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Space / Rocket company switches maiden launch to Australia as SaxaVord infrastructure not yet ready

Testing at Scatsta. Image: HyImpulse

A GERMAN rocket company says it has moved a maiden launch operation from Shetland to Australia because the infrastructure at SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst is not yet ready.

HyImpulse will now undertake the maiden suborbital launch of its SR75 rocket from the Koonibba Test Range in Adelaide in March.

The company said transportation of the launch hardware will commence shortly and preparations for the campaign are “ramping up in the final phase”.

But HyImpulse had previously intended to undertake the maiden launch from Unst, and had carried out engine testing at the former Scatsta Airport site.

The company was also awarded a licence from UK regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to undertake one suborbital launch from December onwards. The CAA had confirmed that given the nature of the launch, it could take place regardless if SaxaVord had received its spaceport licence or not.

HyImpulse CEO Mario Kobald told Shetland News that “unfortunately SaxaVord launch infrastructure was not yet fully available for our planned launch”.

“Since our first launch is an important and urgent milestone for us, we had to switch to Australia launch site,” he said.

However, the the company is still planning to launch from Unst “when ready”.

In December last year SaxaVord Spaceport said it had received £378,000 of UK Space Agency funding for a launch rail, which was said to be a “critical component for directing suborbital launch vehicles”.

The spaceport said it would not add anything to a press release issued on Wednesday which confirmed that HyImpulse intends to conduct two sub-orbital launches from Unst from August 2024 onwards.

That will be followed by the first orbital launches from late 2025 onwards, rising to full commercial operations by 2030.

With the spaceport team likening SaxaVord to an airport, HyImpulse is not the only client planning to use the facilities in Unst.

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Rocket company RFA is expected to carry out an orbital launch in the second quarter of 2024, while a government-backed project involving Lockheed Martin and ABL could also launch next year.

Speaking at a UHI Shetland conference on space at the weekend, SaxaVord’s director of facilities Debbie Strang said a spaceport licence from the CAA was “absolutely imminent”.

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