A SPACE rocket set to be launched from the Highlands is poised to become one of the most environmentally friendly of its type.

A scientific study has shown that the new Orbex Prime rocket will have a carbon footprint up to 96% lower than comparable space launch programmes.

Prime will benefit from the use of renewable, ultra-low-carbon biofuel, as well as being designed to be reusable – it will leave no debris on Earth, in the Earth´s oceans, or atmosphere.

Orbex has also committed to offsetting all emissions from the rocket and its launch operations, ensuring every launch is carbon neutral.

It plans to launch Prime from Space Hub Sutherland, the carbon-neutral spaceport in the north of Scotland.

The University of Exeter study calculated that a single Orbex Prime launch would produce up to 86% less emissions than a similar-sized vertical launch vehicle powered by fossil fuels.

This gulf in emissions is primarily due to the other aircraft emitting high levels of black carbon, the particulate matter formed by the incomplete combustion of fuels containing carbon – and a major contributor to climate change when emitted from rocket engines into the stratosphere.

The study also compared the carbon footprint of launching Prime with that of a rocket horizontally launched from a carrier aircraft.

In this comparison, the direct launch emissions required by Prime were as much as 96% lower than the horizontally launched vehicle.

“Orbex will be the first commercial orbital space launch company to use a renewable, carbon-friendly fuel,” said Chris Larmour, the company’s CEO.

“We believe it is time to move away from the use of heavily polluting fossil fuels now that more efficient, sustainable alternatives are readily available, and we hope to see much tighter regulations coming into force.

“As the world prepares to attend the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, we have already moved decisively to a fully sustainable solution that avoids the massive carbon emissions profiles of old-fashioned fossil fuelled launch solutions.”

A key factor in Prime’s environmental credentials is its innovative choice of fuel.

The BioLPG used for it is sourced from Calor, the UK’s leading BioLPG supplier, that produces the propane as a by-product from the waste and residual material from renewable diesel production.

As a result, the greenhouse gas (GHG) factor for BioLPG is 90% lower than a fossil-based fuel such as RP-1, the highly-refined form of Kerosene typically used as rocket fuel.

Dr Xiaoyu Yan, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, said: “The UK space industry has a key role to play in combating climate change, for example by launching satellites that can monitor environmental changes on Earth – but such benefits must be weighed against the environmental impact of space launches, which by their nature can be highly carbon intensive.

“Our study shows that the launch operation planned by Orbex can result in a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to the other launch scenarios considered in our analysis.”