We have lift off – from Shetland! Isles announced as home of Britain’s first spaceport

  •  Isles announced as home of Britain’s first spaceport

A Scottish island site is to become the UK’s first spaceport for vertical rocket launches.

SaxaVord Spaceport on Unst – the northern-most point of the Shetland Islands – has been given approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to begin launches in 2024.

It will be the first fully-licensed spaceport in Western Europe able to launch vertically into orbit.

The licence allows the privately-owned spaceport to carry out 30 launches a year, sending satellites and other payloads into space.

3, 2, 1… a computer generated image of Lockheed rocket launch

A view of the spaceport at Unst on the Shetland Isles

A view of the spaceport at Unst on the Shetland Isles

Owned by Frank and Debbie Strang, the spaceport has been built at a former RAF radar station on a remote peninsula on Unst.

Almost £30million has been put into developing the facility, which has three launch pads and a hangar for assembling rockets.

Mr Strang said the award of the licence was ‘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.’

He and his wife, both former RAF officers, bought the site in 2004. They also now have plans to build a hotel and visitor centre.

The SaxaVord Spaceport caters for companies looking to launch satellites into polar, sun-synchronous orbits.

German firms Rocket ­Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse hope to carry out launches from it next year while Edinburgh-based

Skyrora aims to be the first UK company to launch from British soil in the coming months.

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

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.’

Both the UK and Scottish Governments welcomed the news of the licence.

UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘Today’s historic announcement will boost

Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the for­e­­­­fr­o­nt of spaceflight innovation.’

Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead said: ‘This milestone heralds a new era for space in Scotland.

‘SaxaVord and Scotland can soon be a gateway to space, deploying cutting-edge small satellites into orbit for international and domestic customers alike.’

The UK’s space industry is ­estimated to be worth £17.5billion and supports around 48,800 jobs.

Last week, the UK Space Agency announced funding of more than £6.7million to further Scotland’s spaceport ambitions.

There are plans for four other Scottish spaceports. Space Hub Sutherland in the Highlands is already under ­construction with ambitions of launching 12 rockets into orbit per year.