UK’s First Space Port Receives Government Pledge

07/03/2024
Frank Strang, CEO SaxaVord Spaceport

The announcement that the UK’s first space port, SaxaVord, situated in Unst, is to receive £10 million in funding to support orbital launch in 2024 has been greeted with enthusiasm by Scotland’s space community. The funding will be subject to appropriate due diligence. 

A relatively unknown fact is that SaxaVord has to date been funded entirely by private equity. Despite its significance to the UK space sector, and its remarkable achievement of being the first vertical launch space port to be licensed in Europe, no government support had been provided until now.

Speaking to High Growth Scotland, CEO Frank Strang said Saxa Vord has already raised circa £40 million in private investment to date. The UK Government support would allow SaxaVord, “to accelerate its capital works programme to ensure it is ready to support the first ever orbital launch from UK and European soil in the late summer of this year.”

The first vertical launches from UK soil will be a big step towards delivering on the government’s aim of making the UK the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030.

Construction at the Shetland site which began in March 2022 is well underway. The first of three launch pads and the first integration hangar are close to completion. The first launch pad and hangar have been contracted by RFA Augsburg under a long-term six-year contract. 

RFA Augsburg will complete a launch late summer 2024. There is a significant order book developing for use of the site. Other business planned for the near future includes the UK Pathfinder Launch which will be operated by ABL of California in late 2024. Another German company, Hyimpulse, is finalising plans for launches in late 2024, early 2025. The granting of the first UK space port licence has been a significant milestone and the space port is now attracting global commercial interest.

The UK government funding support for SaxaVord comes at the same time as six projects to improve infrastructure and encourage collaboration across the UK’s growing space sector have been announced at Space-Comm Expo. This follows the publication of the government’s Space Industrial Plan.

In yesterday’s Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced the launch of the full Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit (C-LEO) programme, building on the initial £15m C-LEO call that was announced at the Autumn Statement. This programme of up to £160 million over the next four years will unleash the country’s potential to become a global leader in next generation satellite communication technologies while creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs to boost the Prime Minister’s priority of growing our economy. This will ensure that the UK space sector is able to compete in the rapidly growing global market of LEO constellations.

As the UK Government gears up to facilitate the involvement of commercial participation in “New Space” (the term used to identify the role business will play in the new commercial space era), SaxaVord fits well into the UK Government model where entrepreneurial drive and private equity investment are enabled and supported. The initiative has opened the door to the Shetland Isles playing a key role in the New Space industry. Commenting on the importance and significance of the government funding, SaxaVord CEO, Frank Strang, said the investment was “most welcome” and that it “was an historic moment”.

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