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Specialist firm becomes part of Unst spaceport project

SHETLAND Space Centre has taken another “giant leap” towards becoming a reality, having brought on board a major launch services company.

ArianeGroup will partner the SSC in defining a “concept of operations and assessing the range of missions” for the spaceport project in a three-month study.

The joint venture is equally owned by Airbus and Safran and is lead contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launchers, having been involved in European space launches since 1980.

Shetland Space Centre founder Frank Strang.
Shetland Space Centre chief executive Frank Strang.

SSC chief executive Frank Strang said: “This is an enormously exciting deal for us. ‘One small step for the UK and one giant leap for Shetland’.

“We are flattered that yet another major industry player supports Shetland and Unst in particular as the optimal location to promote small satellite launch and support activity within the UK and Europe.

“It is also especially exciting that we have strengthened our links with Europe and the European aerospace and space industry by forging a relationship with such a prestigious European partner.

“By accessing ArianeGroup’s expertise and capabilities we will be able to accelerate our application ensuring that the UK will be able to launch small satellite launch vehicles by the end of 2020.

“Shetland Space Centre is in detailed dialogue with a number of rocket manufacturers building small rockets and expects to make further announcements over the next few months.”

During a visit last summer ArianeGroup representatives acknowledged that Shetland’s most northerly island is a “perfect location in Northern Europe” to establish a spaceport for launching small satellites and supporting associated services such as data-linking and storage.

Dialogue has been ongoing since then between the SSC and ArianeGroup experts for the development of the launch facility.

ArianeGroup head of critical and space infrastructures Olivier Reuther said: “Bringing our space infrastructure expertise to the Shetland Space Centre on the launch facility project in Unst is a great new space opportunity and we hope to be a key player to make this venture possible.”

Development of the launch facility will be subject to planning consent and a licence to operate in Unst, but it is hoped ArianeGroup’s involvement will speed the process.