CONSTRUCTION has started in Scotland of the UK’s first orbital space rocket launchpad for more than half a century.
The facility near Kinloss, Moray, will be used to test rockets capable of carrying small satellites.
The firm behind the launchpad, Orbex, has its headquarters in the nearby town of Forres.
Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish firm specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, will fabricate and install the platform.
Orbex expects to have the pad fully operational early next year.
The company’s Prime rocket will be tested at Kinloss ahead of operations at the launch site in Sutherland.
The rocket is described as a “micro-launcher” and is designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit.
Launches of the Prime rocket will not take place at Kinloss but the platform will be capable of the feat, meaning full “dress rehearsals” can be staged there.
The launchpad is the first of its kind to be built in the UK since the High Down Rocket
Test Site facility on the Isle of Wight, which was decommissioned in the early 1970s.
Down was the test site for the Black Arrow rocket, the first – and so far only – British-made
rocket to successfully deliver a satellite into orbit.
The launch itself was from Woomera, South Australia, on October 28, 1971.
Space Hub Sutherland, from where the Prime rocket will be launched, is billed as the world’s first carbon neutral spaceport.
It is also the only spaceport in the UK to have received full planning permission.
Construction of the spaceport is due to begin early in 2022 ahead of the first expected launch of Orbex Prime later in the year.
Motive’s headquarters are in Banff, Aberdeenshire, about 45 miles from Kinloss.
Their launch platform will enable a wide variety of integration tests to take place, including multi-engine hot fire testing under vertical firing conditions.
Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex, said: “The ability for our engineers to test Prime on its own launchpad is a major advancement on the roadmap to launch.
“We are happy to already be constructing this major piece of infrastructure with Motive Offshore, a partner which has a very strong track record in other relevant industries.”
James Gregg, COO at Motive, said: “Whilst the Aerospace arena may be new territory for Motive, we are completely focused on the standards and performance required to deliver outstanding custom engineering.”
Orbex is now funded by two of the UK’s largest and most active venture
capital funds, BGF and Octopus Ventures.