Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

A site at the northern-most part of the Shetland Islands has become the UK’s first licensed spaceport for vertical rocket launches.

SaxaVord Spaceport on the small isle Unst has been granted the licence by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will allow for its first launches in 2024.

The regulator verified the privately owned spaceport met the safety and environmental requirements for vertical space launches.

Husband and wife Frank and Debbie Strong have owned the former RAF base, which is located on a remote peninsula on Unst, since 2004.

It is licenced for up to 30 launches each year and caters for companies looking to launch satellites into polar, sun-synchronous orbits.

So far just under £30m has been spent on developing the spaceport, which includes three launch pads and a hangar for assembling rockets.

Two German companies, Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse, hope to carry out launches from SaxaVord in 2024.

The couple also have plans for a hotel and visitor centre at SaxaVord.

Frank Strang and his wife Debbie own the SaxaVord spaceport on Unst. Pic: SaxaVord

‘An era-defining moment’

Tim Johnson, director of space regulation at the CAA, said: “Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era-defining moment for the UK space sector.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland.

“We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

Pic: SaxaVord

Pic: SaxaVord

Mr Strang said the award of the licence is “historic”, adding: “Our team is very proud that the government has entrusted us with operating a complex, multi-disciplinary and multi-launch spaceport, and we all take this responsibility very seriously.

“There is much to do still but this is a fantastic way to end the year and head into Christmas.”

While Cornwall Spaceport became the UK’s first licenced spaceport, SaxaVord’s licence allows it to host vertical launches rather than horizontal launches of rockets carried by aircraft.

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