UK's first vertical satellite launch: rocket ordered for Pathfinder project due to take off from Shetland next year

The UK’s first ever vertical satellite launch from British soil, scheduled for Shetland in 2022, moved one step closer on Monday with confirmation that California-based ABL Space Systems has been contracted to supply its new RS1 rocket to launch the satellite into space.

An impression of the satellite launch vehicle leaving Shetland Space Centre.
An impression of the satellite launch vehicle leaving Shetland Space Centre.

More than 600 jobs could be created after plans were announced last year to transfer the satellite launch from Sutherland to Shetland Space Centre. Planning proposals were submitted last month for the space launch facility in Unst.

Nik Smith, regional director of Lockheed Martin Space, the company behind the UK Pathfinder Launch project, said: “The world class capability that ABL brings will allow us to build on our long-standing partnership with the UK and strengthen the growth of the UK’s space sector, aligned to the UK Government’s prosperity and industrial strategy.”

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ABL’s appointment completes the launch programme team.

Harry O'Hanley, co-founder and CEO of ABL Space Systems, said the company was proud to be involved in the project. He said: "Our team was founded to deliver new launch capabilities, on-demand. We're thrilled at the opportunity to bring our system to Shetland’s launch site and execute this ground-breaking mission with our partners.”

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Once in orbit, the rocket will release a small launch orbital manoeuvring vehicle, which can carry and deploy up to six miniaturized satellites for space research.

Ian Annett, deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “We want the UK to be the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world, accelerating the development of new technologies and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs across the whole of the UK.

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