Shetland Islands becomes first vertical launch UK spaceport

Shetland Islands becomes first vertical launch UK spaceport: Up to 30 rockets a year could blast off from SaxaVord on tiny island of Unst from 2024

  • SaxaVord Spaceport, a former RAF radar station, is Scotland’s first spaceport

The UK’s first vertical launch spaceport has been granted a licence to operate on the Shetland Islands.

SaxaVord Spaceport, which is on the island of Unst will be the site of launches from next year after getting approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Scotland’s first spaceport will see around 30 rockets blast off a year carrying payload and satellites into space.

Full orbital launches could start from 2025, but it is hoped that sub-orbital launches could be conducted as soon as next August by German firm Hylmpulse.

SaxaVord, formerly an RAF radar station, was purchased 15 years ago by Frank and Debbie Strang who initially planned to turn the site into an eco-tourism attraction, the BBC reported.

The UK’s first vertical launch spaceport has been granted a licence for launches on the Shetland Islands. Pictured: A CGI mockup of a launch

SaxaVord Spaceport on the small island of Unst is Scotland’s first spaceport

It could host the first ever rocket launched by a British company on UK soil

A map shows SaxaVord on the island of Unst, at the northern tip of the Shetland Islands

The spaceport could also host the first ever rocket launch by a British company on British soil, after Skyrora, a firm based in Edinburgh, expressed interest in operating from the site.

Two other German groups, Lockheed Martin/ABL Space Systems and Rocket Factory Ausburg, also hope to launch rockets at SaxaVord, along with the Government’s Pathfinder launch.

Tim Johnson, the CAA’s director of space regulation said: ‘Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era defining moment for the UK space sector.

‘This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland.

‘We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.’

The former RAF radar station was bought by Frank and Debbie Strang 15 years ago and was originally earmarked as an eco-tourism site

Then UK prime minister Boris Johnson at SaxaVord Spaceport’s stand at the 2022 Farnborough Airshow

Mr Strang, who is the spaceport’s CEO, described the decision as both ‘historic’ and a ‘fantastic achievement’.

He said: ‘The award of our spaceport licence is both historic for Shetland, Scotland and the UK and places us firmly at the leading edge of the European and global space economy. 

‘Our team is very proud that the Government has entrusted us with operating a complex, multi-disciplinary and multi-launch spaceport and we all take this responsibility very seriously.’

Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, hailed the move as a signal of UK’s growing space industry, which is worth an estimated £17.5bn and employs over 48,000 people, and added that the new site would boost the island’s economy.

‘Today’s historic announcement will boost Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation’, he said. 

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