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Business / Space centre speculation hots up

The space centre at Lamba Nessin Unst is expected to create hundreds of jobs in Shetland and further afield. Image: Shetland Space Centre

THE TEAM behind plans to build the country’s most northerly spaceport on the island of Unst is keeping their cool following renewed speculation that aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is switching its support from Sutherland to Shetland.

A number of national newspapers have run stories over recent weeks suggesting Shetland Space Centre (SSC) may have won the race for multi-million pound investments and the first commercial rocket launch in the UK.

This speculation has not been confirmed by Lockheed Martin or the UK Space Agency, but an announcement is generally expected later this month.

SSC chief executive Frank Strang would not be drawn on these news stories other than saying that those behind the Shetland project have been working constructively with Lockheed Martin for the last two years.

“SSC has been working very closely with the Lockheed Martin team over the last 24 months since signing the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] at Farnborough,” Strang said.

“In my experience of working with them, Lockheed Martin has demonstrated their strong support to Shetland as well as the broader Scottish space sector.

“We have been in weekly dialogue with their design, technical and engineering teams over the last 12 months learning our craft.”

SSC lodged the first stages of a planning application for a “vertical launch space port including launch pad complex, mobile tracking stations and assembly hangar buildings with associated security fencing, access & serving” on 6 March this year.

The spaceport project for Sutherland, which is being supported with grant funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, gained planning permission earlier this summer.

At the time Strang said projects in Scotland (including those at North Uist, Prestwick and at Machrihanish near Campbeltown) were not in competition but were complementing each other.

However, he has always maintained that due to its location, the planned spaceport at Lamba Ness was best suited for vertical rocket launches.

In June, Edinburgh-based company Skyrora travelled to Shetland during lockdown for a successful test launch of its Skylark Nano rocket.


First rocket launched from Shetland soil