Rockets to lift off from Shetland Islands by year’s end

The Lamba Ness peninsular in Unst will be home to the £43m SaxaVord Spaceport.

Lockheed Martin satellite launch
Lockheed Martin satellite launch

Work is set to begin on the UK’s first commercial spaceport, which will see satellites launched into orbit from the Shetlands by the end of the year after plans won the backing of the local authority.

The Lamba Ness peninsular in Unst will be home to the £43 million spaceport, with builders set to start work in late March, after Shetland Islands Council gave the project planning permission.

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

The company is aiming to launch 30 rockets a year, and has set the target of seeing its first orbital launch from UK soil after the third quarter of this year.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang said: “Our team will collectively do everything in its power to ensure we can deliver this historic mission for Shetland, Scotland, and the UK.”

After the initial build costs, the company is expected to spend £100 million at the port in the next five years.

Planning permission allows the Scottish Government a 28-day window to review the application, with work set to start on the site once that period has ended.

Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets – the type many will have seen on television, taking off from places like Florida.

With Shetland being at the highest latitude point in the UK, and one of the highest in Europe, greater payloads can be launched for the same fuel load.

The company behind the spaceport said the launch facility is “monumental in supporting the UK’s ambitions of becoming a global science superpower”.

As well as the launchpads, the facility will include a satellite tracking station, hangars, and other infrastructure needed to support launches.

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