Construction of UK spaceport to start this month


Construction of the UK’s first vertical spaceport is scheduled to begin later this month after it received planning approval from the local authority, Shetland Islands Council in Scotland.

The approval provides Scottish Ministers with a 28-day window to review the application by SaxaVord UK Spaceport. Should Scottish Ministers choose not to call the application in for review, or call it in and agree that the project should proceed, construction of the £43m spaceport can begin.

The privately-funded spaceport will consist of three launchpads at the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst, allowing for the launch of small satellites into either polar or sun-synchronous, low-earth orbits.

With the ambition of achieving 30 launch events per year, the site will support launches by 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.

Longer-term, the spaceport is projected to be the catalyst to significant social and economic benefits to Unst in particular, and more widely across Shetland in terms of inward investment and job creation.

Planning approval is the critical first step not only in constructing the UK’s first commercial spaceport. It is also monumental in supporting the UK’s ambitions of becoming a global science superpower and establishing the UK as the European hub for commercial spaceflight.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said, “We have been working on bringing the space economy to Shetland for five years, so it is fantastic that the economic benefits are already being felt. We will spend upwards of £43 million [US$57 million] over the next 18 months, rising to £100 million [US$133 million] in the next five years.

“We have already started blasting and crushing stone. Our team will collectively do everything in its power to ensure we can deliver this historic mission for Shetland, Scotland, and the UK.”

“Only the other week, with the Under Secretary of State for Scotland, we hosted several engineers from Edinburgh-based launch company Skyrora, who are committed to launching from our site on Shetland in the next few years.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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