SaxaVord spaceport secures licence, eyes 2024 launch

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A site located on the Scottish island of Unst has become the first spaceport in Western Europe to be granted a licence for vertical rocket launches.

SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands secured the licence from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, paving the way for the first rocket launches in 2024. 

It follows a three-year assessment by the authority to determine whether the spaceport meets stringent safety, security, and environmental criteria. The permit allows for 30 lift-offs a year from the site. 

The SaxaVord Spaceport, a former RAF radar station, is co-owned by Frank and Debbie Strang, who bought the land 15 years ago. Frank called the licence award a “historic” moment for the UK’s space sector.

In 2017, the UK Space Agency identified the location as its preferred site for satellite launches. Just under £30mn (€35mn) has been spent by private investors on developing the spaceport, which includes three launch pads and a hangar for assembling rockets.  

In the north of Unst, satellite launchers can get a clear, unobstructed route into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. Inhabited by 600 people and surrounded by ocean, it is widely considered the safest place in Western Europe to blast payloads into space.

Several clients are already lining up to launch their rockets from the site. These include the likes of Rocket Factory Augsburg which has exclusive access to one of the spaceport’s launch pads. The German company plans to fling its first small-lift vehicle into orbit next year.

Alongside RFA, SaxaVord has attracted launch partners including American aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Edinburgh-based rocket firm Skyrora, and HyImpulse, a spinoff from the German Aerospace Centre. HyImpulse is also planning its maiden flight for 2024. 

Scottish innovation minister Richard Lochhead said the licence granting heralds a “new era for space in Scotland”. 

“As the UK’s first licensed vertical spaceport, SaxaVord and Scotland can soon be a gateway to space, deploying cutting-edge small satellites into orbit for international and domestic customers alike,” he stated.   

While Cornwall Spaceport is the UK’s first licenced spaceport for horizontal launches of rockets carried by aircraft, SaxaVord is the first to gain a licence to host vertical launches straight from the ground. 


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