The UK officially has a brand-new spaceport following SaxaVord, on the North Coast of the Shetland Islands, receiving a licence from the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

The licence marks several firsts for the UK’s growing space sector including being the first-ever vertical spaceport on UK soil. The spaceport is also the first fully licensed vertical spaceport in Western Europe. 

SaxaVord has been assessed by the space regulator to verify that appropriate safety, security, and environmental criteria are met to operate a spaceport, and that it has the suitable infrastructure, equipment, and services to accommodate vertical space launches.

The spaceport licence puts Scotland at the forefront of the European launch market, with Scottish satellites already in space, and home-grown rocket companies breaking new ground. There are a number of launch operators from around the world currently developing rockets to launch from SaxaVord who are currently at various stages of the assessment process with the Civil Aviation Authority.

The not-too-distant future could see Scottish built rockets launching Scottish satellites from a Scottish spaceport. The licence permits SaxaVord to host up to 30 launches a year, allowing the spaceport to grow as the UK space sector continues to expand.

Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:

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

Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport, said:

“The award of our spaceport licence is both historic for Shetland, Scotland and the UK and places us firmly at the leading edge of the European and global space economy. As importantly for me it is also a fantastic achievement by our Operations and Licencing Team led by Scott Hammond who have been working tirelessly alongside the UK Civil Aviation Authority for almost three years to secure this award. Our team is 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. There is much to do still but this is a fantastic way to end the year and head into Christmas.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said:

“The United Kingdom’s space industry is growing, with SaxaVord set for lift off to become this country’s first vertical spaceport. Today’s historic announcement will boost Shetland’s economy and put the United Kingdom at the forefront of spaceflight innovation.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland John Lamont said:

“I’m over the moon that Scotland now officially has its first spaceport and is home to the first fully licensed vertical launch site in western Europe. This is lift-off for SaxaVord to launch rockets in the next year – part of UK-wide efforts to gain up to a £4 billion share of the global space market by the end of the decade.

Shetland, along with other sites in the country, are set to be at the heart of the UK’s space industry success story for years to come. Scottish satellites are already in space and rocket companies from home and around the world are currently developing rockets to launch from Scotland. This is more good news for Scotland’s thriving space industry and the many people who work in it.”

SaxaVord will be subject to an ongoing monitoring programme by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure safety is maintained and the terms of its licence are not breached.

This latest licence is the 352nd space activity approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority since becoming the UK’s space regulator in July 2021. The regulator now monitors more than 750 different satellites, has licensed two spaceports, a launch from Cornwall, and the OneWeb constellation which is currently the second biggest satellite constellation in orbit.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Paul
Paul
3 months ago

Now you have to have launches that are actually meaningful and make money- and have a rocket that works reliably.

The private sector small launch market is very crowded and overshadowed by Space X. Cornwall ‘spaceport’ failed because it was built around an already shaky system from Virgin, now pressure is on Orbex to deliver.

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Hi Paul the Orbex rocket will not be launched from this site..this site is for the Lockheed Martin/APL space systems RS1 rocket…the Orbex rocket will be launched form the Sutherland space port on the mainland…

Paul
Paul
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Thanks for the correction! The question remains regards commercial viability- Space X dominates at $5.5K / kg (with rapid launches, rideshare and high reliability- IIRC RS1 is at nearly 9K) and that outside of being able to launch *something* domestically (which is useful) small launchers are going to struggle- even Rocket Lab with Electron can’t match Space X. In reality we need a Falcon 9 like rocket (or a much bigger single use rocket) to make this spaceport truly useful and a strategic asset. To me at least RS1 is a self contained vertical launch attempt like Cornwall- outside of… Read more »

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

I agree, however Space X may not have the capability it claims. Starship is looking more fanciful by the day. Falcon 9 might be more expensive than is claimed and will certainly jack up prices once other competitors like Ariana 6 fail.

Space X might also fail the way Musk is burning through cash at the moment.

Still plenty of reason to continue developing such a launch capability. Space x itself was launching similar rockets to oribit just 15 years ago as well.

Lots of room for innovation here.

DanielMorgan
DanielMorgan
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Nonsense. SpaceX is currently valued at $180 billion and is contemplating another bi-annual sale of inside investor stock at $97 per share. SpaceX has a value greater than any major US defense contractor -LM, BA, etc. Banks would be falling all over themselves to loan to SpaceX if it needed the cash, which it doesn’t.
Starship is on the right track and Falcon 9 launches are set by the market which SpaceX dominates.

