A UK company has unveiled the rocket it hopes will achieve a space industry first.
The rocket dubbed “Prime” would be the first British-built rocket to take off from a British launch site, as part of plans to create a multi-billion pound UK space industry.
The rocket has been unveiled by its manufacturer, the company Orbex, in its rocket factory at Forres on the Moray coast.
It is designed to transport small satellites into polar orbit and the company hopes to begin launches in late 2021 from a spaceport planned for Sutherland in the northern tip of the UK.
Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, told Sky News: “This is a very innovative rocket, it solves a lot of the challenges that exist for small rockets that want to go into orbit.
“For the UK this a big step, something we haven’t been doing for 50 years in the United Kingdom.”
“Britain is actually very strong at building satellites but because we don’t have our own launchers, they have to go abroad to be launched into space, to place like India and America, and obviously that creates problems in terms of logistics, cost and paperwork in getting them to those places and getting them into space from those places.
“Here, you could probably drive to the launch site with the satellite in the back of your van and put it into orbit very quickly, very succinctly and very cheaply.”
The company intends to conduct its first launch of the ‘Prime’ rocket in late 2021, assuming work proceeds as planned on the Sutherland spaceport. After that, it plans to carry out six launches per year.
Scotland’s Innovation Minister Ivan McKee, who attended the launch event, said: “The new Orbex facility at Forres is an incredibly welcome development for Scotland’s space sector.
“It brings us one step closer to reaching our ambitions of hosting the first orbital launch facilities in Europe and will complete our full offering to build, launch and operate satellites right here in Scotland.
“As a country, we are already punching above our weight in the space sector.
“Not only has Glasgow designed and built more satellites than in any other city in Europe, a recent UK Space Agency report highlighted that Scotland has the third highest employment in the sector with over 7,500 employees.
“This latest development will help us achieve our ambition to grow Scotland’s space sector into a £4bn industry by 2030.”