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Space / SaxaVord critical to UK’s space race ambitions, minister says

Former UK science minister George Freeman visiting the spaceport site in October. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE UK science minister said he cannot wait to come back to Shetland to witness the first rocket launch from the SaxaVord Spaceport, likely to happen next year.

Overlooking the Lamba Ness site from a very windy Norwick viewpoint on Friday morning, George Freeman MP said the spaceport in Unst was critical to the UK space economy.

The minister was in Shetland on Friday to announce £3.5m of funding for Rocket Factory Ltd, and to meet the team behind the spaceport.

“I think what is going on here is key to the UK’s ability to show the world that we are a player in this new market,” Freeman told Shetland News.

“Our strategy is to support the companies that will do launches, so here at SaxaVord the message we heard very loudly from the team is that they are building the ‘Heathrow’ airport for an industry that will be running satellite operations.

“And what they want us to do is create the conditions in which these satellite operators can flourish.

“That’s our strategy and that’s why today’s announcement of £3.5m for Rocket Factory Ltd, the first company to launch here, is so important.”

Freeman described the emerging space sector as “fundamental to the science and technology race”, adding that it had “the potential to grow exponentially over the next few years”.

He said the UK was not attempting to build a publicly owned space sector but wanted “this to be a commercial, sustainable private sector operation”.

The MP added: “But we are very open to speak to Saxa about what they need to succeed.”

Freeman said he was not in a position to give any assurances about the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licence the spaceport requires to operate.

He made the point that the CAA was independent but noted that the authority was applauded by the industry as it had moved quickly to licence the spaceport in Cornwall.

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“So, I am excited about SaxaVord getting its licence and then RFA launching here as soon as they can. They said today that they would have a rocket here within a year,” Freeman said.

While at SaxaVord the minister and his team also met with representatives from the council who used the opportunity to lobby the government on the quest for better connectivity and vital investment in fixed links infrastructure.

Acknowledging that it was “quite a journey” to get to the spaceport, he said: “I have no doubts that over coming years we will see a growing recognition that we are going to need tunnels, we are going to need better integrated infrastructure.

“This will become a leading European launch site and we need to make sure we can get satellites into the launch site by lorry, on good quality roads and at a volume which can be globally commercial.”

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