Rockets primed for UK launch in 2022 after spaceport deal
Image credit: Skyrora
The British rocket company Skyrora has signed a deal with a spaceport based on the Shetland islands that could see rocket launches take place in the UK as early as next year.
If successful, the launch of the firm’s XL Rocket would mark the first rocket to go to space from the UK. The multi-launch agreement with SaxaVord, which operates the spaceport, will run for the next decade, giving Skyrora the ability to build towards its target of 16 launches a year by 2030.
The Shetland spaceport site is expected to support a total of 605 jobs by 2024, including 140 locally and 210 across the Shetland region. A further 150 jobs will also be created through wider manufacturing and support services.
It has been attracting growing interest from firms like Lockheed Martin, which confirmed it would transfer its satellite launch operations there once it is up and running.
According to a study by Scottish Enterprise last year, income from Scotland’s space sector could reach over £2bn by 2030.
Skyrora has been testing increasingly larger rockets with short high-altitude launches since 2018 in the build-up to the proposed launch next year.
Last year, it conducted the first rocket test on UK soil in 50 years as well as launching its Skylark Micro from Iceland. These preparations have been gradually moving towards ultimately launching the three-stage Skyrora XL rocket to orbit
The rocket stands over 22 metres tall and is capable of carrying up to 315 kilograms to orbit.
Volodymyr Levykin, Skyrora’s founder and CEO, said: “We have made no secret of our ambition to be the first company to launch from UK soil so it’s really exciting to agree to this multi-launch deal with SaxaVord.
“We are proud to be at the forefront of space innovation in the UK, deploying our assets and helping to unlock exciting opportunities as part of the new space economy. The UK is a world leader in space technology, and this latest move brings us another crucial step closer to offering a significant space service from our own soil.”
Frank Strang, CEO of Saxavord Spaceport, said: “As we look forward to launches from Unst next year, this is yet another exciting development and we look forward to working with the Skyrora team to help them meet their goal of delivering their XL rocket into orbit.
“The SaxaVord Spaceport location and the can-do attitude of our team mean we are perfectly placed to support Skyrora’s endeavours.”
At the end of last year, Skyrora also completed trials of the third stage of the Skyrora XL rocket, including its orbital transfer vehicle, a vehicle that once in orbit can refire its engines around 15 times to complete tasks such as acting as a space tug, maintenance, or de-orbiting of defunct satellites.
The vehicle will be used to address the ever-increasing volume of space debris orbiting Earth, one of the biggest problems facing the global space industry.
After the International Space Station (ISS) was hit by a piece of space junk earlier this year, the ESA warned that the problem was getting worse and that space debris presents a problem “on a global scale”.
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