Why Orbex Space haven’t had the reception in Scotland they expected

28th Sep 2020
A Mhoine Peninsula

It wasn’t that long ago that Orbital Express Launch Ltd. blocked us on twitter for asking genuine questions about funding. After all, they are in receipt of millions of pounds of taxpayers money and we thought it only right that they provided some transparency and clarity. They refused to do so and blocked us, immediately raising our suspicions.

However, their odd policy of secrecy isn’t the only reason they are viewed with suspicion in Scotland. There are two other factors at play… Brexit and Scottish Independence. The divisions across the country on both of those complex constitutional matters have lead to significant political awareness and a very astute population that aren’t generally happy to take things on face value and a people that are very much inclined to look below the surface.

Unfortunately for Orbex Space, those who voted for Brexit for whatever reason, don’t seem to be taking kindly to a company whose directors live and work in Germany and Denmark running a substantial part of the British Space industry – which flies in the face of their desire to break away from the controls of Europe. Many who voted for Brexit did so because they no longer wanted the EU to have so much control over many of our industries. And here we have a group from the EU with a significant level of control over the Space industry from their bases in Germany and Denmark.

And as if this wasn’t bad enough for Orbex Space, they have also come to the attention of those who support Scottish Independence, who are enthusiastic about the prospect of a Space industry in Scotland, but who would prefer to see a home grown company taking the lead. This particular group also view the other company involved in the consortium – Lockheed Martin – with suspicion, given their involvement in the nuclear submarines located in Scotland, which the independence movement are almost entirely against.

Independence supporting bloggers and news outlets have spoken out against both companies in the past and quite recently – and not in a good light. While other media outlets that frequently cover the Brexit topic have also followed suit.

A third group have also not shown much love for Orbex. The planning application for the Sutherland Spaceport where the company will operate from, received over 400 objections following a video that was created and released by protest group Extinction Rebellion. The video was viewed 73,000 times and attracted a significant backlash against the company’s plans.

The growing popularity of Extinction Rebellion could make this one of the biggest challenges for Orbex as the country’s attention focuses more on the need to tackle climate change, while this company are willing to rip up tonnes of peatbog, which is one of the most effective carbon capture landscapes in the world. The majority of the objections to their plans were on environmental grounds, which is not a good look for a company making claims of eco-friendly fuel credentials.

Orbex haven’t had the best reputational experience and in fact came into the spotlight when it was revealed the companies origins were deeply rooted in Copenhagen Suborbitals – a rocket enthusiasts group setup by Orbex CTO, Kristian Von Bengtson, and his business partner, Peter Madsen. In 2018 Madsen was jailed for murdering journalist Kim Wall in his custom built submarine.

Peter Madsen (left) and Kristian Von Bengtson (right)
Co-founders of Copenhagen Suborbitals, Peter Madsen (left) & Kristian Von Bengtson (right)

The Orbex team have been keeping a distance from Copenhagen Suborbitals and oddly a documentary about the murder was due to be released by Netflix this year, however a mystery complainer took legal steps to ensure the documentary was shelved.

With the company facing so many challenges in Scotland, we duly expect them to take their launch services elsewhere. They have publicly explored the Azores as a potential launch site and made no secret of their intention to launch there.

But, only once they’ve milked what they can from the UK grants system.

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