Orbex unveils full-scale biofuel-powered rocket, set to launch from carbon-neutral launch site

On Wednesday, May 11, Orbex Space unveiled its first full-scale micro-satellite launching rocket prototype on the launch pad at its Scotland launch site.

As space becomes a bigger and bigger industry, many satellites have gotten smaller and smaller. Orbex Space hopes to focus on these small satellites with its new vehicle, Orbex Prime. The vehicle was built with its environmental impact in mind. Prime will utilize a low-carbon bio-propane. The company says that this use of this fuel reduces carbon emissions by 90% compared to traditional hydrocarbons.

Orbex Prime uses the company’s own 3D printed engine, so Orbex Space joins a number of other companies making use of newer forms of manufacturing to improve vehicle and launch capabilities. The company Launcher is making use of a single part, 3D printed combustion chamber, while Rocket Lab uses 3D printed engines on Electron, and Relativity Space’s Terran rocket is entirely 3D printed.

The most direct comparison to an existing rocket would be Rocket Lab’s Electron

Orbex PrimeRocket Lab Electron
Rocket size~19 m x 1.45 m18 m x 1.2 m
Payload fairing inner diameter1,300mm~ 1,070mm
Expanded fairing available
Max payload180 kg to SSO300 kg to LEO
200 kg to SSO
FuelBio-propaneRP-1
EnginesFirst stage: 6 Orbex engines
Second stage: 1 Orbex engine
First stage: 9 Rutherford
Second stage: 1 Rutherford

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. 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 CEO Chris Lamour

Space Hub Sutherland

Orbex plans to launch an environmentally friendly rocket from an equally environmentally-friendly launch site. Space Hub Sutherland, in Scotland, will be brought fully operation later in 2022. The launch site has pledged to be carbon neutral – both in construction and operation.

The site, with water to the north, should be a prime candidate for polar launches of Orbex Prime. The first stage of Prime can then splash down into the sea for recovery.

Image credit Orbex Space

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