THE countdown has started for the launch of the first space rocket from the Highlands after Orbex submitted a licence application to the Civil Aviation Authority.

It marks the latest stage in the Forres-based company’s roadmap to starting commercial space launches, and follows what it described as “successful” pre-application meetings with the CAA, the UK’s space regulator.

In progressing to the application stage, Orbex has become one of the first launch operators to do so, which it said was “another key milestone” in a journey that will see its rockets take off from Space Hub Sutherland, in the far north of Scotland.

The launch licence ensures that operators meet the regulatory requirements set by the UK’s Space Industry Act 2018 (SIA) and Space Industry Regulations 2021 (SIR), legislation which was recently introduced by the UK Government in support of its national space strategy.

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Space Hub Sutherland is the world’s first carbon neutral spaceport and the only one in the UK to have received full planning permission. Construction is due to begin later this year.

The Orbex “Prime” rocket, meanwhile, will soon be tested on the Orbex LP1 launch platform at Kinloss, near the company’s HQ, which will see full “dress rehearsals” of launch procedures.

Prime is a micro-launcher designed to transport small satellites weighing around 150kg to low Earth orbit.

Orbex said it was poised to become the world’s most environmentally friendly space rocket with a carbon footprint up to 96% lower than comparable space launch programmes.

“This licence application is another big step forward for Orbex, and is one of several tracks running in parallel that will enable commercial launch operations to commence from Sutherland,” said Orbex CEO Chris Larmour.

“The application process is rigorous and detailed, with a strong focus on safety.

“It has taken a large team more than two years to complete the investigations and analysis required to submit the license application today.

“We are looking forward to working with the Civil Aviation Authority over the coming months as they assess our application.”