WASHINGTON — The chief executive of European small launch vehicle developer Orbex stepped down April 14 so that company can go to the “next level” ahead of its first launch.

Orbex said that Chris Larmour, who led the company since its founding in 2015, was leaving the company “to allow a focus on new goals,” according to a company statement.

“I’m immensely proud of what the entire team has accomplished over the last seven years, and glad to be leaving Orbex in good shape, with deep pockets and a clear path to first launches,” Larmour said in the company statement. “But I feel I have taken it as far as I can personally, and it’s time now to step away and let others lead Orbex to the next level.”

The company didn’t give any more specific reasons for Larmour’s departure, including whether he voluntarily stepped down or was asked to resign.

“We’re preparing for the next stage of the company’s growth and the focus is shifting to broader strategic goals over the next decade,” Bart Markus, chairman of the board of directors, said in the statement. “Chris has been a key part of all our successes to date, and leaves the company in a strong position. We’re grateful for all his energy and commitment and wish him well on his next venture.”

The company said in a later statement that Kristian Von Bengtson, the company’s chief development officer, would serve as interim CEO while a search is underway for a permanent replacement.

Orbex is building a small launch vehicle called Prime designed to place up to 180 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The company unveiled a prototype of the rocket in May 2022 for testing near its Forres, Scotland, headquarters but has yet to attempt a first launch of the rocket.

Prime will launch from Sutherland Spaceport in northern Scotland. Orbex announced in November 2022 that it signed an agreement with Scottish development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise for a 10-acre site where it will build the launch pad, capable of hosting up to 12 launches a year. Larmour said at the time that construction of the pad would begin “imminently” but there have been few updates from the company in recent months on construction progress.

The spaceport agreement came weeks after the company raised 40.4 million pounds ($50.2 million) in a Series C round led by the Scottish National Investment Bank. At the time, the company said it was performing “a wide variety of integration tests” of Prime ahead of a first launch scheduled for some time in 2023.

Orbex is one of several companies trying to be the first to conduct an orbital launch from Western Europe. U.S.-based Virgin Orbit attempted such a launch in January with its LauncherOne air-launch system, flying out of Spaceport Cornwall in England, but an upper stage malfunction prevented the payload from reaching orbit.

Another company based in the United Kingdom, Skyrora, is developing an orbital launch vehicle designed to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in the Shetland Islands as soon as later this year. A suborbital test flight from Iceland failed shortly after liftoff in October 2022.

German company Rocket Factory Augsburg is working on its RFA One rocket designed to place up to 1,300 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit, with a first launch planned from SaxaVord as soon as the end of this year. Another German company, Isar Aerospace, is preparing for a first launch of its Spectrum rocket from Andøya, Norway, later this year. Isar raised $165 million in a Series C round, backed by several European investors, March 28.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...