Shetland becomes UK's first vertical rocket spaceport

SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst has been granted the licence by the Civil Aviation Authority, paving the way for its first launches in 2024.

Shetland’s SaxaVord spaceport on Unst cleared for vertical rocket launches PA Media

A site at the northern-most point of the Shetland Islands has become the UK’s first licensed spaceport for vertical rocket launches.

SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst has been granted the licence by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), paving the way for its first launches in 2024.

The regulator verified that the privately-owned spaceport met the safety and environmental requirements for vertical space launches.

Owned by husband and wife Frank and Debbie Strang, the former RAF base is located on a remote peninsula on Unst.

It is licensed for up to 30 launches each year and caters for companies looking to launch satellites into polar, sun-synchronous orbits.

The site is owned by Debbie and Frank Strang (SaxaVord/PA)

So far, just under £30m has been spent on developing the spaceport, which includes three launch pads and a hangar for assembling rockets.

German companies Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse hope to carry out launches from SaxaVord in 2024.

Tim Johnson, director of space regulation at the CAA, said: “Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era-defining moment for the UK space sector.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland.

“We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

A CGI picture of how the first launch could look (SaxaVord/PA)

Mr Strang said the award of the licence is “historic”, adding: “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.

“There is much to do still but this is a fantastic way to end the year and head into Christmas.”

He and his wife took over the former RAF base in 2004. They also have plans for a hotel and visitor centre at SaxaVord.

Both the UK and Scottish governments welcomed the news of the licence.

UK transport secretary Mark Harper said: “The United Kingdom’s space industry is growing, with SaxaVord set for lift-off to become this country’s first vertical spaceport.

“Today’s historic announcement will boost Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation.”

Around £30 million has been spent developing the site (SaxaVord/PA)

The Scottish Government’s innovation minister Richard Lochhead said: “This milestone heralds a new era for space in Scotland.

“As the UK’s first licensed vertical spaceport, SaxaVord and Scotland can soon be a gateway to space, deploying cutting-edge small satellites into orbit for international and domestic customers alike.”

While Cornwall Spaceport became the UK’s first licensed spaceport, SaxaVord’s licence allows it to host vertical launches rather than horizontal launches of rockets carried by aircraft.

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