The U.K.-based aerospace company Orbex has unveiled the first full-scale prototype of the Prime orbital space rocket on its dedicated launch pad publicly for the first time.
The unveiling of the first of a new generation of European launch vehicles – designed to launch a new category of very small satellites to orbit – represents a major step forward for the British rocket company as it prepares for the first-ever vertical rocket launch to orbit from UK soil in the coming months.
The 62-foot-long (19-meters), two-stage rocket is powered by renewable biofuel, bio-propane, which allows the rocket to reduce carbon emission significantly compared to other similarly-sized rockets being developed elsewhere around the world. According to Orbex, Prime rocket will produce 96% lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels.
The reusable orbital rocket is fitted with seven 3D-printed engines, six on the first stage, which propels the vehicle through the atmosphere to the altitude of 50 miles (80 km), and one on the upper stage that inserts the payload into orbit. The rocket, Orbex said in the statement, is also a reusable rocket that has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit.
Orbex’s Prime rocket is also the first ‘micro-launcher’ developed in Europe to reach this stage of technical readiness, the company says.
“This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are,” said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. “From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else. To deliver the performance and environmental sustainability we wanted from a 21st-century rocket, we had to innovate in a wide number of areas – low-carbon fuels, fully 3D-printed rocket engines, very lightweight fuel tanks, and a novel, low-mass reusability technology.”
Orbex Prime is scheduled to launch later this year from Space Hub Sutherland, a new spaceport being constructed on the North Coast of Scotland. When operational, the Space Hub Sutherland will be the first European spaceport brought into operation later in 2022. It is also the first and only spaceport worldwide that has committed to being carbon-neutral, both in its construction and operation.