Orbital Express Launch Ltd.
Company typeCommercial launch services
FounderChris Larmour
Scotland, United Kingdom[1]
Key people
Chris Larmour (CEO until 2023)[1]
ProductsPrime launch vehicle
Number of employees
55 [2] (2020[2])

Orbital Express Launch Ltd., or Orbex, is a United Kingdom-based[3] 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, Sutherland spaceport, is being built on the A' Mhòine peninsula in the county of Sutherland, northern Scotland.[4]


The company was founded in 2015 as Moonspike Ltd., with the goal of crowdfunding a private spacecraft mission to the Moon.[5] A Kickstarter campaign running from 1 October to 1 November 2015 raised less than £79,000 out of a goal of £600,000, rendering Moonspike ineligible for the funds.[6] 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.[7] In July 2018, Orbex secured £30 million in public and private funding for the development of its orbital rocket system, named Prime.[1][8] In October 2022 Orbex closed a £40.4 million Series C funding round.[9] 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, SaxaVord Spaceport, in the Shetland Isles.[1][10][11] Orbex also plans to launch from a future spaceport in the Portuguese Azores.[12][13]

In 2024, it was reported that the company received $20.7 million in a Series D funding round, with the bulk of the funds going towards development of the Prime launch vehicle which has not yet announced a launch window.[14]


Second stage engineering prototype of the Prime orbital rocket
FunctionSmall payloads to low Earth orbit
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Height19 m (62 ft)[13]
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)[15]
Mass18,000 kg (40,000 lb)[13]
Stages2 [13]
Payload to SSO (500 km or 310 mi)
Mass150 kg (330 lb)[1][16]
Associated rockets
ComparableShavit 2, Kaituozhe-1, Unha, Electron, Miura 5
Launch history
StatusUnder development
Launch sitesSutherland spaceport,[16] Azores spaceport (proposed)[13]
First flight2023 (planned)[17]
First stage
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)
Powered by6 [13]
PropellantLOX / bioLPG[13]
Second stage
Diameter1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)
Powered by1 [13]
PropellantLOX / bioLPG [13]

Orbex is currently developing a light launch vehicle called Prime, and its booster (first stage) is planned to be reusable.[15][16] 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] First stage reuse is planned to be achieved by a combination of a parachute and four ‘petals’ which will fold out prior to atmospheric reentry to induce drag and passively reorient the vehicle.[18] It will be capable of launching payloads up to 150 kilograms (330 lb) to a standard 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit.[1][16]

The maiden flight of Prime was expected to occur in 2023,[17] subject to the availability of Space Hub Sutherland and a Civil Aviation Authority launch licence,[19] for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.[20] Orbex also announced it was chosen by nanosatellite startup Astrocast to launch their communications satellites.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Orbex stakes claim to European smallsat launch market. Jeff Foust, Space News. July 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Orbex raises $24 million in new funding, can now scale up for orbital launch. Eric Berger, Ars Technica. 10 December 2020.
  3. ^ wearefathom.com, Fathom-. "Orbex". orbex.space. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  4. ^ Clark, Stephen (8 May 2023). "Start of construction paves way for first UK mainland vertical launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 11 May 2023.
  5. ^ Howell, Elizabeth (1 October 2015). "'Moonspike' Kickstarter Project Aims to Crowdfund Rocket to the Moon". Space.com. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  6. ^ Foust, Jeff (2 November 2015). "European Moon Venture Regroups After Failed Crowdfunding Bid". SpaceNews. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  7. ^ "People In Space: Kristian Von Bengtson, The Man Behind Orbex". Orbital Today. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  8. ^ Orbex Secures £30 Million Funding for UK Space Launch Vehicles. Orbex. 16 July 2018.
  9. ^ Parsonson, Andrew (18 October 2022). "Orbex announces £40.4 million Series C funding round". European Spaceflight. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  10. ^ site selected as launch base for Lockheed Martin, Orbex. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now. 16 July 2018.
  11. ^ Severin Carrell; Steven Morris; Ian Sample (16 July 2018). "Rocket men: locals divided over plans for UK's first spaceport". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Jonathan O'Callaghan (21 December 2018). "The Quiet Rocket Startup That Doesn't Want To Be The New SpaceX". Forbes.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Alamalhodaei, Aria (2024-04-18). "Orbex's new funding may accelerate its Prime microlauncher into orbit". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2024-04-19.
  15. ^ a b "Orbex Prime Micro-Launcher". Orbex. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d Berger, Eric (16 July 2018). "Britain joins the microlaunch space race with a new rocket and spaceport". Ars Technica. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  17. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (18 October 2022). "Orbex raises Series C round". SpaceNews. Retrieved 24 October 2022.
  18. ^ Frizzell, Niamh; Povey, Sian. "Patent secured for 'petal fold' reusable rocket technology". Orbex. Orbital Express Launch Ltd. Retrieved 27 March 2024.
  19. ^ Clark, Stephen (30 May 2022). "UK-launched rocket promises to transform microsatellite launch business". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  20. ^ "World's Leading SmallSat Manufacturer, SSTL, Partners with Orbex for UK Launches". SSTL (Press release). 7 February 2019. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  21. ^ Dickie, Mure (7 February 2019). "Rocket company starts countdown on space base in Scotland". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 February 2019.