• Orbex Space, formerly known as Orbital Express and Moonspike, is a UK-based company specializing in small satellite launch vehicles.
• Founded in 2015, Orbex aims to provide affordable and efficient solutions for sending small payloads into space. Their flagship product is the Orbex Prime, a two-stage rocket with compact dimensions.
• Orbex offers a range of launch services, including various orbital options such as low Earth orbit, polar orbits, and sun-synchronous orbits. They are currently developing the Sutherland Spaceport in Scotland as their launch site.
Isn't it always fascinating to hear about space and the people behind them? Well, Orbex originally was ‘Orbital Express’ or should I say, ‘Moonspike’ - is definitely one of those stories that I would share with future generations only because they have an amazing progress graph since its foundation in 2015.
With a timeline marked by awards, funding rounds, and expansion, Orbex has become a significant player in the aerospace industry, employing over 300 people.
Travel to the moon with a hot air balloon
So once upon a time, there was a man called Chris Larmour. Would you believe that some hot air balloons on the television made him think about moon travel on a rocket?
He saw this dream with his wide-open eyes and immediately contacted Kristian von Bengtson and Copenhagen Suborbitals. Both of them i.e. Rick and Morty of this story started working on “MOONSPIKE” as we say. Unfortunately, it wasn't successful but it did instigate ambitions of space within each of them.
Before Rick met Morty, he was in marketing & business-oriented positions in small tech companies and has a background in technical communications. On the other hand, Morty was driven by a deep enthusiasm for all things technical, so he established Copenhagen Suborbitals—an open-source and amateur space program.
Within this initiative, he achieved a series of small yet notable triumphs in launching rockets. Additionally, he has been involved with the ambitious Mars One project, demonstrating a penchant for venturing into daring and audacious space endeavors. Just like high school amateur affairs. (Source: MoontoMars)
That's when this pair of Rick and Morty that is - Chris Larmour and Kristian von Bengtson became the cofounders of the Orbex company and held the CEO and CTO positions respectively.
Currently, Orbex is a company based in the United Kingdom that specializes in the creation of small satellite launch vehicles within the aerospace industry. Their main objective is to offer affordable and effective solutions for sending small payloads into space. Their founding story streamlines their objective to provide orbital services in small packages and environment-friendly ways. (Source: MoontoMars)
Launch Services of Orbex mainly have three segments - Payloads, Orbits, and Launch Site. (Source: Orbex )
- Payload - Orbex is currently working on the Orbex Prime vehicle, a two-stage rocket that carries the load. The exciting part is its capacity and dimensions. You can refer to the table for its specifics. Thus, the Orbex Prime is among the smallest orbital rockets currently under development.
- Orbits - Orbex is one of those royal, smart, and self-oriented kids in high school, who just wants the best for the school project. Thus it establishes its dominion globally, with branches in the electrifying cities of Foress and Copenhagen. But hold on tight, because the real surprise happens at the marvelous Sutherland Spaceport, a kingdom in the A'Mhoine peninsula along Scotland's northern coast. It is because, it provides high inclination low Earth orbit (LEO), Polar Orbits, and Sun Synchronous Orbits (SSO). Orbex's launch capabilities cover a wide range of orbital inclinations, spanning from 83° to 100°.
- Launching Site - Sutherland Spaceport being their baby, the launch site is made up of 4 interconnected locations to suit customer needs and requirements:
- Launch Operation Control Centre (LOCC)
- Antenna Park
- Launch Site Integration Facility (LSIF)
- Launch Pad
As per the press release in November 2022, after achieving a 50-year lease contract for the location from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), they will soon be starting with the construction and operation of the port.
Given that Orbex promises and offers such interesting ideas, it's pretty easy to crack how they must have convinced a lot of investors to fund them. I think it's time to understand their funding, pricing, and financials. The funding references are referred from MoontoMars.
- 2015 and 2016: Smaller rounds and investments from business angels and founders
- 2017: Seed round between GBP 175,000 – GBP 450,000 (equity/convertibles)
- 2018: Series A, GBP 4.5 million at a GBP 10 million valuation
- 2020: Series B, GBP 11 million at a GBP 32 million valuation
- 2022: Series C, GBP 37 million at a GBP 160 million valuation.
According to their Article - Orbex has generally included all of its grants, loans as well and implicit agreements for “equipment/assets/work investment” in their funding rounds, inflating the Series A in what they stated was “$40 million” in funding.
This is hard to believe, especially considering the number of employees at the time, which was less than 15. To add to the same point - the cost of Orbit Prime is tagged ‘low cost’ but hardly has any specifics about the price range per kg. However, the finances might ache my stomach a little, but their growth and success rate as per the timeline isn't very disappointing.
Timeline - Ultimate Progress (Source: Orbex)
The baby shower: 2015 - Orbex was founded
Blessings from the elders of the family to the founders: 2016 - It had its Seed round and opened its very first design facility in Copenhagen, Denmark. Orbex was also awarded the H2020 SME Instrument Phase which indicates that they have successfully secured funding and support from the European Union to advance their small satellite launch vehicle projects.
Birth of the product: 2017 - Orbex received the UKSA National Space Technology Avionics award and also carried out its first engine test. In February 2017, the UK launched its Launch UK Prospectus and published its open call for the space program.
Orbex applies and with a team of less than 15 employees, UKSA granted them GBP 5.5 million in funding in 2018.
Announcement of another product: 2018 - Not only received the award for UKSA Satellite Launch Programme funding and UKSA Spaceport funding but it was also selected as the preferred ESA (European Space Agency) micro launcher project along with signing Deimos as a customer and also a partner.
Birth of it: 2019 - Orbex inaugurated its second branch in Forres, Scotland, and came up with new engine testing sites in Denmark. It unveiled the largest 3D-oriented rocket machine and a stage 2 rocket prototype. It also managed to sign many new customers like Atrocast, SSTL, etc.
2020 - The Spaceport Planning Application was submitted along with Series B funding.
2021 - Development of new facilities for production and testing in Foress and Kinloss.
2022 - 1st launch platform in 50 years was delivered to the Kinloss testing facility. Orbit Prime Product was also revealed which led to Series C Funding and construction of their Southerland Spaceport.
Orbex’s journey has not only given the various eras of expansion in this industry but also created job opportunities with more than 300 employees right now in the company.
One must share this part of the story of Rick and Morty from the chapter “Orbex for Orbitals”. After all, it definitely is something that ideas can turn into functioning and call reality by actually implementing it. I can't wait to see their next steps with some new launch service hopefully.
Edited by Shruti Thapa