'World's most environmentally friendly' rocket is being built in Scotland


It has been billed as the world’s most environmentally friendly rocket. 

Running on biofuel and producing up to 96 per cent less emissions than fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the Orbex Prime is designed to be reusable and not leave debris on land, the oceans or in the atmosphere.

Not only that, but it’s being built right here in the UK. 

When it’s finished, the plan is to launch Prime by late 2022 from Space Hub Sutherland, the £17.9 million carbon-neutral spaceport being built in the Scottish Highlands.

Running on biofuel and producing up to 96 per cent less emissions than fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the Orbex Prime is billed as the world's most environmentally friendly rocket

Running on biofuel and producing up to 96 per cent less emissions than fossil fuel-powered vehicles, the Orbex Prime is billed as the world’s most environmentally friendly rocket

It is designed to be reusable and not leave debris on land, the oceans or in the atmosphere. The rocket has been built with the world's largest 3D printed rocket engine (pictured)

It is designed to be reusable and not leave debris on land, the oceans or in the atmosphere. The rocket has been built with the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine (pictured)

BRITAIN’S FIRST SPACEPORT WILL SUPPORT 12 ORBITAL LAUNCHES PER YEAR

The UK Space Agency has selected Sutherland, on Scotland’s north coast, as the site for Britain’s first spaceport.

The site is being developed by US aerospace and defence behemoth Lockheed Martin.  

It will launch satellites and rockets into space as early as 2021.

The port will boost Scotland’s already burgeoning satellite industry.

Outside of the US, Scotland produces more satellites than any country.

It is hoped the UK will launch an estimated 2,000 satellites by 2030. 

The Sutherland project is under pressure from similar bids in Scandinavia.

The first Northern European site to offer commercial launches is set to hold a stake in the global space industry worth billions.

A new study by the University of Exeter calculated that a single Orbex Prime launch would produce up to 86 per cent less emissions than a similar-sized vertical launch vehicle, and 96 per cent less than a rocket launched horizontally from a carrier aircraft.

This gulf in emissions is primarily due to the similar-sized vehicle emitting high levels of black carbon, the particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fuels containing carbon.

It is a major contributor to climate change when emitted from rocket engines into the stratosphere. 

At the moment, the number of rocket flights is very small. In the whole of 2020, for example, there were 114 attempted orbital launches in the world, according to Nasa. 

That compares to more than 100,000 flights a day on average in the airline industry.

But emissions from rockets are emitted into the upper atmosphere, which means they stay there for two to three years.

‘Orbex will be the first commercial orbital space launch company to use a renewable, carbon-friendly fuel,’ said Chris Larmour, CEO of Orbex. 

‘We believe it is time to move away from the use of heavily polluting fossil fuels now that more efficient, sustainable alternatives are readily available, and we hope to see much tighter regulations coming into force.

‘As the world prepares to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, we have already moved decisively to a fully sustainable solution that avoids the massive carbon emissions profiles of old-fashioned fossil fuelled launch solutions.’ 

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, and design and testing operations in Denmark

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, and design and testing operations in Denmark

Orbex said the rocket's carbon footprint was comparable to the average emissions created by a single person in the UK each year, which is 12.7 tonnes CO2e

Orbex said the rocket’s carbon footprint was comparable to the average emissions created by a single person in the UK each year, which is 12.7 tonnes CO2e

Lift off: The plan is to launch Prime by late 2022 from Space Hub Sutherland (pictured), the £17.9 million carbon-neutral spaceport being built in the Scottish Highlands

Lift off: The plan is to launch Prime by late 2022 from Space Hub Sutherland (pictured), the £17.9 million carbon-neutral spaceport being built in the Scottish Highlands

Highlands and Islands Enterprise plans to build the launch site on peatland on the Moine Peninsula near Tongue in the Scottish Highlands

Highlands and Islands Enterprise plans to build the launch site on peatland on the Moine Peninsula near Tongue in the Scottish Highlands

According to the University of Exeter study, a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket would result in total emissions of 13.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent — a standard unit for measuring carbon footprint. 

This includes the direct emissions from the launch, the indirect emissions created from the production of the propellent fuels required (biopropane and liquid oxygen), and the radiative forcing effects of non-CO2 emissions at high altitude.  

Orbex said the rocket’s carbon footprint was comparable to the average emissions created by a single person in the UK each year, which is 12.7 tonnes CO2e. 

A key factor as to why it’s more environmentally friendly is the biofuel that it uses.

It has a greenhouse gas factor that is 90 per cent lower than a fossil-based fuel such as Kerosene.

‘The UK space industry has a key role to play in combating climate change, for example by launching satellites that can monitor environmental changes on Earth — but such benefits must be weighed against the environmental impact of space launches, which by their nature can be highly carbon intensive,’ said Dr Xiaoyu Yan of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter. 

‘Our study shows that the launch operation planned by Orbex can result in a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to the other launch scenarios considered in our analysis.’

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland, and design and testing operations in Denmark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.