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News / Spaceport reaches another milestone as partnership with rocket launch company is announced

SaxaVord spaceport with a completed launch stool visible. Photo: SaxaVord Spaceport

SAXAVORD Spaceport and Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) have finally confirmed what has been an open secret within the space industry for many months.

The German company has signed a long-term partnership with the commercial spaceport at Lamba Ness, in Unst, which is expected to lead to the first vertical rocket launch into orbit from a UK spaceport later in 2023.

Teams from RFA have been in Shetland over recent weeks to build a 12 metre high launch stool on the launch pad Fredo, which was completed at the end of last year.

Work on a second launch pad, named after the late Queen, is ongoing.

The RFA launch pad is the first ready of its kind to be used for vertical orbital rocket launches in the UK and mainland Europe. Testing of the launch pad and its facilities in preparation for the first orbital launch are expected to begin in mid-2023.

The announcement coincides with a space industry setback experienced at the other end of the country in Cornwall where the UK’s first ever satellite mission launched from a plane failed on Monday night.

Existing logistics and infrastructure, launch readiness, as well as rapid implementation and matching mentality, were key factors behind why RFA chose to partner with SaxaVord, the company’s chief operating officer Jörn Spurmann said.

Rocket Factory Augsburg chief operating officer Jörn Spurmann (left) was visiting the Lamba Ness site on Tuesday. SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang (right) said he was delighted to kick off the New Year by announcing the partnership with RFA.

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He said the multi-year partnership secures RFA its first flight launch site to be able to provide its services individually and flexibly to customer requirements.

“This partnership of privately financed companies enables the spirit and speed that we need, to be on top of the commercial small launch competition,” Spurmann added.

“The SaxaVord team was incredibly determined to build our launch pad and get the operations up and running. We are proud to be part of this historic event for the UK having built the first launch pad in mainland Europe.

“We firmly believe in the UK’s strategic space vision and are absolutely convinced that the double-digit million investment in the site is well placed on our part.”

SaxaVord chief executive Frank Strang said he commercial spaceport was ideally located for RFA to launch payloads at high cadence into polar, sun-synchronous orbits.

“We’re delighted to kick off the New Year by announcing our partnership with RFA,” he said.

“We will support RFA across the entire lifecycle of a launch, from facilitating testing, inspections, fuelling and safety, to supplying MET weather data and access to our ground station network for data capture and distribution.

“The entire team cannot wait to welcome RFA and work closely as we edge closer to the UK’s first vertical space launch in Unst.”

The partnership will allow RFA to launch satellites, the majority of which are active in two major areas: Earth observation and communications. The data collected by these satellites can benefit any industry.

Examples of applications include: optimisation of logistics routes, early detection of forest fires, ‘Internet of Things’, analysis of ground conditions, maintenance of infrastructure, collection of health data, self-driving cars, climate and environmental protection.

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