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Business / Strang reveals ambitious plans to rebuild Saxa Vord camp

Plans for a 350-bed accommodation complex depend on space port being a success

An aerial view of the Saxa Vord site with the gin distillery at the lower left.

PLANS are being drawn up to demolish the Saxa Vord camp in Unst and replace it with a £40 million complex providing accommodation for up to 350 people.

The ambitious plans are based on the expectation that the UK’s first ever orbital rocket launch will blast off from the space port site at Lamba Ness in autumn of next year.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang said initial designs were being drawn up for a facility that would provide a range of accommodation types from “top end to hostel” beds.

Strang said he was not yet in a position to release initial drawings publicly, but described what is imagined as a group of domes not dissimilar to the Eden project in Cornwall, or closer to home Iron Age wheelhouses huddled together.

“We are going to apply for a demolition order to demolish the site,” he said, “and we are working on designs (…) with a view to building a new 350-bed facility.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

“That work is well under way; we got initial designs, and we are looking to submit an application in a few months’ time.”

Strang had turned the former RAF camp into a holiday resort after buying Saxa Vord from the Ministry of Defence in the early 2000s.

He said the site looked tired and has been lying empty for two years mainly due to Covid. “It needs to happen and space is making it happen,” he said.

The plans to rebuild Saxa Vord hinge on the progress of the spaceport project, which promises to bring 140 new jobs to Unst and an additional 70 throughout Shetland.

It would provide accommodation for some of those working at the space port, and also cater for tourists expected to travel to Unst to witness rocket launches.

Main contractor Lockheed Martin said on Tuesday that it was focused on fulfilling its UK Pathfinder obligation to the UK Government and aims to deliver the first satellite launch from UK soil in 2022.

Strang added that the momentum towards the project was building all the time: “The drumbeat is getting faster,” he said.

Following high-ranking visits in recent weeks from the UK Space Agency, the Ministry of Defence and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the organisation tasked to regulate the emerging sector,  Lockheed Martin representatives are currently in the isles.

Following a meeting with the local community and the local media on Tuesday, they are continuing speaking to key partners today (Wednesday) to plan the logistics of getting the hardware, including rockets and rocket launcher, to the remote site in Unst.

“I am a great believer in setting the bar high.” Strang said. ”We are maintaining the pressure to get that launch away next year.

“The UK’s perspective we need to be first, and that’s why the pressure is up.

“It’s process that has slowed us down, but I have never seen such a wave of support for the project from all levels of government.

“This is the time for the space economy. There is such an excitement about space that everybody want a piece about it… and it’s about Unst being in the right place.”

Strang added that if everything goes to plan SaxaVord Spaceport are considering a trial launch in May 2022 to “test our processes” ahead of the real thing next autumn.