WASHINGTON — Orbex has raised $45.8 million in a new funding round as the U.K. company gears up for the first flight of its small launch vehicle in 2023.
Orbex announced Oct. 18 that it raised 40.4 million pounds ($45.8 million) in a Series C round led by the Scottish National Investment Bank, a new investor in the company. Several other new and existing investors joined the round.
Orbex is developing Prime, a small launch vehicle designed to place up to 180 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The vehicle, built by the company at a factory in Forres, Scotland, will launch initially from Space Hub Sutherland, a new launch site under development in northern Scotland.
“With Orbex, we will have a rocket assembled in Scotland, launching from Scotland and likely transporting satellites built in Scotland into orbit,” said Nicola Douglas, executive director of the Scottish National Investment Bank, in a statement. “We’re building a full end-to-end commercial space ecosystem in Scotland and we’re proud to play our part in this funding round.”
Orbex previous raised $24 million in December 2020 and $39 million in July 2018. The company also won 7.45 million euros from the European Space Agency in March 2021 as part of the agency’s Boost! program to support new launch vehicle development. Orbex said the new funding round would allow it to scale up as it approaches its first orbital launch and support future, unspecified projects.
Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex, credited the company’s workforce for the progress the company has made that helped secure the new funding. “This significant new funding round is testament to the work of that team and will allow us to continue to build Orbex towards our long-term goal of establishing a reliable, economically successful and environmentally sustainable European space launch business,” he said in a statement.
In addition to the Scottish National Investment Bank, several other new investors joined the round, including Jacobs, a company best known in the space industry as a major NASA contractor, leading work on ground systems for the Space Launch System. “We are looking forward to collaborating with Orbex over the long term in areas such as operational support and the provision of a range of technical, engineering and consultancy services,” said Karen Wiemelt, senior vice president of Jacobs Energy, Security and Technology, in a statement.
The Danish Green Future Fund, Swiss venture capital firm Verve Ventures and British entrepreneurs Phillip and James Chambers also participated as new investors, while existing investors BGF, Heartcore Capital, High-Tech Gründerfonds and Octopus Ventures contributed to the round.
Orbex rolled out a prototype of Prime in May for testing, but has provided few updates on the status of that testing. In its funding announcement, it said it is “currently performing a wide variety of integration tests” of the vehicle, but did not give a target date for the first launch beyond it taking place some time in 2023.
“I congratulate this innovative business on its latest success in raising funds, which will propel progress towards a first launch from 2023,” Ivan McKee, the Scottish government’s business minister, said in the statement.
Larmour told SpaceNews in June that the schedule for the first launch depended not only on the progress testing Prime but also construction of the Space Hub Sutherland launch site and receipt of a launch license from the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority. “All the elements are progressing in parallel, but Orbex is only fully in control of the launch vehicle itself,” he said then.
Orbex is competing with Skyrora to conduct the first vertical orbital launch from the United Kingdom. Skyrora attempted a launch Oct. 8 of Skylark L, a suborbital prototype of its Skyrora XL small orbital launcher, from a mobile pad near Langanes, Iceland. While the company’s goal was for Skylark L to fly to an altitude of up to 125 kilometers, the rocket veered sideways immediately after liftoff and crashed into the ocean 500 meters from the pad.
“While this launch attempt did not go entirely as we expected, it has nevertheless been a valuable learning opportunity,” Volodymyr Levykin, chief executive of Skyrora, said in a statement about the Skylark L launch failure. He said that, despite the setback, the company was still working towards a first orbital launch of Skyrora XL in 2023.