsatellites, especially CubeSats, to polar and sun-synchronous low Earth orbits.[5] In July 2018, Orbex secured £30 million ($39.6 million) in public and private funding for the development of its orbital rocket system, named Prime.[1][6] Orbex has opened a factory for Prime in Scotland that will eventually employ 150 people.[1] Currently, the company is working on developing the Prime vehicle, while preparing for the initial launch from the Sutherland spaceport.

The Sutherland spaceport in northern Scotland was initially intended to be shared with Lockheed Martin, who at the time did not have a launch vehicle, but their strategic shareholding in Rocket Lab led to speculation that they would launch with the Rocket Lab Electron rocket, but since the two vehicles (Electron and Prime) use different propellants, the two companies would have separate launch pads while sharing some common infrastructure. The planning application for the site, however, includes only one launchpad. Lockheed Martin then moved their launch plans to a competing site in the Shetland Isles.[1][7][8] Orbex also plans to launch from a future spaceport in the Portuguese Azores.[9][10]


Orbex Prime rocket second stage.jpg
Second stage engineering prototype of the Prime orbital rocket
FunctionSmall payloads to low Earth orbit
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Height19 m (62 ft) [10]
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) [11]
Mass18,000 kg (40,000 lb) [10]
Stages2 [10]
Payload to SSO (500 km or 310 mi)
Mass150 kg (330 lb)[1][12]
Associated rockets
ComparableShavit, Kaituozhe-1, Unha, Electron, Miura 5
Launch history
StatusUnder development
Launch sitesProposed: Sutherland spaceport,[12] Azores spaceport [10]
Launch dateProposed: 2022[13]
First stage
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)
Engines6 [10]
FuelLOX / bioLPG[10]
Second stage
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)
Engines1 [10]
FuelLOX / bioLPG [10]

Orbex is currently developing a light launch vehicle called Prime, and its booster (1st stage) is planned to be reusable.[11][12] The rocket's diameter is 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in), and will use a non-toxic bi-propellant consisting of liquid oxygen and propane.[1] One cited advantage of using propane is that it remains liquid at cryogenic temperatures, which enables a design where a central carbon-fibre tank of propane is surrounded by an outer tank of liquid oxygen, creating a light structural mass.[1] It will be capable of launching payloads up to 150 kilograms (330 lb) to a standard 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit.[1][12]

The maiden flight of Prime is expected to occur by early 2022,[13] and it will be for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Orbex also announced it was chosen by nanosatellite startup Astrocast to launch their communications satellites.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Orbex stakes claim to European smallsat launch market. Jeff Foust, Space News. July 18, 2018.
  2. ^ wearefathom.com, Fathom-. "Orbex". orbex.space. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  3. ^ Howell, Elizabeth (1 October 2015). "'Moonspike' Kickstarter Project Aims to Crowdfund Rocket to the Moon". Space.com. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  4. ^ Foust, Jeff (2 November 2015). "European Moon Venture Regroups After Failed Crowdfunding Bid". SpaceNews. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  5. ^ "People In Space: Kristian Von Bengtson, The Man Behind Orbex". Orbital Today. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  6. ^ Orbex Secures £30 Million Funding for UK Space Launch Vehicles. Orbex. 16 July 2018.
  7. ^ site selected as launch base for Lockheed Martin, Orbex. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 16 July 2018.
  8. ^ Severin Carrell, Steven Morris, Ian Sample (16 July 2018). "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport". The Guardian.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ Jonathan O'Callaghan (21 December 2018). "The Quiet Rocket Startup That Doesn't Want To Be The New SpaceX". Forbes.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Deimos Elecnor Group, Orbex (6 November 2018). AZµL - AZores Micro Launcher (PDF). ESA Micro-Launch Services Workshop. ESA.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. ^ a b Orbex - Our Vehicle. Orbex. Accessed: 11 November 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d Britain joins the microlaunch space race with a new rocket and spaceport. Eric Berger, Ars Technica. 16 July 2018.
  13. ^ a b Sampson, Ben (17 July 2020). "Re-usable and sustainable rocket to launch from UK spaceport". Aerospace Testing International. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  14. ^ "Rocket company starts countdown on space base in Scotland". Financial Times. 7 February 2019. Retrieved 8 February 2019.