Orbital Express Launch and the Power of Inertia

15th Jan 2024
Orbital Express Launch and the Power of Inertia

The Danish/German rocket vehicle company, Orbital Express Launch Ltd. (Orbex), which underwent leadership changes in 2023, may find stability with new C-suite hires, However, there are still questions regarding the company’s exclusive use of the Sutherland Spaceport, which they refer to in their annual report as “our private launch pad”. Orbex are having some trouble with the launch site itself and are having to go back to a public consultation and planning amendments.

But, it is possible that the company has additional problems. At least a cursory look through their most recent accounts calls up some glaring red flags. Will the energy added be enough to take the company forward?

What’s going on with Orbital Express Launch

Following the April 2023 departure of their CEO, Chris Larmour, the rumours of unpaid contractors and the new significant setback in their timescales, further issues have arisen.

The company has relied almost entirely on government grants and has no obvious income to pay for day-to-day operating costs. In fact, we reported some time back that they had borrowed £600,000 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise to support day-to-day operations.

Their accounts also show that they have been providing loans to their Danish entity from UK funds. The Danish business is mentioned in the annual report as being the main construction facility for the group overall. It was also noted that most of the group’s new employees were in Denmark.

With the only recent injection being the £3.3 million received from the ESA in December2023, it remains unclear where exactly Orbital Express Launch will get funding to continue operations. Without a plan to operate a space industry hub along with the launches, such as Spaceport Cornwall have built with some success, questions arise as to how the single-company site will keep itself moving.

Changes at the helm at Orbex

In January 2024, Orbex announced changes to their executive team with the appointment of a new CEO and Executive Chair. Phillip Chambers will front the position of Chief Executive Officer, whereas Miguel Belló Mora will become Executive Chair. The appointments follow the arrival of their new Chief Commercial Officer, John Bone, in December last year. 

Described by Orbex as “stellar” figures in the technology industry, Chambers will be tasked with expediting the company’s growth. That includes overseeing the development of their Prime Rocket and construction of Orbex’s home spaceport, Sutherland. Belló Mora on the other hand will advise on the company’s strategy. 

Chambers said in a statement: “It’s a hugely exciting time to be joining Orbex and the global space industry as we look ahead to a significant period of growth for the business. As we progress towards the completion of the Sutherland Spaceport and our continuing work towards our first launch, we’re about to embark on an incredible journey.” 

Who is Chambers

Phillip Chambers has been in the technology industry for over twenty-years. Orbex said he specialises in start-ups, and has scaled company’s: Gumtree, Peakon, and Qype. This is not the first time, however, that Chambers has been involved in Orbex’s journey. A “scale-up expert”, according to Orbex, Chambers also invested in the company’s C-round funding totaling £40.4 million in October 2022. 

Taking up his new position in January, 2024, Chambers’ role will involve navigating “Orbex’s growth journey”. Orbex are in the midst of preparing their in-development Prime Rocket for launch from Sutherland Spaceport. Sutherland’s claim to fame is that it will be“the first spaceport globally to be carbon neutral in its construction and operation, testing phases and regulatory licensing.” 

Who Is Orbex’s New Executive Chair: Miguel Belló Mora

Miguel Belló Mora became Orbex’s Executive Chair after stepping down as Director General at the Spanish Space Agency (SSA). While at SSA, Belló Mora was also the Commissioner for the Aerospace Strategic Project for Economic Recovery and Transformation. Orbex stated that during his tenure at SSA, he “oversaw a €4.5 billion programme for the Spanish aerospace sector.” 

In addition to directing SSA, Belló Mora helped give birth to the space company DEIMOS Space Group, residing as their CEO. He also held the CEO title at the Atlantic International Research Centre. Fundamentally, Belló Mora will “support Orbex’s ambitious strategy”, by imparting his “crucial industry knowledge”, Orbex said. 

Commenting on his appointment, Belló Mora said: “I’ve never experienced a more exciting time during my 40 years in the space industry. Orbex’s ambition to continually drive the industry forward in both technology and green innovation, is unique for the business, and I am pleased to be able to help shape this.”

Overcoming Orbex’s Past Obstacles Face The New Appointees

Orbex have cemented six satellite launch contracts. However, although the company is trying to attain rapid growth, it hasn’t come without adversity. In April, 2023, Orbex’s previous CEO and founder, Chris Larmour, suddenly stepped down. HIs departure allowed the company to move to its next development phase, Orbex said. Orbital Today’s analysis deduced that a lack of progress and operational opacity may have been behind the departure. 

Sutherland was also initially missing an independent operator. Orbex – who were without a leader at that time – stepped in to fill the gap. The mammoth undertaking has seen major delays with construction only just commencing in May last year. Can the company reverse the inertia? With Chambers and Belló Mora at the helm, Orbex said: “They will work together to realise Orbex’s position as the leading orbital launch company in Europe.”

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