Shetland could become UK base of satellite launches

A tiny Scottish island could become the UK base to launch satellites into space.

A tiny Scottish island could become the UK base to launch satellites into space.

The remote Shetland island of Unst could be in line for an employment boost and add millions of pounds to its local economy if the plans move forward.

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Owners of the Saxa Vord resort in Unst, Frank Strang, has created the company, Shetland Space Centre Ltd, after the UK Space Agency picked out the area as the preferred site for the UK’s first vertical satellite launches.

It is thought that each satellite launch from the north of Unst could need between 100 and 150 people and it is hoped that at least one launch could take place each month after initially beginning with between six and eight a year.

The project has won the backing of the Shetland Islands Council and the Unst Community Council.

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The UK Government wants to make the country a ‘world-leading destination’ for satellite launches and legislation currently being considered by parliament could allow for the first launches in the UK.

The island was picked out in a report which was part funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), as Unst would offer an unobstructed route into orbit due to its isolated location.

The Unst plans will be submitted to the UK Space Agency next year, while other sites including Sutherland, the Western Isles and Prestwick will also be considered.

Mr Strang said: “From the report and our discussions with experts in the field, it is clear that the former Ministry of Defence aerial farm north of Saxa Vord hill, or the old MoD site at Lamba Ness, would be ideal for satellite launches.

“That, and the fact that we have had an amazing amount of interest from commercial firms and the military, suggests that there is tremendous potential for Unst and Shetland to become part of a fast-growing £13.7 billion sector of the UK economy that supports more than 6,000 jobs in Scotland alone.”

He added: “It’s exciting, but this is a long game and we will be working together with Shetland Islands Council, the UK Space Agency and other stakeholders to progress our plans.

“We all know that Shetland has fantastic infrastructure and transport links, lots of very able people and a track record second to none in innovating to support industry.

“Key decision makers are recognising that, and it’s important that we all work together in Shetland to deliver tangible benefits across the islands.”

It is thought any satellites that could be launched would be the size of a shoe box.

The news comes after the Ministry of Defence announced earlier this year that it would re-establish its radar base at Saxa Vord. The re-emergence of radar in Unst is thought to be a major boost to the island’s bid as it would allow the tracking of satellites.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson believes the knock-on impact to Shetland as a whole could be “substantial”.

He said: “This is an incredibly exciting development which, if successful, could have massive implicationss, not only for the island of Unst, but the knock-on effect for the whole of the Shetland economy could be massive.

“Saxa Vord is seen as the prime location for this project.

“There is still plenty of hard work to be done, but Frank and his team must be given a huge amount of credit for the colossal effort to get it to this stage. He is working closely not only with us at the SIC, but with politicians and officers locally and nationally and he has my full backing.”