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

Agree..space x is not the same Musk ( he can make mistakes as a private citizen) …space x is now bigger than musk alone and no way ever the US government would let it fail..let alone for any other reason than it’s a fundamental part of future U.S. space exploration..the new moon race and the just starting race to mars.

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The value of space x gov contracts is tiny relative to the value of space x.

The company is all about Musk Hype.

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

How can a company that never made a profit be worth $180 billion? Space X value is based on two things, Musk hype and starlink. Musk hype is dropping off the guys becoming a liability. Starlink does not stack up financially and the market is far more limited than Musk has been making out.

DMJ
DMJ
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Starlink is already cashflow positive.
Falcon 9 and Heavy launches total early 300.
Starship is still at prototype phase.

simon
simon
3 months ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

Yeah space X is on the right course but it faces challenges from those idiot environmental group and musk could launch starship from many countries in the future the UK could probably host starship for human launches however ESA wants to have human rates launches

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Space x is probably to big to fail…it’s essential for the future of US space exploration…that does not mean there is not room in the market for other providers.

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Big difference between being too big to fail and shareholders not loosing their shirt over a failure. I’m sure in bankruptcy that falcon 9 and launch assets would be sold off to suitable defence contractor then prices would climb significantly.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Absolutely right, but as I say the markets that SaxaVord and others indeed, be it Norway, Canada or Alaska is about a very different market to Space X. But as your point hints at Starship is what Musk is interested in and needs all his commitment the Govt already doubts it can meet its time related commitments, Falcon is not something he intends on developing any further and he wants to bin Falcon Heavy except the Govt keeps him from doing so at least till New Glenn and Vulcan are up and reliable. He has also dragged heels, to put… Read more »

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

No one can stop Musk doing whatever he wants (board structure) and I fully believe he will bin Falcon 9 and there is zero the US government can do about it. I would love to see starship work but I am increasingly doubt filled by it. It’s no where near ready and they won’t be able to afford testing like they did with Falcon 9 because every time one blows up it’s 30+ new engines and 6 months of regulatory approval to get back in the air. He is burning cash at a rate he can’t sustain, he’s probably going… Read more »

Bob
Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Why would he bin Falcon 9? SpaceX are launching more mass to orbit with it than all other launch vehicles combined.

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

I think the RS1 rocket will be a ok as it’s essentially backed by the US airforce and Lockheed Martin are essentially building around 4 space ports in the US to support this, the Scottish side of RS1 is around 25% of that whole programme…my concern will be the Orbex offer, that’s not got the same big political and money backers.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Sorry you don’t understand the market being chased here, it has little to do with Space X. Space X indeed is increasingly focused on Starship not cube and mini satellites and a northern launch site has great advantages for Sun synchronous orbits not to mention service European customers neither of which Space X is positioned to do or particularly interested in. There is little to no competition with Space X nor should there be, it’s Ariane 6 and to a degree Vega that are trying to do that from European concerns. As for potential uses of SaxaVord they are looking… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Ok let’s get this straight Space X is not actually in the small rocket category even Falcon is a very powerful rocket and a type of rocket this port has no intention of launching in any foreseeable future. This is competing with others like Rocket Lab and a number of US and other small launch vehicles. Rocket Lab launches from New Zealand and more recently in the US (mainly so it can qualify for US business options there. Saxa Vord is all about northern launches far more suitable for Sun synchronous orbits and of course supporting European launch vehicles and… Read more »

Ian M.
Ian M.
3 months ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Certainly live up to your username! A fullsome reply indeed.

Jim
Jim
3 months ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

Space X do now directly compete with small sat launchers as they have a variety of ride share configurations. They have even done entire falcon 9 launches with just ride share cargo and hey can lunch into sun synchronous orbit and polar orbit from Vandenbergh

DMJ
DMJ
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

You miss the main point of SitS’s post.

AlexS
AlexS
3 months ago

What rockets will use it and what market for them.

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 months ago
Reply to  AlexS

Lockheed Martin will be the prime supplier of the launch booster…the booster is APL space systems RS1 rocket. It’s got a 1350kg payload, it’s also contracted to the US airforce…it’s a big old project with proper backing from the US military industrial complex so I think it’s a safe bet.

market is huge..it’s the micro sat market…Lockheed and APL are building a further 3-4 space ports in the US for this rocket due to market size.

