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Shetland spaceport granted ‘era-defining’ launch licence

Shetland spaceport
Image credit: David albutt / Shutterstock

A spaceport in Unst, part of the Shetland Islands, has become the UK’s first licensed site for vertical rocket launches.

SaxaVord Spaceport, located on the northernmost island in the Shetlands, has been granted a licence for vertical rocket launches by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Vertical launches refer to a rocket that takes off in an upright position. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is one such example of vertical rocket launches. In horizontal launches, an aeroplane carries a spacecraft near orbit, as seen in the failed Virgin Orbit launch.

The privately owned facility, which was formerly an RAF base, has been approved by the CAA for up to 30 launches a year.

German firms HyImpulse and Rocket Factory Ausburg both hope to conduct launches from the site next year.

Frank Strang, who owns SaxaVord Spaceport along with his wife Debbie, said the team was “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”.

The licence comes ahead of a year of high promise for the UK’s nascent rocket industry. Britain is yet to launch a rocket into orbit from home soil.

The CAA’s director of space regulation, Tim Johnson, said the granting of the licence was an “era-defining moment for the UK space sector”.

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter for UK space as rockets may soon launch satellites into orbit from Scotland,” Johnson said.

“We are undertaking vital work to make sure the UK’s space activities are safe and sustainable for all.”

Last year, Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay became the UK’s first licenced spaceport, though only for horizontal launches.