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Orbex and HIE rocket ahead to create 250 high-value jobs in Scotland

Learn how Orbex, with support and funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, has boosted the economy and Scotland's pioneering work in the space sector. 

Orbex's Prime rocket

30 May 2024 | 5 minute read

Orbital launch services company Orbex, based in Forres in Moray, has been working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for more than five years. This successful relationship is delivering new high-value jobs to the Scottish economy.

Together, the company (which is on course for the first launch of its innovative Prime rocket from Sutherland) and the regional development agency are at the forefront of Scotland’s growing role as a player in the international space sector.

Orbex plans up to 12 launches a year, carrying small satellites into low Earth orbit from Sutherland Spaceport (formerly known as Space Hub Sutherland), which is currently under construction on the north coast of Scotland.

The establishment of the commercial vertical launch spaceport is expected to support around 250 new employment opportunities in the Highlands and Islands over the coming years, including 40 jobs in Sutherland and Caithness.

Economic impact assessments commissioned by HIE have concluded the facility has the potential to generate almost £1 billion in gross value added (GVA) for the economy over the next three decades.

An upward trajectory for jobs creation

As the first launch approaches, Orbex has ramped up recruitment activities, adding dozens of highly skilled staff to its team in Forres, where the Prime rocket is being manufactured. Orbex, which was established in 2015, first started working with HIE when, as an early-stage, pre-revenue company, it was exploring options for a location for its operations and for funding to take its rocket from the research and development phase to commercialisation.

Scott McKnockiter, Senior Development Manager at HIE in Moray, says: “The company came in as an inward investment proposition and was looking at various potential locations for its base. Moray ticked many boxes. We had the infrastructure required, and the relevant skills from two large military bases, the oil and gas industry, and the area’s indigenous advanced engineering and fabrication sectors."

Reaching for the sky

Orbex, which also has design facilities in Denmark and a registered office in England, officially opened its headquarters in Forres in February 2019. In January 2020, HIE approved investment of up to £1.5 million in the company, comprising a loan of up to £675,000 and a grant of up to £825,000.

By May 2021, Orbex’s workforce had grown to 63, an increase of around 125% on the previous year, with many of its new employees bringing previous professional experience from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and other commercial spaceflight organisations. The company now occupies three buildings at Enterprise Park Forres, where it has established a specialised manufacturing facility in addition to its other operations.

Strength in Scottish company partnership

Orbex has also constructed the first orbital rocket launch platform in the UK in more than 50 years on its test site at Kinloss. The platform, built by Motive Offshore Group, a Scottish company specialising in design and manufacture for marine and lifting equipment, is being used to rehearse launch procedures for the biofuel-powered Prime rocket.

Last year it was confirmed Orbex would oversee the construction and assume full operational management of Sutherland Spaceport, on the A’Mhoine peninsula, in north-west Sutherland. The company’s leading role in the project is expected to stimulate significant private investment. This will benefit the local community through job creation, supply chain opportunities and other associated economic benefits.

International professional and technical services company Jacobs performed the role of prime contractor.  Construction at the site is leased by HIE from Melness Crofters Estate. 

Backed by a £14.6 million investment package from HIE, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the UK Space Agency and the Scottish Government, Sutherland Spaceport is intended to become the world’s greenest spaceport, both in terms of its construction and its operation. Throughout its relationship with Orbex, HIE has used an account team approach with the company.

The prototype for Orbex's Prime rocket

Orbex's importance to HIE and Scotland

Orbex is considered a very important business to HIE, Scotland and the local region. Many people across HIE have been working with the company as it has developed and grown. This close, successful relationship is continuing as the company approaches its first launches from Sutherland Spaceport.

In Moray, Orbex found itself in a great position to access skilled people that could join the team as it grew. There are synergies between some of the disciplines in the oil and gas industry and in the aerospace skills held by many ex-RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth personnel who live in the area.

Von Bengtson added: “Another key aspect was access to good quality and suitable building infrastructure. We have also been able to work closely with Kinloss Barracks in the development of our test site, which is only a few miles from the Enterprise Park in Forres."

He praises the "excellent support infrastructure." In addition to HIE, the Scottish Government, Moray Council and local groups were incredibly supportive, and HIE itself was integral in making the right introductions to other stakeholders in the area.

Von Bengtson also said that the company’s headquarters in Forres offered a location with short travel distances for satellite companies based in Scotland and to Sutherland Spaceport.

He summed up: “It’s also an amazing location for people joining the team to come live."

Learn more about Orbex on the company websiteopens in a new window 

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