UK-based Orbex unveiled the full-scale prototype of its 62ft (19m) long Prime rocket, which will launch small satellites from the Scottish Highlands, a press statement reveals.
The company says the final version of the rocket will be fully reusable and it will launch using a renewable bio-fuel called bio-propane, making it the "world's most environmentally friendly rocket."
Meet the Orbex Prime
The rocket will also utilize 3D-printed engines, and a proprietary reusability technology that could set it apart from SpaceX and Rocket Lab, the two space firms to have retrieved first-stage boosters for reuse.
Orbex's rockets will launch from Space Hub Sutherland, which could be operational by the end of the year. Firstly though, the full-scale Prime prototype will undergo trials at a test facility in the village of Kinloss, Scotland.
"This is a major milestone for Orbex and highlights just how far along our development path we now are. From the outside, it might look like an ordinary rocket, but on the inside, Prime is unlike anything else," Orbex CEO Chris Larmour explained.
"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."
The Space Hub Sutherland facility on the north coast of Scotland will reportedly oversee 12 launches per year and it is the first vertical spaceport to receive planning permission in the UK. The project has committed to the goal of being carbon-neutral during both its construction and its operational phases.
The Orbex Prime received $6.7 million in funding
The UK Space Agency granted Orbex £5.5 million ($6.7m) in funding for the development of Prime, as part of a wider initiative to develop small satellite launch capacity from UK spaceports.
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) congratulated Orbex for their efforts. "I am deeply impressed with the speed at which the Orbex Prime rocket was developed," he said. "It is the first full orbital micro-launcher in Europe. But I am equally impressed by the low-carbon footprint technology applied."
Other companies, including Relativity Space, Rocket Lab, and SpaceX have also developed 3D-printed engines, but it is Orbex's low-emissions technology that truly sets it apart. Other firms, such as SpinLaunch and Green Launch are developing greener alternatives to rocket launches for small satellite payloads, though they are likely much further off from going into full operation.