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Shetland spaceport to install weather station in readiness for lift-off

Rocket-makers, including Edinburgh-based Skyrora, are heading for Shetland spaceport.
Rocket-makers, including Edinburgh-based Skyrora, are heading for Shetland spaceport.

SaxaVord UK Spaceport is to install a weather station at its base on Unst, Shetland, to help with forecasting for rocket launches.

The Met Office will advise on the most appropriate equipment and best location on the Lamba Ness peninsula, where launches are to take place.

It is part of a wider contract between SaxaVord UK Spaceport and the Met Office.

To launch or not to launch?

The forecasts will help the launch director decide whether to launch or not launch, depending on weather conditions.

Remote or on-site consultancy from one of the Met Office’s meteorological experts will also be available on launch days.

This will give the spaceport team up-to-the-minute expert input on current and predicted weather patterns.

In addition, post-launch data analysis will reveal how the launch vehicle performed under particular meteorological conditions.

Seabirds won’t have a monopoly on take-offs from Unst once the rocket launches get going.

SaxaVord UK Spaceport range officer Jimmy Slaughter said the contract followed “long and detailed discussions” with the Met Office over what bespoke weather services “could and should look like”.

Mr Slaughter added: “It also marks the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful relationship in which both organisations grow and learn from each other as we develop orbital launch services from the UK.”

Met Office key account manager Simon Marshall said: “This is an exciting time for the UK space industry.

“As a leading air navigation service provider and space weather prediction centre, we are well-placed to support Saxa not only on launch days but in the days and weeks leading up to launches.”

Countdown to lift-off

Accurate weather monitoring plays a vital role in ensuring the safety and reliability of space launches, just as it does for aircraft and airports.

UK Space Agency commercial spaceflight director Matt Archer said: “This partnership between SaxaVord and the Met Office is a great example of the important work being carried out as we prepare for the first small satellite launches from UK soil.”

Shetland’s spaceport team are counting down the days to satellite launches from the former RAF base on Unst.

They, together with US aerospace, arms, defence, information security and technology giant Lockheed Martin, are aiming for take-off this year, subject to planning permission.

Historic Environment Scotland recently withdrew its objections to the spaceport.

Lamba Ness peninsula, where the SaxaVord UK Spaceport launch site will be located.

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.

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.

Scottish rocket company Skyrora has also agreed a multi-launch deal for the site.

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

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