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Rocket startup Orbex signs lease to build UK's first vertical spaceport

Space Hub Sutherland will be constructed in northern Scotland.

In order to build and run its home spaceport in the north of Scotland, British rocket firm Orbex, which intends to launch the first vertical rocket from British soil next year, has acquired a 50-year lease.

One of two vertical launch sites currently under construction in Scotland is a spaceport called Space Hub Sutherland. The other is SaxaVord Spaceport, which is located on the Shetland Islands, off the coast of mainland Scotland.

The U.K. can also accommodate horizontal launches from Spaceport Cornwall, which is anticipated to hold the first-ever orbital launch from U.K. soil later this month. Horizontal launches are launches of rockets dropped at altitude by carrier aircraft like Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl plane.

Orbex, one of numerous rocket firms vying for a piece of the expanding small satellite launch industry, unveiled the prototype of its reusable Prime launcher earlier this year.

A local development organization will rent Space Hub Sutherland to the corporation on a 50-year initial lease with a 25-year option. On the 10-acre launch location on the A'Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland, Orbex will soon start building. Jacobs, a provider of technological solutions that performs a significant amount of work for NASA, will be hired to handle the majority of the building work.

According to a statement from Orbex CEO Chris Larmour, "Orbex is the first European launcher firm to also run a dedicated spaceport." It is a significant competitive advantage for the business and will make working with clients much simpler as we expand our operations.

Despite stiff competition from sister Scottish rocket firm Skyrora, which has promised to fly from the rival Shetland Islands spaceport, Orbex plans to launch up to 12 rockets into low Earth orbit from Space Hub Sutherland each year.

At a test location in Iceland on October 8, Skyrora launched its suborbital Skylark L rocket, but the booster was unable to reach its target height and crashed into the water shortly after takeoff. Orbex has not yet made a first flight after raising £40.4 million (approximately $63 million) in a Series C fundraising round that was disclosed on October 18. Both businesses rely on renewable rocket fuel; Orbex uses natural gas that is sourced sustainably, while Skyrora uses non-recyclable plastic garbage. Astra and Lockheed Martin both intend to provide modest satellite launches from the UK.

In the past, Space Hub Sutherland has run into legal issues since a wealthy nearby estate owner objected to the development. In August 2021, a court dismissed the protest, and soon after that, Spaceport Sutherland was granted planning approval.

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