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Space / SaxaVord confident it could become a European spaceport

SAXAVORD is aiming to become Europe’s leading spaceport, the company’s deputy chief executive has told a UK parliament committee.

Scott Hammond also called for stronger government commitment towards the emerging space sector including the provision of launch contracts and ministerial responsibility not at junior but cabinet level.

The privately owned SaxaVord Spaceport received its operational licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at the end of last year and is confident it will host the UK’s first vertical launch into orbit later this year.

Hammond, alongside Martin Coates of Orbex, the company behind the Sutherland spaceport, and David Oxley of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, were giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs committee as part of its inquiry into the country’s space sector.

SaxaVord’s Scott Hammond.

While the Highlands and Islands geography was described as a major advantage for Scotland to develop a successful space industry, there was clearly some rivalry between the mainland based venture at Sutherland, and Shetland’s SaxaVord project.

Hammond suggested that the SaxaVord project was in “such a good position” because they could have a safe launch trajectory which the Sutherland project might not have, a point disputed by Martin Coates.

He added that it might take between five and ten years to build up the number of annual launches to the currently licensed number of 30 such launches.

With a maximum payload of 1,500 kilos per launch, the spaceport could carry up to 45 tonnes of satellites into the polar orbit.

“It will take a bit of time,” he said, adding “we don’t have a marketing budget to market ourselves. Companies do their research and they come to us.

“There are very few places in the world that can build spaceports, so we have a massive opportunity there, and yes with Orbex and Skyrora we can build the rocket in the UK, but let’s dream a little bit wider.”

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He added: “Bring in the European launches and become a European spaceport.”

Asked if SaxaVord had the resource for that to be a realistic ambition, Hammond answered: “We believe we have. Clearly government help is always advantageous behind that.

“I do think it is very achievable, we already have an office in Munich because we see a lot of our business coming from Europe.”

He said the only European competition the team has at the moment was the spaceport on the Norwegian island of Andøya.

Asked by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross whether it had been the right decision by HIE to support the Sutherland spaceport, Oxley responded that, back in 2018, it had been.

He added: “It is great to now have two spaceports close to vertical launches, and as a development agency we cover Shetland, and we always have been open to supporting SaxaVord Spaceport.

“In fact, we have supported SaxaVord Spaceport; we have invested nearly £200,000 in various initiatives to help SaxaVord, and we are in current discussions about further opportunities that may come.

“We recognise this is a key opportunity sector for the region and we work with any of the spaceports that got realistic sustainable business plans, and that includes the two that sit to my right (Hammond and Coates representing SaxaVord and Sutherland respectively).”

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