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  • Writer's pictureScience & Environment

UK’s First Shot Into Orbit

Is Shetland’s New Spaceport Pushing Us To the Front Of European Aerospace Advancements? 

By Simra Ahmad

Launch Site Satellite Image via Google Earth

In Scotland, Shetland’s SaxaVord’s Spaceport (co-owned by Frank and Debbie Strang) is on a venture to launch the UK’s first vertical rocket into orbit. On Sunday, December 17th, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved and licensed the spaceport for orbital launches. Thirty rockets are allowed to launch per year, which will carry satellites and other machinery into space. On receiving this honour, Mr Strang said,

“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.”

A German rocket firm called Hylmpulse has received 3.4 million pounds from the UK Space Agency to fund hybrid propulsion rocket testing at SaxaVord later in the year and plans to start with sub-orbital launches, in other words, launches that won’t reach outer space as they’re not going to be travelling that high altitude. Full launches might begin in 2025. Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), another German rocket manufacturer, will plan their launches, as will Skyrora, a UK-based company, and Lockheed Martin/ABL Space Systems, with the official UK Government Pathfinder launch. Already, about seven operators are looking to launch their rockets into orbit from a UK spaceport, but they all require a license from the Civil Aviation Authority. 


“The entire team cannot wait to welcome Rocket Factory Augsburg and work closely as we edge closer to the UK’s first vertical space launch in Unst.” - Frank Strang on RFA. Space Voyaging reports that RFA might launch an orbital mission from Shetland this August. They further add that their RFA One rocket would be able to deliver a 1300kg payload, which could, for example, contain scientific instruments and communication equipment that is needed for the mission, into an orbit around the Earth. Alan Thompson, Skyrora’s Head of Government Affairs, suggests that Skyrora might give RFA a little competition in the race and be the first to launch a mission at SaxaVord in the summer. 

This is a historic feat, with UK transport Secretary Mark Harper saying the CAA’s announcement will increase Shetland’s economy and

“put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation.” 

It’s important to note that SaxaVord has progressed faster because it was largely privately funded. CEO Frank Strang has raised up to 40 million pounds in private investments. The UK government’s additional support would boost the spaceport’s progress so it’s ready for its first-ever orbital launch from UK and European ground later this year. Scottish Business News points out that this accomplishment would also lead to the UK becoming a major provider of commercial small satellite launches in Europe by 2030.

The imminent launch of the UK's first vertical rocket from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland represents a ground-breaking achievement for the UK’s aerospace. It will pave the way for more launches and more technological advancements. Together with international and local collaborative efforts, the United Kingdom has a chance to become one of the biggest providers of space launch services in Europe. 


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