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Space / Spaceport arranges £139m debt facility to ‘drive forward’ project

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

THE SAXAVORD Spaceport has secured a £139 million debt facility to allow the project to “drive forward”, according to CEO Frank Strang.

He also told a UK Parliament committee last week that the private company has spent nearly £30 million on the spaceport so far.

Strang was speaking in front of the parliament’s Science, Innovation and Technology Committee – with session having a focus on the country’s spaceport licence regulation.

He told MPs that he would hope to see a licence granted to the Unst vertical spaceport from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in three months.

Meanwhile the CAA’s head of space regulation Colin Macleod suggested to the committee that Strang’s wish may be do-able.

“We don’t foresee a particular problem as we sit here today of being able to licence that in the summer assuming all the tests can be met,” he said.

CEO Mario Kobald of German rocket company HyImpulse, which has been carrying out tests in Shetland over a number of months, said the firm hoped to do a first launch from Unst in October.

Strang explained to MPs that to bring a diversity of income SaxaVord will not just be about vertical launches, with the facility also involved in bringing data down from satellites, as well as accommodation and support services.

Frank Strang. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

He said a ground station is already in operation bringing data from satellites, with the launch site still under construction.

Strang conceded that the spaceport not getting public funding for its development was a “sore point”.

He said SaxaVord “came to the party late” regarding this, and claimed the project was not taken seriously.

“Had we got the public funding, we’d be ready now,” the space chief said. “Trust me.”

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Strang also said there are a team of eight working on the licence application.

The SaxaVord team noted a “slow start” in this process and said it was a learning process on both sides.

But Strang suggested there were no complaints with how the application process is going.

He reiterated that the application is for up to 30 launches a year, but reckons the spaceport may go back to the CAA for an extension for 40 to 50 in the future.

There was a question regarding the window for launches in Shetland, with Strang saying the spaceport has ten years worth of Met Office data on wind.

He explained that to launch there needs to be three hours of 13 knots or less of wind.

From spring to autumn, 95 per cent of days have three hours of suitable winds, MPs were told, and in winter it is one day in three.

Strang added that the company is working with nine international companies on launches and three on data.

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