Orbex raise £24m funding round, which could be the company’s saviour

14th Dec 2020
Sutherland Spaceport

As we are frequently monitoring any progress within Scotland’s space industry very closely, we are particularly interested in the Sutherland Spaceport and the Shetland Space Centre. The race between the two proposed launch sites has seen many twists and turns and it is looking increasingly likely that the Shetland Space Centre will be the launch site of choice as more industry figures get behind the project.

However, we are seeing significant funding progress being made by both sites.

Kristian Von Bengtson, the Danish resident CTO of Orbital Express Launch (Orbex Space) and former partner of rocket builder and convicted murderer Peter Madsen, today announced a new funding round of £24m for his proposed launch of a rocket from Scottish soil.

Legal Challenge by Danish businessman

Despite the company being in the middle of a legal challenge by fellow countryman, Anders Povlsen, the Danish architect Von Bengtson continues to make progress with his latest project.

With a history of failed crowdfunding, Von Bengtson and his latest partner, Chris Larmour, have now found a route into the investment community by reaching out beyond his home country of Denmark, where he had a rather chequered history with a catalogue of financial failures and an association with the convicted murderer, Peter Madsen. All of which will take a significant effort to shake off.

UK taxpayer fills cash void as Denmark & Germany fail to support projects

Von Bengtson and Larmour as recently as 2015 were involved in an elaborate scheme to raise funds from the general public to launch a rocket to the moon – a project that failed spectacularly, raising only £78,000 of the £600,000 target. The pair were soon to discover that their fellow countrymen in Denmark and Germany (Larmour’s place of residence) were unwilling to fund their bizarre projects. However, by setting up a presence in Scotland they were able to easily take funds out of the cash-strapped Highlands and Islands as well as the British government.

£675,000 pocketed from cash strapped Scottish Highlands

Even as Highland Council face massive job losses, the pair were able to secure an interest free loan of £675,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to keep the Danish and German operation afloat.

Job loss fears as Highland Council chiefs warn of challenge ahead | Press and Journal

The pair’s recent set of accounts shows that their wages bill has remained pretty much static over the past couple of years, while the salaries at their Danish operation has continuously been much higher.

Highlands enterprise agency freezes funding amid cash fears – The Sunday Post

£254,000 pocketed by directors

As Britain faces the imminent threat of departure from the EU with many job losses expected, combined with the job losses currently being seen across the country as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the pair have managed to hand out £180,000 in director’s salaries with their published accounts showing a further £74,000 due to directors in unpaid salaries. Overall losses by the company are currently sitting at £1.3m for 2018/2019.

Destruction of Scottish Natural Habitat

The pair came under heavy criticism along with Highlands and Islands Enterprise as their plans for launching their rocket from the North of Scotland involves the destruction of vast areas of peatland and local natural habitat, threatening local wildlife. The environmental protest group, Extinction Rebellion, slammed the catastrophic destruction of the local beauty spot and managed to secure over 400 objections to the planning application.

Orbex have also seen the departure of consortium partner, Lockheed Martin, who jumped ship to join the project at Shetland Space Centre instead.

With the ongoing objections by Extinction Rebellion and Anders Povlsen, the departure of Lockheed Martin, the poor financial situation at both Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Highland Council as well as Orbex’s own financial woes, we will continue to watch with interest how the Sutherland Spaceport will manage to survive. This latest round of funding for Orbex may help them to ride the wave, but that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the launch site itself, so Portugal’s Azores Islands may very well end up the saviour for the Danes and Germans.

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