Shropshire Star

Shetland spaceport counting down to first launch after official opening

The site on Unst is western Europe’s only fully-licensed vertical rocket launch spaceport.

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Space rocket boosters

A spaceport on Shetland is counting down to the UK’s first ever orbital rocket launch after being declared officially open at a ribbon-cutting ceremony involving two “space-mad” children.

SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst is western Europe’s only fully-licensed vertical rocket launch spaceport, having received its spaceport and range licences from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in December 2023 and April 2024.

The spaceport is due to host its first launch, by German rocket manufacturer Rocket Factory Augsburg, this summer, once engine testing currently taking place at the site has been completed.

According to a statement from the spaceport, the UK is now in the “vanguard of spaceflight delivering payloads of small satellites into polar orbits”, and is poised to lead the European market in space launches.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang said: “It has been a long hard journey to get us to the point where we are ready for the first launch from SaxaVord.

“But thanks only to the enormous amount of hard work put in by every member of my team, we are there – and this opening event is really about thanking them and those people who have believed in us and supported our vision along the way.”

SaxaVord space educator Mike Mongo, who cut the ribbon alongside Grace Wood, 10, and Harry Brazier, seven, said it was an honour to be opening the spaceport alongside “the future of the culture and industry of space”.

He added: “SaxaVord has always been a leader and now it is blazing the trail in Europe with a first vertical orbital launch just over the horizon – it’s an awesome achievement.”

Grace said: “I love space and I have visited SaxaVord hundreds of times, so I was super-excited to play such a big part in the opening. I’ll never forget it.”

Harry said: “I’m really chuffed to have been asked to do the ribbon-cutting on such an important day for the Spaceport. I can’t wait to see the first rocket launch.”

‘Space-mad’ Grace Wood, 10, and Harry Brazier, seven, joined Mike Mongo for the ribbon-cutting ceremony (SaxaVord)

Mr Strang also thanked the UK Government for £10 million of investment which was finalised just before the General Election was announced.He said: “The space economy is growing at an unbelievable speed throughout the world and it is very difficult for government machinery to keep up with the rate of change within the sector.

“I would like to acknowledge the role that the regulator the CAA and the Department for Transport have played in helping us gain our licences. Last but not least Shetland Islands Council, which bought into the dream from the start.

“The Shetland economy is based on its geography and now space has joined oil and gas and renewables as a driver for the Scottish and UK economies.”

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