SaxaVord UK Spaceport is currently preparing for its first launches in 2022.

The rocket launch site and ground station, located in the UK’s most northerly island of Unst, Shetland, is already the designated site of next year’s UK Pathfinder launch by Lockheed Martin and ABL Systems. Unst was clearly identified as the optimal site for launching small satellites into low earth orbit in the independent Sceptre Report, commissioned by the UK Government to identify the most commercially viable launch locations in the UK.

Saxa Vord is the name of the highest hill in Unst (935ft) which overlooks both the launch site and the former RAF Saxa Vord base where launch control and mission support personnel will be accommodated. The spaceport’s first launches will include the UK Vertical Launch Pathfinder project with Lockheed Martin and ABL Systems.

Remote location has been developed by oil and gas industries

Paul Riddell, Director of Communications at SaxaVord Spaceport explained the spaceport’s name: “The story was that there were two giants one called Saxa and one called Herma and they lived on adjacent peninsula near our site and they had a feud which meant that all they did was sit there and throw giant rocks at each other. That is why the landscape looks the way it does with these giant boulders that they threw at one another.”

Unst may be seen as a remote location within the UK and logistics may be seen as difficult but Riddell said the oil and gas industries had helped to create an infrastructure suited to the emerging UK space industry.

“There’s been a history in Shetland of that kind of activity with oil and gas has been there for almost 50 years now so the supply chains are actually pretty well developed, the infrastructure is pretty well developed. So when you look at a map, you might think “My goodness how are we going to get a rocket off from there?” But when you look at what’s really there it’s a different story altogether.”

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