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Shetland Spaceport moves closer to lift off with third rocket deal

SaxaVord Spaceport.
SaxaVord Spaceport inks third rocket agreement.

SaxaVord UK Spaceport based at the former RAF base on Unst has inked a third rocket company deal following an agreement with Astra Space.

The move comes hot on the heels of tie-ups between the Shetland site on the Lamba Ness peninsula with US-based ABL Space Systems and Scottish rocket company Skyrora for launches.

Lamb Ness peninsular.
Site of SaxaVord Spaceport on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst with features of former WWII Skaw radar station

California-based Astra Space and SaxaVord will partner to provide orbital launch services to a growing satellite market. Subject to the entry of definitive agreements and regulatory approvals, launches of the Astra rocket are expected to start in 2023.

The contract follows Historic Environment Scotland (HES) withdrawing objections to proposed development on the site.

Previously, the agency looking after Scotland’s historic environment had refused what is called a ‘Scheduled Monument Consent’ due to the impact the project would have on the nationally important WWII Skaw radar station at Lamba Ness.

“Astra is a company on pace to establish a successful track record,” said SaxaVord director of business development Robin Huber.

“We look forward to working with their team to build new launch capabilities in the UK.”

Astra transports and connects launch systems to a concrete pad for launches.
Ivan McKee.

“This agreement between SaxaVord Spaceport and Astra is great news for Shetland and represents another step towards our shared ambition of bringing vertical launch satellite capability to Scotland,” added Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee.

“Companies like this are vital to achieving the aims of our National Strategy for Economic Transformation that will support a nation of entrepreneurs and innovators in areas like small satellite technology and Scotland’s growing space industry.”

Aiming for first orbital launch

The privately-funded spaceport will consist of three launchpads on Unst, the UK’s most northerly inhabited island.

The goal is to host 30 launch events per year for a range of launch service providers (LSPs) supporting industries and services including telecommunications, media, weather and defence.

Timelines are tight with the target of delivering the first orbital launch from UK soil after the third quarter of this year.

“The additional inclinations, flexibility and launch capacity that this partnership enables will allow us to meet the needs of Astra’s customers and align with SaxaVord UK Spaceport’s economic investment and environmental goals,” said Astra VP business operations Matt Ganser.

Hundreds of new jobs expected

“This new partnership between Astra and SaxaVord UK Spaceport is another great example of the strong interest from the international space community in operating from UK spaceports,” noted UK Space Agency director of commercial space Matt Archer.

“By attracting global partners and developing a home-grown launch industry, we can cater for the diverse needs of small satellite manufacturers and operators, while benefitting people and businesses across the UK.”

The facility is expected to create hundreds of new jobs.

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