Construction ahead of schedule of UK’s first vertical rocket launch site

Construction of the UK’s first vertical rocket launch site is ahead of schedule, officials said.

Work on the £43million SaxaVord spaceport began earlier this year on the Lamba Ness peninsula in Unst, an island off the coast of Scotland.

Three launch pads will eventually be built at the spaceport, allowing the launch of small satellites into polar or sun-synchronous low-Earth orbits.

Current efforts are focused on building two of the three approved launch pads, named Fredo and Elizabeth, with the third, Calum, to be built in phase two.

SaxaVord Spaceport managing director Frank Strang said progress on the site had been “phenomenal” despite the constraints and project challenges he faced.

“This is a testament to the tremendous efforts of our Spaceport team, prime contractor DITT and subcontractors such as Unst Plant, a local company set up specifically to work on our project,” he said.

“A new space story will be made here in Shetland next spring and summer with the first sub-orbital vertical launches from the UK, followed by vertical orbital launches later in the year.

“Alongside the highly anticipated horizontal launch from Cornwall, this will put the UK firmly on the international spaceflight stage.

“We now have seven customers all vying for launch windows and the good news is that we are ahead of schedule, which means 2023 will be an extremely exciting year.”

Rocket-stage testing is expected to begin early next year.

Last week, the Spaceport Cornwall facility received the UK’s first-ever spaceport license from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

This license adds to nearly 150 satellite licenses already approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since it became the UK’s space regulator in July 2021.

The granting of the license showed that the regulator is satisfied that the site meets the safety, security, environmental and other criteria necessary to operate as a UK spaceport. The approval also means that Spaceport Cornwall has the infrastructure, equipment and services needed for horizontal space launches.

Britain’s booming space industry could be worth £16.5bn by some estimates and potentially support 47,000 jobs.

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