Is Germany dominating the UK’s new space scene?

24th Nov 2023
Is Germany dominating the UK’s new space scene?

In a recent report, we had highlighted the fact that the board of directors at Orbital Express Launch Ltd. were based mostly in Germany, including the recently departed CEO, Chris Larmour. And while the company does have an assembly building in Forres, most of its operations take place in Denmark. Begging the question of whether Scotland or the UK as a whole is really the biggest beneficiary of its own new space ambitions. Or whether the greatest beneficiaries are in mainland Europe.

Orbital Express Launch (Orbex) are the exclusive launch operators and rocket manufacturer serving the Sutherland Spaceport.

If we look at the other vertical launch site being built in Scotland, the Saxa Vord Space Centre in the Shetland Isles, we see that a German company, HyImpulse, has secured part of the launch site for engine testing.

HyImpulse operations and manufacturing facility in Germany are located just a short drive from one of Europe’s largest rocket engine test centres run by Germany Space Agency DLR, so it’s certainly odd for them to transport their hardware to a remote Scottish island for testing. It also shows a deficit in environmental responsibility.

Another of Saxa Vord’s launch partners is Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) – also a German company. They plan to launch their RFA1 rocket from the Shetland launch site.

So, not only will a company controlled almost entirely by a German board of directors be fully in control of one of Scotland’s launch sites, there is also heavy involvement by German space companies in the other vertical launch location.

Americans get their slice of the space pie

Of course, it’s not just European companies that are dominating the Scottish space infrastructure, but California-based ABL Space will be another of the launch companies operating out of Shetland under the watchful eye of US Aerospace and Arms giant, Lockheed Martin. And at the southernmost end of the British Isles we have also seen US-based Virgin Orbit initially tie up the newly established Cornwall Spaceport in an exclusive arrangement. However, their launch failure placed Virgin Orbit into financial difficulty and potential bankruptcy.

What makes this all quite surprising is that the British government pushed for Brexit on the basis of “sovereignty” and independence, to allow the country no longer to be beholding to Europe, which is very much dominated by Germany – and yet here we are.

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