Countdown to UK’s first vertical rocket launch begins as Shetland spaceport construction blasts forward

The final frontier has come a step closer for Scotland as construction of a spaceport in Shetland speeds ahead of schedule and the countdown to the first official rocket launches begins.

The UK’s first vertical rocket launches are due to lift off from the site next year, propelling the nation into a new realm as a leading European destination for international space business.

Work to build the hub – located on the Lamba Ness peninsula on Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland islands – began in March. The first concrete base for a launch stool was laid at the 81-hectare site this month, marking a historic moment for space flight in Scotland. Preparation work is now underway on the first integration hangar, where rockets will be assembled and satellite payloads integrated.

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Two of the three approved launchpads – Fredo and Elizabeth – are being developed in the first phase of construction, with the third, Calum, to be built in phase two. A total of £19 million of private finance has been spent on the project to date, including £9m on improvements to public roads.

“Our progress has been phenomenal, despite major constraints and significant challenges on a daily basis,” said SaxaVord Spaceport chief executive Frank Strang. “It is a testament to the huge efforts of our spaceport team, main contractor DITT and sub-contractors such as Unst Plant, a local company created specifically to work on our project.

“More new space history 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 eagerly anticipated horizontal launch from Cornwall, this will put the UK firmly on the international spaceflight stage.

“We now have seven clients all vying for launch windows – and the good news is that we are ahead of schedule, meaning 2023 is going to be a hugely exciting year.”

The space sector is rising faster in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK, with some of the highest space-related activity in Europe. A number of spaceports offering vertical and horizontal launches are being planned and developed across the country with support from the UK Space Agency. Other locations include Sutherland, Argyll, Prestwick and the Outer Hebrides.

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