Spaceport launching UK’s first vertical rocket ahead of building schedule

Rocket stage testing is expected to begin early next year at SaxaVord on Unst, Shetland.

Scott Hammond and Debbie Strang
Scott Hammond and Debbie Strang

Construction of the site where the UK’s first vertical rocket will launch from next year is ahead of schedule, officials have said.

SaxaVord Spaceport, located at Lamba Ness in Unst, Shetland, saw its first concrete base for a launch stool completed this month.

Two of the three approved launchpads – Fredo and Elizabeth – are being developed in the first phase of construction, with the third, Calum, to be built in phase two.

Preparation work is now under way on the first building where rockets will be assembled and their small satellite payloads for low earth, sun-synchronous or polar orbits will be integrated.

Rocket stage testing is expected to begin early next year.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang said: “Our progress has been phenomenal, despite major constraints and significant challenges on a daily basis.

The launchpad construction site (Shetland Space Centre/PA)

“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.

“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.”

Construction work, which is employing more than 60 people on site, started at the end of March this year.

A total of £19 million, all privately raised, has been spent on the project to date, including £9 million on public road improvements from the community of Haroldswick up towards the 81-hectare site.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority this month launched a consultation to seek views on SaxaVord’s assessment of the environmental effects of the spaceport.

The consultation closes on December 8.

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