Aerospace & Defence

UK Space Agency fuels sustainable spaceflight with £6.7 million funding

13th December 2023
Paige West

The UK Space Agency has awarded over £6.7 million to two companies for the development of pioneering launch technologies, reinforcing the UK's ambition to be Europe's top destination for commercial spaceflight activities.

This funding is part of the UK's contributions to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme, designed to propel companies in developing and marketing leading space transportation services.

Scottish-based company HyImpulse and Orbex, operating with Sutherland Spaceport, will each receive over £3 million to facilitate spaceflight activities from UK spaceports.

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

“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.

 “Our funding alongside further private sector investment will enhance the work of our ambitious space sector while creating highly skilled jobs across the UK that grow our economy.”

Orbex, a company based near Inverness, has been allocated over £3.3 million to ensure environmental sustainability in its operations. This includes the establishment of a green propellant plant at Sutherland Spaceport to produce clean propane from renewable sources like plant waste, aiding the spaceport's aim to be the world's first carbon-neutral launch site. The Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimates that the spaceport will support approximately 613 full-time jobs across the region.

HyImpulse UK, based in Shetland, is set to receive nearly £3.4 million for its Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme, as it prepares for the launch of its vehicle, SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport. By 2030, HyImpulse aims for carbon-neutral operations, including the use of renewable energy sources. The funding will also help establish Carbon Launch Systems, a joint venture for manufacturing carbon fibre Liquid Oxygen Tanks, anticipated to support up to 200 direct jobs in Scotland.

Matt Archer, Director of Launch at the UK Space Agency, said: “Our investment in both Orbex and HyImpulse demonstrates our continued commitment to make the UK Europe’s leading destination for launch by encouraging the development of launch companies.

“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.” 

The UK's investment in ESA’s Boost! programme, totalling £24 million since 2019, reflects its dedication to space innovation.

ESA’s head of Space Transportation strategy, Lucía Linares, said: “Environmental aspects are moving more and more into the focus of space activities for the sustainable use of outer space. ESA supports Orbex in its aim to develop the most environmentally friendly launch system possible.”

ESA’s Commercial Services Manager and Technical Officer for Boost!, Jørgen Bru, said: “HyImpulse has made remarkable progress towards bringing hybrid propulsion to operations and ESA is dedicating further support to the orbital launch services under development.”

Martin Coates, Chief Executive Officer, Orbex said: “We would like to thank the UK Space Agency for awarding us this funding as part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Boost! Programme. Orbex Prime will be the world’s most environmentally friendly space rocket, and a single launch of the rocket will produce up to 96 per cent less carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. This new funding will allow us to undertake activities to build the Ultra-Green Launch Complex at Sutherland Spaceport, from where we look forward to providing the small satellite industry with an option to launch direct from the Europe.”

Christian Schmierer, Co- Chief Executive Officer of HyImpulse, said: “Commencing this next phase of orbital launch vehicle development, launching our first sounding rocket demonstrator, and rapidly expanding our UK operation are very significant milestones for 2024. We have a long history of working with SaxaVord and conducting our motor testing in Shetland and look forward to this next phase of that relationship. We thank the UK Space Agency for this support, their enthusiasm, and continued efforts to enable UK launch.”

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