August 4, 2021

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded two United Kingdom start-ups €10.45 million in funding

2 min read

Orbex and Skyrora, both headquartered in the United Kingdom, have been granted a total of €10.45 million ($12.35 million) by the European Space Agency to finance the production of rival microlaunchers. The two support contracts were won on March 24 as part of Boost!, an ESA initiative aimed at fostering modern commercial space transportation services. Boost! was approved by the organization at Space19+, which is an ESA ministerial-level council meeting conducted in November 2019, as well as an open request for proposals, was declared in April.

Both of the two latest Boost! contracts set out the basic targets that the financing would help the businesses meet. Orbital Launch Express (Orbex) operates on a two-phase Prime microlauncher that would use 3D-printed rocket engines to lift payloads up to 150 kgs into the low Earth orbit. In 2022, the car is scheduled to make its debut. Orbex and its associates won the biggest Boost! Award to date, worth €7.45 million.

The money would go into designing the avionics, electronics, and guidance, navigation, as well as control systems for the Prime vehicle. Orbex would contribute a further €4.7 million in private funds to the project as part of the deal. Skyrora is operating on a 3-stage launch vehicle named the Skyrora XL that will be capable of transporting up to 315 kgs to sun-synchronous as well as polar orbits of up to 1,000 kms above Earth. The XL is the bigger of the two aircraft, measuring 23 meters in length, and is set to take to the skies in 2022. Skyrora would use the €3 million in Boost! funds to validate the liquid-fueled rocket engine, which drives the XL’s first and second phases, including completely integrated static fire testing.

The United Kingdom contributed £12 million to the initiative at the 2019 ministerial-level council session at which Boost! was introduced, rendering it one of the highest donations by an ESA member state. The money was intended to help emerging launch suppliers in the United Kingdom and create high-skilled employment. “Today’s support for two of our most ambitious space companies is not only a move ahead for United kingdom spaceflight, but it will also continue to generate highly qualified employment and local prospects while we recover from the pandemic,” science minister Amanda Solloway stated.

In addition to supporting new launch providers via the European Space Agency’s Boost! the initiative, the UK reported on March 5 that it is collaborating on a legislative mechanism that will allow commercial small satellite launch activities from its shores to begin in 2022. Orbex and Skyrora follow Rocket Factory Augsburg, HyImpulse Technologies, and Isar Aerospace as German launch startups that received 1.5 million euros in Boost! financing in November. ESA has created a permanent open call for new projects in addition to the 5 launch providers that have currently been granted Boost! support. In April 2020, 79 proposals were sent in response to the initial open call.

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