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Business / Space port in Unst set to host first satellite launch in 2022

Lockheed Martin could be ready to launch within six months of planning approval

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

THE first commercial satellite launch from UK soil is set to take place in the second half of 2022, the companies behind the planned space port in Unst confirmed on Tuesday.

Planning permission for the vertical launch site at Lamba Ness is expected to be granted in the coming weeks following intense talks to overcome an objection from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) with regards to nationally important world war structures on the site.

US defence company Lockheed Martin is under significant pressure to deliver the UK Government’s Pathfinder project in 2022, ahead of similar Norwegian ambitions.

During a meeting at Saxa Vord on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin’s project team met for the first with members of the local community.

The company’s execution director for the space programme, Dr Scott Rodgers, said it was his job to make sure that the first UK launch is delivered in 2022.

He said the project’s initial plans of sending a first “payload” into space by May 2022 had slipped to September due to Covid and HES’ objection to the space port’s planning application.

“My understanding is that the issues from a historical site are being addressed, and the planning permission will come in shortly. I have complete confidence in the team that this will be addressed and there will be no more significant delay.

“Practically speaking May 2022 is going to be difficult to achieve, but will be doing a launch in 2022, probably later in the year.”

Rodgers added that once planning permission has been granted Lockheed Martin is capable, in principle, of getting ready for launch within a six-month window.

The programme director reiterated that the defence company’s role in UK Pathfinder was to deliver the UK’s commercial satellite programme, insisting that there was no military element to the project.

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“UK Pathfinder is about developing a commercial launch capability in the UK, and we at Lockheed Martin bring our vast experience of many years of working in the space industry (…) and bring the team together and do the first launch out of the UK,” he said.

“This project is about a commercial space port. Yes, you could use it for defence needs, but we see it as an opportunity of putting up satellites. We are driving the Pathfinder bringing our experience for a commercial space port.

“Will the MoD be using it in the future? Maybe, I don’t know. But right now, it is set up as a commercial space port; we are launching weather satellites, communication and academic satellites.”

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