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ESA gives UK space an £8.5m Boost: Rocketeers eye a 2022 launch

Lawmakers still need to sign off on launch from UK soil, though

Scotland-based rocketeers are set to receive £8.5m in funding under the European Space Agency's (ESA) Boost! initiative.

The two contracts, for Orbex (which nabbed £6m) and Skyrora (which picked up the remaining £2.5m) are intended to help the companies develop their launch technologies ahead of a long sought domestic commercial vertical launch capability from the shores of the UK.

Orbex is proposing to send up to 150kg to low earth orbit atop its Prime launcher from Space Hub Sutherland in Scotland's A'Mhoine peninsula. The first launch, according to ESA, "is expected in 2022."

The UK Space Agency put that first launch in 2023 as it welcomed the funding.

While Orbex's award represents the largest dispensed under the Boost! initiative to date (although a small portion of the funding will be spent on work in Portugal) the £2.5m for Skyrora will be more than welcome as the company edges closer to orbital launch. The money will be put toward completing the development of the Skyrora XL launcher, capable of launching over 300kg and due for a 2022 test flight from a UK spaceport.

"The UK invested £12m into the Boost! programme in 2019, one of the largest investments from ESA member states," said the UK Space Agency. The first three contracts under the programme were signed by ESA last year giving funding to three German New Space companies: HyImpulse Technologies, Isar Aerospace Technologies, and Rocket Factory Augsburg.

The trio are developing separate launchers capable of lofting small payloads. Rocket Factory Augsburg also has the backing of German Satellite manufacturer OHB.

As for the UK, funding and technology aside, there are still hurdles to overcome before either Scotland-based company can light the blue touchpaper. A regulatory and guidance framework is still required from lawmakers to permit a 2022 launch from UK soil. ®

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