Europe’s only fully licenced vertical launch spaceport declared open

Successful first ‘hot fire’ test at spaceport

WESTERN Europe’s first fully licenced vertical launch spaceport is officially ready for take-off after it was declared open today by the next generation of spaceflight workers.

SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst, Shetland, received its Spaceport and Range licences from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in December 2023 and April this year.

The first launch, by German rocket manufacturer Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), is scheduled for later this summer following an engine testing campaign currently under way on the company’s launch stool at the site on the UK’s most northerly island.

The formal ribbon-cutting at the entrance to the spectacular site at Lamba Ness was conducted by SaxaVord’s US-based space educator Mike Mongo and space-mad schoolchildren Grace Wood, 10, and Harry Brazier, 7, and attended by almost all of the spaceport’s staff and invited guests.

At the same time, the UK Government confirmed it has invested £10 million in the project, which puts the UK in the vanguard of vertical launch spaceflight delivering payloads of small satellites into polar orbits.

It means the UK is poised to lead the European market in space launches, a multi-billion pound commercial opportunity that will bring a return to taxpayers.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said: “It has been a long hard journey to get us to the point where we are ready for the first launch from SaxaVord.“But thanks only to the enormous amount of hard work put in by every member of my team, we are there – and this opening event is really about thanking them and those people who have believed in us and supported our vision along the way.

“It is very fitting that Mike our space educator and astronaut designate along with Grace and Harry have declared SaxaVord Spaceport formally open for business as we are building a legacy for the future and the future is about the children. I can also bet that both of them know more about space than most of the adults attending the opening including myself.”

Mike Mongo said: “It’s a great honour to join Grace and Harry – the future of the culture and industry of space – in formally opening SaxaVord Spaceport.

“SaxaVord has always been a leader, and now it is blazing the trail in Europe with a first vertical orbital launch just over the horizon – it’s an awesome achievement.”

Grace Wood said: “I love space, and I have visited SaxaVord hundreds of times, so I was super excited to play such a big part in the opening. I’ll never forget it.”

Harry Brazier said: “I’m really chuffed to have been asked to do the ribbon-cutting on such an important day for the Spaceport. I can’t wait to see the first rocket launch.”

Frank Strang added: “We also owe an enormous thank you to the space minister Andrew Griffith and his team at the UK Government Department for Science, Innovation and Technology including obviously the UK Space Agency for the investment funding received just prior to the announcement of the general election. I must also thank Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and his team also, who stood shoulder to shoulder with DSIT championing our cause. 

“The space economy is growing at an unbelievable speed throughout the world and it is very difficult for government machinery to keep up with the rate of change within the sector.

“I would like to acknowledge the role that the regulator the CAA and the Department of Transport have played in helping us gain our licences. And last but not least Shetland Islands Council which bought into the dream from the start. The Shetland economy is based on its geography and now space has joined oil and gas and renewables as a driver for the Scottish and UK economies.”

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