UK Space Industry: Supporting jobs in Denmark

29th Dec 2020
Kristian von Bengston

Part 1: UK money creating jobs in Denmark & Germany

In our first of a series of stories in which we explore some of the interesting developments that bring the UK to where it is in its journey to space. This chapter tells the story of two men who attempted to raise funds from their base in Denmark to launch a rocket to the moon, but failed spectacularly – then changed their attention to the British government for help.

In 2015 Danish citizen, Kristian Von Bengtson and UK/Irish citizen, Chris Larmour, a German resident, joined forces in a venture to send a rocket to the moon from their base in Copenhagen, Denmark. They tried to raise money for the project through crowdfunding from the Danish & German public. This was the start of a journey for Von Bengtson and Larmour. It wasn’t long before they realised that the public did not support the bizarre project and the Danish government were having nothing to do with the group of amateurs. But that didn’t stop the ambitious pair from seeking out others to pay for their project. Denmark continued to snub the group of rocket enthusiasts. Von Bengtson’s good friend and partner in his rocket building project, Peter Madsen, a self-proclaimed “inventor” was also heavily involved in the project up until that point. But things turned sour when Madsen was charged with murdering a journalist and Von Bengtson was forced to distance himself from the .

Von Bengtson himself had a history of failed crowdfunders for bizarre space projects and had personally stated that he would NEVER take money from the Danish government. Although it appeared the Danish government had no intention of funding the Danish architect’s space projects.

The Danish government have established a reputation for being the most “anti-corruption” country in the world. In fact, the organisation Transparency.org have rated Denmark as the LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY IN THE WORLD since they started compiling their corruption chart (2012). So the country are naturally wary of large cost projects that could rely on government funding.

Corruption Perceptions Index
Denmark have long been considered the least corrupt country in the world.

As the pair continued to fail to impress the Danish government to back their Copenhagen-based activities, it soon became evident that they would need to look beyond their “risk averse & highly diligent” home country. The UK Conservative government who were already demonstrating a culture of reckless spending and showed very little appetite for proper due diligence or forensic financial scrutiny appeared to be a good target. The British taxpayer seemed to be an easier source of funds via their elected government. So the couple set up an arms length operation in the country to embark on their plan to court the UK to fund their latest project.

The idea was that the funds could be secured from the UK coffers whilst they maintained their operation in Denmark and continued to look after their loyal workforce in Copenhagen – securing the jobs there with British funding.

With Larmour’s military background he will have been exposed to the workings of government and military procurement and with the government at the time showing a maverick approach to spending, the conditions were perfect, but the pair had to engineer an elaborate plan to convince the British government…. Enter, stage left, the Spanish satellite company, Elecnor Deimos.

Madrid-based Elecnor Deimos, were soon to enter into a complex equity play with the pair who were now operating under the name of Orbex Space. In order to get funds they had to show either some progress or promising prospects and inward investment from the private sector. They entered into an agreement with Elecnor Deimos that they could refer to as “private investment” when seeking further funds. The reality of the arrangement is that the Spanish outfit were given equity in the company in exchange for becoming a future customer – and so were therefore given secured payload space in future launches.

Of course no sign of any financial investment appeared on Orbex books, but giving the UK govt. sight of the equity deal, was as good as future money in the bank and was enough to achieve what the couple wanted to achieve… and they were soon well on their way to securing a promise of £5.5m to “create jobs in the UK”.

Fast forward to today, let’s see what has been achieved.

  • Launch partner, Lockheed Martin, who were jointly awarded UK Space Agency funding for the project, have since distanced themselves from Orbex and moved their activities to a launch complex elsewhere in Scotland.
  • All official sources, including Orbex’ official accounts, show 13 employees working for the company in UK (there were 13 in 2018 when they were awarded a UKSA grant), blowing the job creation promises out of the water.
  • Accounts for the company’s operation in Denmark show a much higher wage bill for their Danish operation
  • Despite “private investment” in the tens of millions being “announced” by the company, two years down the line their company accounts show an almost empty bank account
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise recently loaned the company £670,000 to stay afloat
  • The Directors pocketed over £180,000 last year alone, with another £70,000 showing as being “owed to them”

We will, of course, leave you to make up your own mind. Presented here are simply facts that initially alerted us to something amiss within this sector that has the possibility of creating a lot of jobs in Scotland, but is also an easy target for those who’s intentions aren’t necessarily in Scotland’s best interests.

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