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Space / Space agency rocket launch now expected to lift off from Unst in 2024

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

THE UK Government-backed Pathfinder satellite launch is now expected to take off from SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst next year.

It comes after early estimates suggested a 2022 launch.

The Pathfinder project involves aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and rocket company ABL.

Lockheed Martin was given more than £23 million for the project in 2018, and in 2020 it was announced that it would be taking place from Unst and not Sutherland as originally planned.

It is separate to other launches being planned from SaxaVord. The first suborbital launch is due to take place from there later this year.

A suborbital launch is when a vehicle is projected high enough to reach the edge of outer space, but does not achieve orbit.

However the Pathfinder project would result in an orbital launch from Unst.

Director of launch at the UK Space Agency Matt Archer told Shetland News: “SaxaVord Spaceport, alongside other spaceports in the UK, will help further the UK’s position as Europe’s leading launch destination, building on and growing our existing small satellite industry by offering small satellite manufacturers a direct end-to-end route to launch.

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“Construction is well underway at the site and these facilities will enable vertical orbital launches to take place as we look towards a 2024 launch.”

A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin said the company is “dedicated to helping the UK develop its space capabilities, including the UK Pathfinder launch in partnership with the UK Space Agency and SaxaVord Space Centre”.

“As we look toward a 2024 launch, we remain committed to the work we’re doing to strengthen the country’s space sector,” they said.

“We have been a proud UK partner for more than 80 years and we hope to not only bring economic benefits to the community, but to also create an environment that will inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers.”

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