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Space / Spaceport signs deal with French rocket developer

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 PLANNED spaceport in Unst has signed a deal with a rocket developer as it expands its reach in the European launch market.

SaxaVord Spaceport will team up with Venture Orbital Systems [VOS], with an intention to develop plans for first launch in 2024.

It comes after Shetland Islands Council confirmed it was minded to approve planning consent for a launch facility at Lamba Ness in what is a major boost to the £43 million project.

The UK’s first vertical satellite launch is expected to take place in Unst later this year in conjunction with aerospace giant Lockheed Martin through the government-backed Pathfinder project.

The deal with VOS is the latest agreement to be inked by the spaceport team.

The company is developing a two-stage, 15m rocket named Zephyr for delivering small payloads of 70-80kg into low earth orbits, principally for satellite replacements.

The company will conduct its first engine tests this year.

It hopes to reach 15 launches by 2026 and 40 by 2030.

Munich-based director of business development at SaxaVord UK Spaceport Robin Huber said: “We have been talking regularly to the VOS team over the past 12 months, and are delighted to have agreed an MoU with them.

“We look forward to working together now to ensure that the Saxa facilities meet the requirements of their production, logistics and manufacturing systems and to plan the launch activity.

“This agreement highlights the fact that Saxa is very much a spaceport for Europe and European launchers, and strengthens our continental presence.”

Venture Orbital Systems CEO Stanislas Maximin added: “We are delighted to start working with SaxaVord. Their development philosophy really convinced us and fitted with the development of Zephyr, our launcher.

“Above all, SaxaVord provides us a multi-purpose infrastructure. This will be vital to support the Zephyr launch cadence.”

Meanwhile Lockheed Martin has welcomed news of the spaceport being in line to receive planning permission.

UK and Europe regional director Nik Smith said: “The launch of the UK’s first vertical rocket is a major step forward in the development of commercial UK space opportunities, so we’re proud to be supporting the UK Space Agency to achieve their goal of creating a world-leading commercial launch market through regular, reliable and responsible access to space.

“We have been delighted with the support that has been shown to us by the Unst community and are very pleased that approval from the Shetland Islands council was received today.”