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Our investment in Orbex

16 Dec 2020 By Simon King

Space these days has become the provision of billionaires (Elon, Jeff and Richard), but Orbex represents a new breed. This company is finding ways to put tech into orbit more cheaply and more sustainably. Orbex utilises the latest 3D printing techniques to build components quickly and cheaply for their rockets. They use biomass-derived propane fuel, a greener, cheaper, less toxic alternative to traditional kerosene and their coaxial tank design uses a carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) that reduces the vehicle dry mass by 30%. 

Launch

The company was founded in 2015 to design and construct an orbital space launch vehicle to service the growing small sat launch market. Orbex is headquartered in Forres, Scotland with an engine building facility in Copenhagen and an office in Munich. The company works closely with Highlands & Islands Enterprise, who have secured planning permission to construct a spaceport based on Orbex designs in Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland. 

Launching rockets is an unforgiving sport and a Minimum Viable Product has a very high bar. Chris Larmour, co-founder and CEO is a serial entrepreneur rather than a seasoned spaceman, but his co-founders and the team they have built have pedigrees in aerospace engineering, building and launching rockets. And experience in this field counts! 

Final frontier

The market for small launch services is large (>£1bn in 2018) and is growing at around 30%, driven by the trend towards smaller, smarter satellites. Yet there is no dedicated micro launch facility in Europe. (Historically, European Space Agency launches have happened far away in French Guiana). Now the combination of demand, limited supply and Orbex’s market leading position has enabled it to sign contracts for six of its first 25 launches.

Unblocking the system

In our Deep Tech pod, we look for the pioneers of technologies that allow commerce and society to transcend the status quo. Put simply, current technologies eventually block progress and deep tech is the un-blocker. Small satellites have faced such a block. They have been previously deployed on a ride-sharing basis – taking up spare capacity on large rockets carrying big payloads. This throws up numerous problems, including lack of availability, severe launch delays and unsuitable orbits. Ride-share slots are high in demand and low in supply, following the 2015 suspension of the Russian DNEPR program, serving 25% of the market, as well as various rocket launch failures and deployment issues resulting in the loss of numerous small sats. 

Orbex therefore has the potential to meet this demand, right here on European soil.

…and beyond

Needless to say, this is an incredibly exciting new journey for us as investors, alongside BGF and existing investors, High-Tech Gründerfonds, Heartcore Capital and Elecnor S.A. We look forward to supporting them every step of the way, right up to the first ever vertical rocket launches from UK soil.

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