Installation of the first antenna in SaxaVord Spaceport’s ground station supporting satellites has marked a “major milestone” for Saxa Vord Spaceport and the Shetland community.

The 3.7m parabolic dish is housed inside a protective 4.8m diameter radome and is a “proof of concept” project in conjunction with ground station specialists Leafspace. The antenna was installed last month on a temporary site at the west end of Baltasound Airport in Unst, Its installation was supported by four local companies – Pure , Sandisons, RS Henderson and Streamline.

SaxaVord Spaceport Data and Ground Station Manager Jacques Meheut said: “This is a major milestone, the first active space industry activity in Shetland. Manufactured by Orbit CS in this country, the antenna has been designed to support a large number of different satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).”

“Due to its size, it can support both small and medium satellites, which is very useful for the anticipated industry growth in the delivery of these types of satellites. The antenna is now working, and currently undergoing a complex calibration and commissioning phase that will take a number of days. Thereafter, we hope to start downloading and uploading to client satellites. This is only a temporary site at this stage.

“Our partner network Leafspace had a number of satellite operators sending equipment into space on board SpaceX’s Transporter 2 mission last week, and there are five satellites that will use the Shetland-based antenna for continued mission support.”

Lease arrangement will be  Baltasound Airport back to life

FINN caught up with Meheut just after the installation of the antenna at this year’s Space-Comm Expo. SaxaVord Spaceport has entered into a lease arrangement with Shetland Islands Council for the use of Baltasound Airport, with the intention of bringing the airfield back to life to support both the spaceport and the local economy.

The plans include refurbishment or demolition and rebuild of the existing hangar and recreation of the small heliport which operated up to 1996, which would be improved to support aerospace and space rather than the oil industry. SaxaVord is also working towards the construction of a small tech hub housing industrial units to support the new industry, as featured in the Islands Deal announced previously.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said: “I am delighted with the incredible support we have had locally from contractors and it has proven the point that we have been making constantly, that many of the skills that are needed to support the space industry already exist here in Unst and Shetland. The SaxaVord Spaceport belongs to them as much as it does shareholders.

“The beauty of the antenna is that it has the capacity to support aerospace and aviation activity at the airport as well.”

The company is currently awaiting a determination on its planning application for the launch site at Lamba Ness by Shetland Islands Council.

The site has been chosen for the launch of the UK’s first small rocket / small satellite launch, the UK Pathfinder mission by Lockheed Martin and ABL Systems in 2022.

Subscribe to the FINN weekly newsletter