A UK spaceflight firm has secured £16.7 million in funding to help it ‘ramp up’ plans to launch rockets from Scotland.

Orbex raised the Series C from six backers including the Scottish National Investment Bank as it prepares to use Scotland as a launch pad for low earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

The company will use the funds to expand its manufacturing capabilities and complete work on the Sutherland Spaceport, the first vertical launch capable spaceport in the UK.

With pre-launch testing underway, the funding will help Orbex ramp up the development of Prime, its 19-metre long, two-stage rocket designed to transport small satellites into low earth orbit. The aim is to ensure full readiness and scalability for its launch period.

It is powered by a renewable bio-fuel, which allows the rocket to reduce carbon emissions significantly compared to other similarly sized rockets being developed elsewhere around the world.

Investors involved in the deal include £10.5m follow-on investment from the Scottish National Investment Bank, venture capital firms Octopus Ventures, BGF, Heartcore, the Export & Investment Fund of Denmark (EIFO) and a number of corporate and angel investors. 

Phillip Chambers, CEO of Orbex, said: “Orbex is one of only two space rocket manufacturers in the UK, and the only one to also operate its own spaceport. Our technology is pivotal in making the UK a hub for European orbital launch, and we are entering a critical phase of development. We are building a sustainable, cost-effective launch vehicle to compete with the best of Europe’s spaceflight manufacturers. This additional funding will support our goal to push on into an operational launch phase, and scale our business when the time comes.”

Nicola Douglas, executive director of innovation at the Scottish National Investment Bank, said: “The Bank recognises the unique potential the space industry offers for Scotland. We are perfectly placed to leverage our geographical location, vibrant business and innovation landscape, and our skilled workers to be one of the most significant global players in this growing industry.

“At the Bank, we have been particularly drawn to Orbex’s commitment to sustainability through its use of renewable biofuel and launch technology, all working towards the goal of carbon neutrality. Its approach perfectly aligns to our net zero and innovation missions. This follow-on investment comes at an exciting time as Orbex expands its manufacturing and looks to complete its Sutherland Spaceport this year.”

Innovation Minister Richard Lochhead said: “We have big ambitions to be Europe’s leading space nation. The space sector already supports 8,500 jobs in Scotland and could be worth £4 billion and employ 20,000 people over the next decade, making it one of the industries the Scottish Government has targeted as a priority for economic growth.”