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Business / Strang believes Unst is the ‘forgotten spaceport’ when it comes to support

The SaxaVord space port is expected to host the first vertical satellite launching the UK late in 2022. Image: Rory Gillies for SaxaVord (UK) Spaceport

THE PROPOSED space centre in Unst appears to be the “forgotten spaceport when it comes to awareness and support”, according to its chief executive.

Frank Strang said SaxaVord Spaceport seems to be the “footnote rather than the headline” – perhaps because of its location is at the outer edge of the UK.

“I am not sure if the rest of the country really understands or appreciates how important the current Shetland economy is to the UK never mind that Shetland is helping place the UK at the heart of the new space economy,” he said.

A small number of other spaceports are planned in the UK, including one in Sutherland which has attracted significant funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang.: ‘the forgotten space port?’ Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

But SaxaVord is home to the UK Pathfinder programme – the government’s flagship launch initiative which is backed by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Strang was speaking at the recent New Enlightenment Summit near Braemar.

It was attended by luminaries from fields including medicine and public health, artificial intelligence, space, biodiversity, the green industrial revolution and politics, some of them Nobel Laureates.

Some of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa jarl squad also made the trip down.

SaxaVord said the event was an opportunity for the spaceport team to raise its profile among the scientific community.

The former astronomer royal Lord Rees was there and he said he intended to visit the spaceport in Shetland.

Speaking at the event, Strang said: “We in the UK are in a great position to ride the new space wave. We must pull together and ensure we do not lose out. We can be the envy of Europe but only if we get it right.

“Shetland throughout its history has been a frontier economy leading the way with oil and gas, aquaculture, oil rig decommissioning, hydrogen and now space.

“The whole of Shetland including the public sector has embraced both the excitement, culture and feeling of belonging. I genuinely believe that is one of the reasons Shetland ‘gets’ space.

“There are also many similarities with oil and gas, Shetland’s lifeblood up until a few years ago. Upstream and downstream also applies to space and we are supporting both upstream and downstream space businesses.”

The plan is to launch suborbital missions to 100km from Unst in the early summer next year, with the first orbital mission earmarked for the early autumn.

Shetland ‘gets’ space, Strang said. Local Vikings embracing the new technology.

“This will be momentous for the UK space industry and will give the UK and Shetland global bragging rights,” Strang said.

“However, for some reason probably because we sit on the edge of the UK we seem to be the forgotten spaceport when it comes to awareness and support.”

Strang added: “You can’t make a project like ours work without bringing the community with you and space does that, it brings everyone in together.

“That frontier spirit is delivering for the North Isles, but also be under no illusions for the UK.

“Our client base is truly international, we are working with the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, the Faroese among others and from our small island of 46 square miles and 635 of a population we are engaged with some of the giants of the space industry including SpaceX, Lockheed and Ariane.

Strang added that “we need a sustainable industry and companies like Skyrora, HyImpulse, Lockheed and our other clients need access to talent, funding and proactive public sector support to fulfil our potential as a space nation”.