‘Business as usual’ for Unst spaceport

Lamba Ness in Unst where Shetland Space Centre proposes to build a commercial satellite launch base. Photo: Shetland Space CentreLamba Ness in Unst where Shetland Space Centre proposes to build a commercial satellite launch base. Photo: Shetland Space Centre

THE TEAM behind plans for a space centre in Unst says it is “business as usual” for the project despite Sutherland being the first site in the UK to be given funding from the government for developing a vertical satellite launch base.

Shetland Space Centre reiterated that it was never in the running for the first round of funding, with director Frank Strang previously stating that there was enough private sector interest in the Unst site to apply for a spaceport licence.

He said on Monday that the venture expects to make announcements of its own in the coming days, with a visit from a global aerospace and defence company also due to take place next week.

Strang said it all comes down to “location, location, location” – something which is said to work in Unst’s favour.

“I’m 100 per cent confident that Shetland will be a major player in the space industry by 2020,”he said.

“We’re seeking investment – we’re working with the UK Space Agency and we’re working with HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise). This is a significant investment, but we’ve got a tremendous amount of interest.”

It is understood that more proposed spaceports could potentially receive UK Space Agency funding in the future.

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which is backing the project, will also be given £23.5 million from the space agency to “establish vertical launch operations at Sutherland using proven technology and to develop an innovative new system in Reading for deploying small satellites”.

Over £5 million will also be provided to UK-based Orbex to build a new rocket to launch satellites from Sutherland.

The Unst project also wants to launch small satellites vertically from Lamba Ness, and a report last year commissioned for the space agency suggested it was the best location in the UK for doing so due to its unobstructed route into orbit.

The UK government will also invest a further £2 million in horizontal launch sites, with locations like Prestwick and Newquay in the running.

HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said the decision to support the UK’s first spaceport in Sutherland in the Highlands is “tremendous news for our region and for Scotland as a whole”.

“The international space sector is growing and we want to ensure the region is ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated from this fantastic opportunity,” she added.

The potential Unst spaceport has the backing of Shetland Islands Council and local politicians, with many hoping it would bring huge economic benefits to the isles.

HIE, meanwhile, said that it is “absolutely committed to maximising the opportunities to the region from the growing international space sector, and we are very keen to identify prospects for other parts of the region to benefit”.

“In both the Outer Hebrides and Shetland, HIE will continue to explore and develop new opportunities to grow the island economies,” a spokeswoman added.