The UK space industry has gained a new extraterrestrial gateway in an ancient North Atlantic outpost. SaxaVord Spaceport, located on the northernmost island of the remote Shetland archipelago, has just become the first British site to receive a license for commercial vertical space launches.
This milestone approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) paves the way for rockets to boost satellites into orbit from British soil as soon as 2024.
SaxaVord’s location on the sparsely inhabited island of Unst provides an optimal site for safe spaceflights that minimize risk to populated zones underneath—the Lamba Ness peninsula juts ideally into the North Sea, allowing vertical launches without tricky dog-leg manoeuvres.
SaxaVord itself encompasses launch pads and an assembly hangar at a former RAF station, converted by owners Frank and Debbie Strang since they acquired the base in 2004. Their private investment of £30 million has been validated with regulatory approval.
The license allows SaxaVord to host up to 30 rocket launches annually into high-demand polar orbits preferred by satellite operators for cutting-edge communications, Internet connectivity, weather monitoring and other services. Deputy Chief Executive Scott Hammond believes an initial launch could occur as early as the summer of 2024.
This will likely deploy small to help clean up space debris in orbit. But SaxaVord has already booked broader commercial launch business from European rocket makers like Germany’s Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse.
Government leaders hailed SaxaVord’s licence as cementing Britain’s position at the head of Europe’s surging commercial space industry. Tim Johnson, director of space regulation at the Civil Aviation Authority explained that “granting SaxaVord their licence is an era-defining moment for the UK space sector [that] marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland”.
For SaxaVord, the authorization also promises significant local benefits. Unst has suffered economic decline since the RAF departure, losing population and essential services. The Strangs aim to spark a revival with a visitor complex housing a space museum, Northern Lights viewing centre and hotel. Locals have already praised the project as a “lifeline” for ensuring Unst’s long-term viability.
While budget rival Cornwall has also gained a spaceport license recently, its horizontal takeoff requirement limits launch capacities. SaxaVord’s vertical launch approval thus stands as a milestone for the UK industry’s ascent into the commercial space age.
- SaxaVord Spaceport on the remote Shetland Islands has become the first UK site licensed for commercial vertical rocket launches.
- Approval from the Civil Aviation Authority allows for up to 30 annual launches from the spaceport as soon as 2024
- The spaceport is located on the isolated island of Unst, providing a safe launch site that minimizes risk to populated areas.
- German rocket companies have already booked launches to deploy satellites and clean up space junk.
- The project is hoped to spur an economic renaissance for struggling Unst and establish the UK as Europe’s top space hub.