SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland has won £378,000 of funding from the UK Space Agency in another milestone for the development of the site.
The spaceport will use the funding to build a rocket launch rail, a critical component which the firm said will be able to support different rockets with a total gross lift-off mass of up to three tonnes.
The funding was part of a £2.7 million package of investment for 13 early-stage technology projects across England, Scotland and Wales to support the growing satellite launch sector.
Scotland space race
SaxaVord is vying to host the UK’s first vertical rocket launch to deliver small satellites into orbit from Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands.
Following the funding announcement, the spaceport said it has signed contracts with local firm, Lerwick Engineering and Fabrication (LEF), and Edinburgh-based project engineer T12 Consultancy to progress the project.
SaxaVord chief executive Frank Strang said: “Construction of SaxaVord’s launch site is progressing at pace and this contract marks a significant next step in the design of our industry-leading launch facilities.
“By working with local Shetland-based companies we’re continuing to support local businesses and industries at every stage in the spaceport’s progression.”
Robin Huber, director of business development for SaxaVord Spaceport added: “These contracts signify an important moment in bringing the spaceport to life.
“The launch rail will support the development of new technologies which in turn will influence more sustainable space-related activities.”
Callum Mills, technical manager at LEF said, “We see this as a fantastic opportunity to play our part in a project which is not only significant for our company but Shetland as a whole.
“This has been a very exciting opportunity for LEF to apply our vast experience from our operations within the oil and gas sector for the last 30 years to a unique and exciting project in a new market.”
The UK Space Agency said Britain is on track to become the first country in Europe to offer commercial launch services to small satellite manufacturers, from a range of spaceports offering both horizontal and vertical rocket launch capabilities.
It estimates are worth a potential £3.8 billion to the UK economy over the next decade.
The first launch to take place in UK will happen in Cornwall. Virgin Orbit will use a repurposed 747 in what is known as a “horizontal” launch in coming weeks although plans to take off before Christmas have now been delayed to early 2023.
In Scotland, Forres-based Orbex is planning to launch from another launch site on track to be completed in 2023, Spaceport Sutherland near Tongue on the north coast.
Rocket maker Orbex recently secured £40.4m from the government-backed Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) to fuel its first launch from the Highlands.
Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, said: “Funding new science and technology developments is crucial to growing the UK space sector and catalysing further investment into our economy.
“While we look forward to marking a major milestone in UK launch capabilities with the upcoming launch from Spaceport Cornwall, projects such as these ensure we have growing pipeline of new technologies ready for lift-off to support our long-term ambitions.”