Last edited 3 months ago by Jonathan
Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

That’s correct but in fact that’s down the line a but, the US launchers pad (US launchers have to have a separate secure area under US standards) is not yet finished. The one that is finished is for Rocket Factory and they are hoping to launch early next year I believe. But a whole number of companies are planning (or hoping) to have launches there, I mention a number in a post above so won’t repeat them but one is Skyora as it’s a UK company.

AlexS
AlexS
3 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Thanks Jonathan.

Ian M.
Ian M.
3 months ago

“I’m over the moon that Scotland now officially has its first spaceport and is home to the first fully licensed vertical launch site in western Europe.

Unintended puns are the funniest!😂😁😂

Frank
Frank
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian M.

If you think that is funny, just you wait until the Santa jokes turn up…… again ! 😂

Ian M.
Ian M.
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank

👍

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Oh Nooooo, I’m dreading them, old Scrooge that I am.

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub
3 months ago

Up to 30 launches per year but that will be weather dependent, so more likely to be in the region of 5 or 6.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
3 months ago

Must admit the weather does seem to be a factor no one is officially mentioning, will be interesting to see how it effects launches but one of the reasons if people think Falcon sized rockets will be launched there in the future they will be disappointed, though logistics would preclude it anyway. By the way the ferry from Scotland to Lerwick is renowned for being a sea sickness magnet as it’s pretty much flat bottomed so not expecting Florida scale crowds either.

Jim
Jim
3 months ago

Very much hope we can develop a small EO/SAR satellite constellation with on orbit demand capability to be launched by a UK rocket from Shetland or one of the other facilities being set up in the UK.

monkey spanker
monkey spanker
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Rapid launch of cheaper satellites to give what’s needed at the time will probably become more used as time moves forward. That makes launchers in the U.K. important.
If someone starts blowing up satellites the chances of collisions will become much more common. The problem just continues to grow. Quick launch replacement satellites will be needed.
Space launched weapons may become another interesting area.

Andy reeves
Andy reeves
3 months ago

Is it April fool already? Or just another way to to blow out the budget?

Levi Goldsteinberg
Levi Goldsteinberg
3 months ago
Reply to  Andy reeves

I don’t know how you could draw any conclusion other than this is money well spent for securing a native option to put our hardware in space.

David Barry
David Barry
3 months ago

I don’t quite understand the logistics of Saxa Vord.

Is there an appropriate port to receive the rockets, or they are disassembled and rebuilt on the launch pad? Fuelled on Saxa? How will the fuel get there?

I don’t understand at all, it would seem.

Coll
Coll
3 months ago
Reply to  David Barry

There are still many unanswered questions about the operations. I would be interested in the logistics of how they got the equipment to the island. The island port is small and 10 miles away. From other YouTube videos, I learned that they have a clean room, but that’s all I know at the moment. I’m sure Channel 5 will do a crappy “documentary” with a lot of fake tension in it.

David Barry
David Barry
3 months ago
Reply to  Coll

Cheers Coll.

Coll
Coll
3 months ago
Reply to  David Barry

This may help (Link) if the powers that be don’t delete the link. The Angry Astronaut on YouTube also had a sit down chat with the Cornwall spaceport manager with an update on that facility.

Last edited 3 months ago by Coll
Coll
Coll
3 months ago
Reply to  David Barry

No worries. Sadly, it looks like my other message was been removed by the powers that be. I suggest looking at The Angry Astronaut for an update on Cornwall and Tome for an update for SaxaVord on YouTube.

John
John
3 months ago

Fine but I wish to point out one thing. Most on Unst, and elsewhere in Shetland, do not consider themselves as Scots. Nor do they like being told they are part of Scotland. If the SNP ever ( doubtful given the campervan and Jaguar scandal ) achieve their stated goal? Shetland and Orkney will not be part of it.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63
3 months ago

Is this also a major UK radar location or will be or could be? Potential for a Aegis ashore style GBAD/ABM location? I seem to recall it being mentioned awhile ago in a different article.

Clive Cartey
Clive Cartey
3 months ago

” Scottish built rockets launching Scottish satellites from a Scottish spaceport”.
– NO of the nebulous concept of ‘UK’ in that line or the fact that it is ENGLISH taxpayers Barnett money paying for the ‘Scottish Fantasy’……again.

Clive Cartey
Clive Cartey
3 months ago

” Scottish built rockets launching Scottish satellites from a Scottish spaceport”.
– NO mention of the nebulous concept of ‘UK’ in that line or the fact that it is ENGLISH taxpayers Barnett money paying for the ‘Scottish Fantasy’……again.