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Rocket man on board as Shetland space project gets ready for take-off

Lamba Ness peninsula, shown as it would look at take-off if SaxaVord UK Spaceport gets the go-ahead.
Lamba Ness peninsula, shown as it would look at take-off if SaxaVord UK Spaceport gets the go-ahead.

A renowned rocket expert has joined the team counting down to the UK’s first vertical satellite launches on Unst, Shetland.

Ben Jarvis is the new launch campaign manager at SaxaVord UK Spaceport, where US aerospace, arms, defence, information security and technology giant Lockheed Martin is aiming – subject to planning permission – for take-off in 2022.

He brings an unparalleled wealth of understanding, knowledge and experience of the launch industry in the UK.”

Frank Strang, chief executive, SaxaVord UK Spaceport.

News of Mr Jarvis’ appointment comes hot-on-the-heels of representatives of Lockheed Martin’s UK and US-based space division meeting community representatives and Shetland Islands Council (SIC) officials to share the latest developments in the UK Pathfinder Launch programme, and solicit local opinions.

The UK Government-backed project to send satellites into space from Unst, which is the most northerly of the inhabited British Isles, is expected to create hundreds of jobs.

Double first

It is aimed at delivering the first vertical small satellite launch from UK soil and also the first commercial launch in Britain for US-based ABL Space Systems’ new RS-1 rocket.

SaxaVord UK Spaceport – named after the highest hill on Unst – was itself launched in 2017, as Shetland Space Centre.

The company is working closely with its community and SIC to ensure minimum impact and maximum benefit from what is expected to be a major new sector of the local economy.

Board members include the two founders, Frank and Debbie Strang, of the Saxa Vord Resort, formerly RAF Saxa Vord, as well as former Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and ex UK energy minister Brian Wilson.

Ben Jarvis

The latest recruit to a wider, 21-strong team, Mr Jarvis, is a rocket hobbyist turned space industry engineer with more than 1,600 personal rocket launches, including large and high altitude projectiles, to his name.

He has also witnessed or acted as range safety officer for a further 8,000-plus launches.

The founder of Norfolk-based Raptor Aerospace has more than 30 years of hands-on experience of launching atmospheric and sub-orbital rockets from ranges across the UK and around the world.

Frank Strang

Mr Strang, chief executive, SaxaVord UK Spaceport, said: “He brings an unparalleled wealth of understanding, knowledge and experience of the launch industry in the UK.

“As we move to the development then operational phases at SaxaVord Spaceport, his contribution to the project will be invaluable on many levels.”

Mr Jarvis said: “I very much look forward to working with the amazing team at SaxaVord, continuing to use my 30+ years of experience of safely launching rockets in the UK to help get the first commercial space launches from UK soil off the ground.”

Major economic boost anticipated

Updating on its recent UK Pathfinder Launch consultations at a media reception in London earlier this week, Lockheed Martin cited figures suggesting the new launch site may eventually create about 140 jobs on Unst and inject at least £4.9 million per annum into the local economy.

The project is also expected to deliver a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland and add another £2.9m in gross value to the islands’ economy.

Mission possible?

Scott Rodgers, programme execution director, Lockheed Martin Space, said he and his team were “really excited” to have been able to meet representatives from SaxaVord UK Spaceport, SIC and the local community on Unst “as we progress our plans to hold the UK’s first vertical launch in 2022.”

Mr Strang said: “We have had an excellent few days of engagement with the Lockheed Martin team as we combine forces to deliver the UK Pathfinder launch.

“They have affirmed to ourselves and the Unst and Shetland community their determination to succeed with this mission. We look forward to working closely with them in the year ahead.”


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