Shetland spaceport lands third rocket launcher after winning green light to fly

Shetland spaceport lands third rocket launcher after winning green light to fly

Robin Huber, director of business development of SaxaVord UK Spaceport and Stanislas Maximin, chief executive of Venture Orbital Systems with a model of the Zephyr rocket which is set to launch from Shetland in 2024.

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SaxaVord UK Spaceport has signed up a new rocket maker with the aim of launching from Shetland in 2024.

Venture Orbital Systems (VOS), a developer of micro launchers and rocket engines based in Reims, France, plans to use the site at Unst as part of its aim to reach 15 launches of its Zephyr rocket by 2026 and 40 by 2030.

The agreement, struck in the form of a memorandum of understanding, comes as the £43 million spaceport development finally won planning permission to be built from Shetlands Islands Council (SIC).

Construction of the UK’s first vertical spaceport is set to begin later this month after Historic Environment Scotland (HES) withdrew its objections to the proposal.

Previously the agency looking after Scotland’s historic environment had refused what is called a ‘Scheduled Monument Consent’ because of the impact the project would have on the nationally important WWII Skaw radar station at Lamba Ness.

The supporters of the SaxaVord project hailed the green light as a “critical first step” in building the UK’s first commercial spaceport, subject to the Scottish Government also giving it approval.Artists impression of Skyrora XL – the rocket set to be launched next year (2022) from Shetland.

VOS joins Edinburgh-based Skyrora and ABL Space, an American rocket firm, which have both announced ambitions to launch from SaxaVord this year.

VOS is developing a two-stage, 15m rocket named Zephyr for delivering small payloads of 70-80kg into low earth orbits, principally for satellite replacements.

The company will conduct its first engine tests this year. It hopes to reach 15 launches by 2026 and 40 by 2030.Lamba Ness peninsula, where the SaxaVord UK Spaceport launch site will be located.

Robin Huber, director of business development of SaxaVord UK Spaceport, who is based in Munich, Germany, said: “We have been talking regularly to the VOS team over the past 12 months, and are delighted to have agreed an MoU with them.

“We look forward to working together now to ensure that the Saxa facilities meet the requirements of their production, logistics and manufacturing systems and to plan the launch activity.”

He added: “This agreement highlights the fact that Saxa is very much a spaceport for Europe and European launchers, and strengthens our continental presence.”

Philosophical fit

VOS chief executive Stanislas Maximin, added: “Their development philosophy really convinced us and fitted with the development of Zephyr, our launcher. Above all, SaxaVord provides us a multi-purpose infrastructure. This will be vital to support the Zephyr launch cadence.”

The privately-funded spaceport will consist of three launchpads at the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst.Site of SaxaVord Spaceport on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst with features of former WWII Skaw radar station. Erikka Askeland/DCT Media

It’s ambition is to host 30 launch events per year for a range of launch service providers (LSPs) supporting industries and services including telecommunications, media, weather and defence.

Timelines are tight with the target of delivering the first orbital launch from UK soil after the third quarter of this year.

Skyrora announced a deal to launch several rockets over the next decade from the SaxaVord Spaceport, with first planned for this year.

ABL is working as the partner of a £40million UK Space Agency “pathfinder” project, which is being led by US aerospace and defence giant, Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin expects the launch site may eventually create about 140 jobs on Unst and inject at least £4.9 million per annum into the local economy.SpaceHub Sutherland when it is complete in late 2022. Supplied by HIE.

In addition to the Shetland project, Highlands and Islands Enterprise has plans to develop SpaceHub Sutherland on crofting land on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, while local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) is working with Ministry of Defence contractor QinetiQ and others to get lift off at Spaceport 1 at Scolpaig on North Uist.

Other Scottish sites in Scotland developing plans for spaceports include Machrihanish, near Campbeltown, and Prestwick Airport.

All five projects are part of efforts for Scotland to capture a £4 billion share of the global space market.

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