BUILDING work has started on a rocket launchpad in the Highlands – the first facility of its type to be constructed in the UK in more than 50 years.

The small satellite launch service company Orbex has commissioned Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish company specialising in the design and manufacture of marine and lifting equipment, to make and install the launch platform at a dedicated site near Kinloss, near the Orbex headquarters in Forres.

Known as Orbex LP1, the platform is expected to be operational by early next year, to support the Orbex Prime rocket, a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites to low Earth orbit.

Although actual Prime rocket launches will not take place at the Kinloss site, the platform will be capable of launching an orbital rocket, allowing for full “dress rehearsals” of launch procedures.

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Orbex LP1 is the first facility of its type to be built in the UK since the High Down Rocket Test Site on the Isle of Wight, which was decommissioned in the early 1970s.

High Down was the test site for the Black Arrow rocket, the first – and so far only – British-made rocket to successfully deliver a satellite into Earth's orbit, launching from Woomera in Australia in October 1971 .

The new launch platform in Kinloss will enable Orbex to accelerate plans to launch Prime from its “home” spaceport at Sutherland – Space Hub Sutherland is the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceport and the only spaceport in the UK to have received full planning permission.

Its construction is due to begin early in 2022 ahead of the first expected Orbex Prime launch later in the year.

Motive Offshore Group is a major supplier across the energy, oil and gas industries, for the design and manufacture of bespoke deck and subsea equipment.

All equipment is manufactured onsite at its HQ in Banff, and is built and tested to meet strict international standards across highly regulated industry sectors.

LP1 will comprise all the infrastructure and supporting services that will enable a wide variety of integration tests to take place during launch preparation, including testing of the main propellant tanks and multi-engine hot fire testing under vertical firing conditions.

It will also enable the launch operations team to fully test launch procedures in advance of the first launch.

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“The ability for our engineers to test Prime on its own launchpad is a major advancement on the roadmap to launch, and we are happy to already be constructing this major piece of infrastructure with Motive Offshore, a partner which has a very strong track record in other relevant industries,” said Orbex CEO Chris Larmour.

“This will be the first launchpad of its kind built in the UK for more than half a century and we look forward to seeing it completed and ready to go into service in the New Year.”

James Gregg, COO at Motive Offshore Group, added: “Motive Offshore Group welcomes the opportunity to work with Orbex on this exciting project.

“Whilst the aerospace arena may be new territory for Motive, we are completely focused on the standards and performance required to deliver outstanding custom engineering, so very much look forward to transferring our skills and expertise on this project.”