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Shetland’s place in space sector ‘compelling’

SHETLAND is likely to become the first location in the UK for a satellite launching facility if those behind the project can obtain a licence from the UK space agency.

Frank Strang of Shetland Space Centre said he was hopeful that the proposed launch site at Lamba Ness, in Unst, could be operational by the end of 2020.

Other technical aspects of the project, described as the ‘downstream activity’ such as data linking and tracking, could be in place as early as next year.

The project is competing for its place in the growing UK space sector, but it finds itself outside a government grant funded competition scheme because it was too late to be considered.

The winning site of that competition is expected to be announced shortly, but as a private business initiative, the Shetland project is likely to be up and running ahead of other sites.

This week, representatives from the national and international space industry are touring the isles to get a better understanding what Shetland has to offer.

On Monday night some of the delegates met councillors and members of Highlands and Islands Enterprise at Lerwick Town Hall to enjoy some local food and listen to upbeat presentations about the ‘case for space’.

Joanne Wheeler of Alden, a company specialising in advising satellite and telecommunications industries, and Ralph Dinsley of Northern Space & Security, both stressed the importance of satellite technology in our daily lives, and growth potential of the UK space sector.

Strang said that there was no doubt in his mind that the spaceport would happen since Shetland was simply the best location to launch satellites from in the UK.

This view was strongly supported by representatives from academia and industry.

Strang added: “When the competition winner is announced it does not preclude Shetland from becoming licensed and participating in the space industry.

“The major capital investment will be for the launch facility, and we are looking at between £15 to £20 million.

“If we will get 30 per cent funding from the public sector, which I fully expect us to get, then we have already expressions of interests from the private sector to invest alongside us.”

Professor Malcolm Macdonald of Strathclyde University, a director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications and a non-executive board member of the UK space agency, said the case for Shetland was compelling.

“In Scotland we now build and launch more space craft than anywhere else outside of California. So we got a sizeable establish space sector, but the one thing we can’t do is actually launch space crafts into orbit,” he said.

“Shetland is important because of its geography; it really is in a great location. There is nothing to the north of Shetland, so the access to space is really good.”

Joanne Wheeler added: “When our alarm clock goes off in the morning until we get to work and sit at our desk, we have engaged with 22 to 26 satellites, probably even more if we drive to work – so it is that important for our daily life.”

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