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An artist’s conception shows Orbex’s Prime rocket lifting off. (Orbex Illustration)

Lockheed Martin is in line to receive $31 million (£23.5 million) in grants from the UK Space Agency to establish Britain’s first spaceport on Scotland’s north coast, and to develop a new made-in-Britain system for deploying small satellites in orbit.

The British government announced the grants today, only hours after lifting the curtain on its plan to develop a vertical-launch spaceport in Scotland’s rugged Sutherland district and support the rise of horizontal-launch spaceports in other British locales.

In addition to Lockheed Martin’s grants, another $7 million (£5.5 million) will be awarded to London-based Orbex to support the development of its Prime rocket for launch from the Sutherland spaceport. The Prime rocket is designed to be fueled by bio-propane and will deliver payloads of up to 330 pounds to low Earth orbit.

Orbex said today in a separate announcement that it has raised a total of $40 million in public and private funding for the development of orbital launch systems.

In addition to the grant from the UK Space Agency, the once-stealthy startup reported receiving funding from the European Space Agency, the European Commission Horizon 2020 program, Sunstone Technology Ventures, the High-Tech Gründerfonds and other private investors.

Today’s grants were announced in conjunction with this week’s Farnborough International Airshow, which is taking place southwest of London.

It’s not surprising that Lockheed Martin will benefit from the British grants. The U.S.-based company has been a prominent member of the consortium supporting Sutherland’s bid.

Lockheed Martin has been tasked not only with establishing vertical-launch operations at the Sutherland spaceport, but also with developing a rocket-powered upper stage that’s capable of deploying up to six small satellites in separate orbits.

The British government said Lockheed Martin’s work on the upper stage, known as an orbital maneuvering vehicle, will be done at a facility in the English city of Reading.

“Lockheed Martin will apply its 50 years of experience in small satellite engineering, launch services and ground operations, as well as a network of U.K.-based and international teammates, to deliver new technologies, new capabilities and new economic opportunities,” said Patrick Wood, Lockheed Martin’s U.K. country executive for space.

British and U.S. governmental agencies have been working on a Technology Safeguards Agreement that would establish a legal and technical framework for U.S. space launch vehicles to operate from launch sites in Britain.

“Attracting U.S. operators to the U.K. will enhance our capabilities and boost the whole market,” the UK Space Agency said in today’s statement.

British companies already produce nearly half of the world’s small satellites and a quarter of the world’s telecommunications satellites. The British government says the commercial space sector could contribute as much as $5 billion to the country’s economy over the next decade.

In its earlier announcement, the UK Space Agency said it would award $3.3 million (£2.5 million) to a consortium known as Highlands and Islands Enterprise to help get the Sutherland spaceport into operation in the early 2020s.

Another $2.7 million (£2 million) would be made available for the development of horizontal-launch spaceports in England’s Cornwall district, at Glasgow Prestwick on Scotland’s west coast, and in Snowdonia in Wales.

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