As part of its Boost! programme, ESA has signed two new contracts which support UK-based Orbex and Skyrora in their separate proposals for new commercial launch services for small satellites. These services are set to start in the UK from 2022.
ESA has awarded €7.45 m of co-funding to Orbex and its partners, and €3 m to Skyrora.
Boost! – ESA's Commercial Space Transportation Services and support to Member States programme provides co-funding, tailored expert advice and the use of testing facilities to help entrepreneurs to develop and prepare new space transportation services. Such services can offer access to space, in-orbit activities, or return to Earth.
ESA's support will help to establish the UK as a new space transportation hub, offering launch services to low Earth orbit. This will trigger new uses of space to improve daily lives and benefit science. These activities will create jobs, enrich technical know-how in Europe and stimulate competitiveness within the space sector.
Orbital Launch Express (Orbex) plans to offer launches to low Earth orbit for payloads of up to 150 kg through Prime, its two-stage microlauncher, as part of a commercial service from Space Hub Sutherland in the A’Mhoine peninsula in Scotland. The first launch is expected in 2022.
Prime is a small rocket measuring 19 m high and powered by a 3D-printed engine that runs on liquid oxygen and sub-cooled bio-propane, a clean-burning renewable fuel. In addition, Prime is potentially reusable.
To support the development and deployment of this launch service, ESA is cofunding the avionics, software and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) activities for the Prime launch vehicle. Orbex has partnered with Deimos Engenharia in Portugal and Deimos Space UK, subcontractors on the Boost! contract, for part of the GNC activities. €7 m of the funding will be assigned to work carried out in the UK with the remaining €450 000 assigned to work in Portugal.
“Microlaunchers will soon be launching for the first time from the European continent and ESA’s recognition of the commercial and scientific opportunities this brings to Europe is invaluable,” commented Chris Larmour, CEO at Orbex.
Skyrora plans to offer launch services to low Earth Sun-synchronous and polar orbits for payloads of up to 315 kg through Skyrora XL, its 23-meter 56-tonne three-stage microlauncher.
Skyrora XL is based on liquid propulsion using a mix of high-test (hydrogen) peroxide/Ecosene (an in-house developed rocket fuel) and will be prepared for its first test flight targeted in 2022.
“I am delighted that the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency support our programme, which has, to date, delivered outstanding achievements,” said Volodymyr Levykin, founder and CEO at Skyrora.
ESA is co-funding the qualification of the main rocket engine intended for the Skyrora XL first and second stages as well as the static test firing of the integrated first and second stages.
“There is a growing impetus in European privately-led space transportation initiatives, like the ones from Orbex and Skyrora. This emerging dynamism is crucial in the long-term success of the European space sector,” commented Lucía Linares, Head of Strategy and Institutional launches in the ESA Directorate for Space Transportation.
Previous contracts within Boost! were signed with three German New Space companies. All three proposed new launch services using small launch vehicles.
ESA continues to welcome ideas for new space transportation services via its Open call for proposals.