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UK’s Orbex and Skyrora Win ESA ‘Boost’ Launch Contracts

By | March 24, 2021

The Orbex Prime (left) and Skyrora XL (right) launchers. Photos: ESA

U.K. space companies Orbital Launch Express (Orbex) and Skyrora signed new commercial small satellite launch contracts with the European Space Agency (ESA) through its Boost! commercial space transportation services program.

ESA awarded 7.45 million euros ($8.8 million) to Orbex, and 3 million euros ($3.5 million) to Skyrora. Both companies will begin launch services for ESA in 2022. ESA’s Boost! provides co-funding, project guidance and access to testing facilities to entrepreneurs from EU member states who are developing new access options to space, in-orbit activities, or return to Earth.

Rocket Factory Augsburg AG (RFA), a startup backed by the German satellite manufacturer OHB, was the first company to join the Boost! program as ESA awarded 500,000 euros ($586,000) in support to the company last year.

Orbex’s Prime rocket is a two-stage microlauncher that offers rides to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) for payloads of up to 150 kg. It is powered by a 3D-printed engine that runs on liquid oxygen and sub-cooled bio-propane, a clean-burning renewable fuel. Orbex plans to launch Prime rockets from the Space Hub Sutherland in the A’Mhoine peninsula in Scotland and is working on ways to make the rocket reusable.

Orbex will partner with Deimos Engenharia in Portugal and Deimos Space UK to complete its contracted work for the ESA Boost! program.

Skyrora will offer launch to Low Earth Sun-Synchronous and Polar Orbits for payloads of up to 315 kg on its Skyrora XL microlauncher. The rocket’s propulsion system uses an an in-house developed rocket fuel made of high-test (hydrogen) peroxide and Ecosene.

“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,” Lucía Linares, head of strategy and institutional launches in the ESA Directorate for Space Transportation, said in a statement.