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Business / Countdown started for first orbital rocket launch from UK soil

THE UK’s first vertical rocket launch into space is set to happen within one year from the space port currently being developed in Unst.

That is the firm belief of Mark Garnier MP, the vice chair of the all party parliamentary group for space, who has been in Shetland over recent days.

The Conservative MP for Wyre Forest, who is also the chair of the advisory board to Shetland Space Centre, said that ever since Lockheed Martin switched its government-backed Pathfinder project from Sutherland to Unst, Shetland has been well ahead in the race to host the UK’s first orbital rocket launch.

Mark garnier MP in parliament.

“The Pathfinder project is set to launch in May next year, it is the first orbital launch from UK soil. The count down has started,” he told Shetland News.

In February this year Lockheed Martin announced that the company had contracted California developer ABL to supply rocket and associated launch services.

Meanwhile, German company HyImpulse, carrying out rocket engine tests at Scatsta Airport this week, is planning to launch its maiden orbital flight from Unst in 2023.

Garnier said that the development of a space industry was “incredibly important” for the industrial ambitions of the UK, where technology is most advanced and where science is pushing the boundaries.

“As oil and gas moves on, space will offer new opportunities for Shetland,” he said.

He said he would not want to suggest that the oil and gas industry was about to end, but acknowledged that the focus of the country’s industrial ambition was changing.

And, drawing an analogy, he added: “The Stone Age didn’t end because people were running out of stone.”

He described the framework to make space flight in the UK happen as “untidy” and said parliament had still a job on its hand to make the regulatory landscape less confusing.

Meanwhile, the Shetland Space Centre is still seeking planning permission from Shetland Islands Council.

At the end of March, Historic Environment Scotland turned down the application for the space port at Lamba Ness as it would have “extensive” impact of the remains of a Second World War radar station.

Talks aiming to resolve the issue are ongoing.