Unst, Shetland

Construction ahead of schedule for UK’s first vertical rocket launch site

Image credit: Dreamstime

Construction on the UK’s first vertical rocket launch site is ahead of schedule, officials have said.

Work on the £43m SaxaVord spaceport began earlier this year on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst, an island off the coast of Scotland.

Three launchpads will ultimately be built at the spaceport, allowing for the launch of small satellites into either polar or Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbits.

Current efforts are focused on constructing two of the three approved launchpads, named Fredo and Elizabeth, with the third, Calum, to be built in phase two.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang said that progress on the site had been “phenomenal” despite the project’s constraints and challenges it has faced.

“It is a testament to the huge efforts of our spaceport team, main contractor DITT and sub-contractors such as Unst Plant, a local company created specifically to work on our project,” he said.

“More new space history will be made here in Shetland next spring and summer with the first sub-orbital vertical launches from the UK, followed by vertical orbital launches later in the year.

“Alongside the eagerly anticipated horizontal launch from Cornwall, this will put the UK firmly on the international spaceflight stage.

“We now have seven clients all vying for launch windows and the good news is that we are ahead of schedule, meaning 2023 is going to be a hugely exciting year.”

Rocket stage testing is expected to begin early next year.

Last week, the Spaceport Cornwall facility received the UK’s first-ever spaceport licence from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

This licence added to nearly 150 satellite licences already approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021.

The granting of the licence showed that the regulator is confident that the site has met the appropriate safety, security, environment and other aspects to operate a UK spaceport. The approval also means Spaceport Cornwall has the infrastructure, equipment and services for horizontal space launches.

The UK’s burgeoning space industry could be worth £16.5bn according to some estimates and eventually support 47,000 jobs.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles