News Nov 1, 2022

Jacobs, Orbex Taking Scotland into the Space Age

A windswept peat bog in Scotland is earmarked to become the first operational spaceport on the U.K. mainland, with Jacobs providing key elements of the know-how to make it happen.

Orbex, an orbital launch services company serving the needs of the small satellite industry, is working towards launching its Prime rocket from Sutherland Spaceport near Tongue in the northern Highlands of Scotland.

Jacobs, an investor in Orbex, will lead the construction of the spaceport, including design, procurement and management of the local supply chain.

We have also signed a long-term collaboration agreement with Orbex to provide spaceport operations support, operations consultancy, and engineering services, drawing on our experience of managing and operating complex, highly regulated nuclear and space-related sites.

We will also reach back into extensive experience of the space sector as NASA's largest services provider, delivering mission-tailored solutions and full lifecycle aerospace capabilities. As well as supporting the Mars Perseverance Rover and the Artemis deep space human exploration program, Jacobs is prime contractor for NASA’S Exploration Ground Systems Program at Kennedy Space Center, with responsibility for development and operations of flight vehicle components and upgrading of facilities and ground equipment.

  • 12

    Number of launches per year capacity at Space Hub Sutherland

  • 85

    % of Scots aged 18-24 who support plans for the spaceport

  • 56

    Million pounds in gross value added the spaceport is expected to create

Prime, the first full orbital micro-launcher to be unveiled in Europe, is a 19-metre long, two-stage rocket powered by seven engines. Designed and manufactured in Forres, near Inverness in Scotland and Copenhagen in Denmark, it is unique in being powered by renewable bio-propane and has significantly lower carbon emissions compared with similarly-sized rockets being developed elsewhere.

A study by the University of Exeter showed that a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will produce 96% less emissions than comparable systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also a re-usable rocket which has been engineered to leave zero debris on Earth and in orbit. The spaceport will also contribute to environmental sustainability by restoring peatland habitats in the surrounding area.

“The Orbex Prime rocket promises to be a game changer for small satellite developers and operators, enabling them to launch small satellites much more efficiently and cost-effectively,” says Jacobs Energy, Security and Technology Senior Vice President Karen Wiemelt. “We are excited to be involved in this important development for the European space industry and we believe that Sutherland Spaceport will bring major economic and social benefits to the Highlands, where we are already well established, having supported key decommissioning and remediation projects at the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness for decades.”

Orbex has just completed a $46.9 million (£40.4 million) funding round, led by the Scottish National Investment Bank, as it scales up resources to develop the spaceport site, which will have the capacity for up to 12 launches per year, placing 330-440lb (150-200kg) satellites into orbit for a wide range of applications which are crucial to communications technology.

"Orbex has a track record of working with industrial leaders, space agencies and sector specialists to ensure we are bringing the right expertise to bear on each aspect of our launch system. By partnering with Jacobs for the construction of the spaceport, we’re continuing that trend. We look forward to working closely with the team at Jacobs to deliver a unique, environmentally sustainable spaceport that we believe will set an example for the rest of the world,” says Orbex CEO Chris Larmour.

Scotland’s potential in the space sector is creating widespread interest and excitement. Polling by YouGov found that 85% of Scots aged 18-24 support the plans for the spaceport, while research commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimates that the spaceport and the surrounding North Highland and Moray Space Cluster will create 740 jobs and unlock $65 million (£56 million) in gross value added for the regional economy.

The spaceport plans also have the support of local crofters – who have lived and worked on the land for generations.

“A single job here is worth as much to us as 50 jobs would be in a city. I truly believe that the spaceport will provide the young people living on the estate with game changing opportunities and that it will ultimately pave the way for a more sustainable, thriving community in the future," says Dorothy Pritchard, retired primary school teacher and Chairwoman of Melness Crofters’ Estate, the owners of the land where Sutherland Spaceport will be built. "Melness Crofters’ Estate is delighted at the prospect of Jacobs’ involvement with Space Hub Sutherland. Their long-standing association with the Dounreay nuclear site and extensive experience in the space sector give them the perfect insight and expertise to bring this project to fruition."

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