Construction on UK’s first vertical rocket launch site ahead of schedule

First concrete base for launching at SaxaVord Spaceport was completed this month

A SaxaVord mock rocket image illustrates how a take-off from its site at Lamba Ness in Shetland might look. PA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Work to build the UK’s first vertical rocket launch site is ahead of schedule, officials have said.

The first concrete base for launching at SaxaVord Spaceport, at Lamba Ness in Unst, Shetland, was completed this month.

It is one of two launch pads, called Fredo and Elizabeth, being developed in the first phase. A third, Calum, will be built in phase two.

The company is planning 30 rockets to blast off every year from the three launch pads, to take advantage of one of Europe’s highest latitudes.

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

"It is a testament to the huge efforts of our spaceport team, main contractor DITT and subcontractors 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 suborbital 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 space flight 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."

SaxaVord spaceport - in pictures

Construction at the site began at the end of March.

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.

A total of £19 million ($22.8) 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 (CAA) this month started a consultation to seek views on SaxaVord's assessment of the environmental effects of the spaceport.

The consultation closes on December 8.

It was confirmed this month that Spaceport Cornwall had secured an operating licence, allowing the first space launch from UK soil to go ahead.

Engineers at work on satellites in a sealed environment at Spaceport Cornwall. Getty Images

The CAA said the site in Newquay, south-west England, could be used for sending satellites into space.

The first mission, the launch of Virgin Orbit's modified Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl, which will carry eight shoebox-sized satellites, is expected in the coming weeks.

The 747 will take off horizontally while carrying the rocket, before releasing it at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland.

The plane will return to the spaceport, while the rocket will ignite its engine and take a number of small satellites into orbit with a variety of civil and defence applications.

No launch date has been confirmed publicly.

Updated: November 23, 2022, 3:18 PM
NEWSLETTERS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL