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Balloon launch a ‘giant leap for Unst’

Photo: Shetland Space Centre

A TEST launch of a stratospheric balloon in Unst at the weekend for a system that could eventually lead to small satellites being launched into orbit has been hailed a “huge success”.

Bristol firm B2Space launched the balloon on Sunday at Baltasound Airport as a crowd looked on.

A second balloon launch planned for today (Monday), however, will no longer be taking place.

Shetland Space Centre said that B2Space’s co-founders “now intend to set up a permanent base here, with a view eventually to launching their innovative rockoon system that will use balloons to hoist rockets into the upper atmosphere before they are launched into space”.

In the meantime the firm will continue to deploy balloons to conduct a variety of near-space tests.

Shetland Space Centre founder Frank Strang said to “paraphrase Neil Armstrong’s immortal quote… ‘one giant leap for Unst and Shetland, one small step for UK space’.”

“I’m very proud of the effort put in by the team and all the local businesses that have supported us to make it happen,” he said.

“It showcased the Shetland supply chain and the can-do approach of Shetland when it puts its mind to it. A big thank you to all the Unst folk who patiently came out to watch. It was hugely appreciated.”

Valentin Canales and Victor Montero, co-founders of B2Space, said: “We are very pleased with how the test launch has gone

“We have a large amount of data to analyse, but from what we know already we can confirm that we intend to set up a base here in Unst in preparation for future launches.

“Interest from ESA and the UK Space Agency is huge. We know the technology will work, and this launch was the first step, with many more to come.”

Canales previously said the balloon would contain a complete set of instruments, trackers and control boards, while live images would be beamed back from an on-board camera.

“The purpose of the test flight is to confirm our ability to operate from Shetland by gathering data, adding to the theoretical study that we have carried out on the last 15 years of weather data,” he said earlier this month.

The balloon launch is the first piece of tangible spaceflight activity in Unst.

Shetland Space Centre wants to create a satellite launch facility at Lamba Ness and also a satellite tracking and communication centre.

Project director Scott Hammond said about Sunday’s launch: “The SSC team, local firms and the community has come together to make this happen – and this the model for going forward not only to more balloon launches but to a rocket launch site and ground station by 2020-21.”

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