in Space

Orbex secures international patent for coaxial rocket fuel tanks

Posted 13 February 2024

UK-based spaceflight company, Orbex, has been granted an international patent across more than a dozen countries to protect its innovative coaxial tanking technology, which nests the main rocket fuel tank within the main oxidiser tank.

Image courtesy Orbex

This coaxial tank structure is central to the design of Orbex’s Prime rocket and allows for a uniquely low mass rocket that is around 30% lighter than similarly sized launchers while offering greater power, higher performance, and better economy.

Very small rockets which copy the traditional 'stacked' tank architecture of larger rockets are less efficient and cost-effective than their larger counterparts, because they carry much less fuel per unit of 'dry mass'. This central inefficiency was the major engineering challenge that the Orbex team set out to solve with the Orbex Prime architecture.

The Orbex team created a unique answer to that challenge, by nesting the fuel tank within an outer tank of liquid oxygen. This tank arrangement has unique synergies with Orbex’s choice of bio-propane as a rocket fuel because bio-propane does not freeze solid when chilled to the same temperature as liquid oxygen. The coaxial tank structure thus removes surplus components and sub-systems such as insulation, extra bulkheads, external pipework, heavy tank walls and thermal conditioning equipment.

Orbex has chosen to use the renewable form of propane, bio-propane, which is chemically identical to propane, to deliver a sustainable solution for deploying satellites into Earth’s orbit. A study by the University of Exeter showed that a single launch of the Orbex Prime rocket will produce up to 96% lower carbon emissions than comparable space launch systems using fossil fuels. Prime is also a re-usable rocket which has been engineered to leave zero debris in orbit.

Prime became the first full orbital microlauncher rocket to be unveiled in Europe, when it was revealed to the world in May 2022. The rocket will launch from Sutherland Spaceport on the north coast of Scotland, where Orbex was granted a 50-year lease to construct and operate what will become their ‘home spaceport’. Orbex plans to launch up to 12 rockets into orbit each year, providing a boost to the local economy and creating both technical and non-technical job vacancies.

The spaceflight company also secured £40.4 million in a Series C funding round led by Scottish National Investment Bank, allowing it to scale up its capabilities as it prepares for its inaugural launch. Orbex has already received interest from many commercial satellite manufacturers and has signed launch contracts for seven launches with six customers.

“When you look at the outside of an Orbex rocket, it looks like any other contemporary carbon fibre rocket," said Jonas Bjarnø Chief Technology Officer at Orbex. “But when you look on the inside you understand that we have created something that is completely unique. We set out to deliver a uniquely innovative, efficient and sustainable spaceflight solution and that is exactly what we are now building. This patent is recognition of Orbex’s innovation, it gives us a significant competitive advantage in the global market and demonstrates our ability to challenge the status quo and lead the way towards a more sustainable space industry.”

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company with headquarters, production and testing facilities in Scotland and design and testing facilities in Denmark.






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