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Space / Europe’s only fully licensed vertical launch spaceport declared open

  • Preparations for first orbital launch well underway
  • UK Government investment of £10m in project finalised

Celebrating the opening of the spaceport are (left to right) chief executive Frank Strang, Harry Brazier, space educator Mike Mongo, Grace Wood, and bagpipe player Peter Wood. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

WESTERN Europe’s first fully licensed vertical launch spaceport is officially ready for take-off after it was declared open this afternoon (Wednesday).

SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst received its spaceport and range licences from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in December 2023 and April this year.

The first launch, by German rocket manufacturer Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), is scheduled for later this summer following an engine testing campaign currently underway on the company’s launch stool at the site.

The formal ribbon-cutting at the entrance site at Lamba Ness peninsular was conducted by SaxaVord’s US-based space educator Mike Mongo and space-mad schoolchildren Grace Wood, aged 10, and seven year old Harry Brazier.

Meanwhile, the UK Government confirmed it has invested £10 million in the project in a bid to lead the European market in space launches delivering payloads of small satellites into polar orbits.

From left to right: Grace Wood, Mike Mongo and Harry Brazier after cutting the ribbon to open SaxaVord Spaceport. Photo: SaxaVord Spaceport

UK space minister Andrew Griffith was due to travel north to attend the event but the recently announced general election, to be held on 4 July, prevents him from carrying out such duties.

Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang told those invited to the opening ceremony that the funding agreement with the UK Government was signed just minutes before prime minister Rishi Sunak announced the election date.

The government investment comes as a loan which will over time be turned into a four per cent stake in the spaceport.

Strang said: “It has been a long hard journey to get us to the point where we are ready for the first launch from SaxaVord.

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“But thanks only to the enormous amount of hard work put in by every member of my team, we are there – and this opening event is really about thanking them and those people who have believed in us and supported our vision along the way.

“It is very fitting that Mike our space educator and astronaut designate along with Grace and Harry have declared SaxaVord Spaceport formally open for business as we are building a legacy for the future and the future is about the children.”

Successful first ‘hot fire’ test at spaceport

Mongo said: “SaxaVord has always been a leader, and now it is blazing the trail in Europe with a first vertical orbital launch just over the horizon – it’s an awesome achievement.”

Grace said: “I love space, and I have visited SaxaVord hundreds of times, so I was super excited to play such a big part in the opening. I’ll never forget it.”

Harry added: “I’m really chuffed to have been asked to do the ribbon-cutting on such an important day for the spaceport. I can’t wait to see the first rocket launch.”

That first rocket launch by RFA is hoped to go ahead in August with a second test flight pencilled in before the end of the year.

Should all this happen as planned, then the company hopes to be able to increase the frequency of taking payloads into orbit to four in 2025 and eight in 2026.

Mike Mongo unveiling the sign declaring that SaxaVord Spaceport is open. Photo: SaxaVord Spaceport

Strang added: “We also owe an enormous thank you to space minister Andrew Griffith and his team at the UK Government department for science, innovation and Technology including obviously the UK Space Agency for the investment funding received just prior to the announcement of the general election.

“I must also thank Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and his team also, who stood shoulder to shoulder with DSIT championing our cause.

“The space economy is growing at an unbelievable speed throughout the world, and it is very difficult for government machinery to keep up with the rate of change within the sector.”

He praised isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland Islands Council for their early commitment towards, and their belief in, the project which took seven years from first being mooted to the opening on Wednesday.

The spaceport is far from completion though with construction work due to continue for many years to come. So far more than £60 million have been spent.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “The spaceport was one of the first things somebody came and spoke to me after I had become chief executive.

“This is an activity grounded in location, and that is when Shetland succeeds best. We are remote and we are often in the wrong place for things, but for space it was all about location, and that was true for oil and gas, it’s true for fishing and for renewables.

“And when location is what matters, Shetland then succeeds.”

SaxaVord Spaceport on 29 May 2024 with RFA preparing for first launch in August this year. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media


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