The successful launch of a commercial rocket from the Outer Hebrides is set to mark the start of more UK-based space activity.
The rocket launch was conducted by a wholly-owned British company and a Scottish spaceport team. Spaceport 1 joined forces with East Anglian firm Gravitilab Aerospace Services on the launch of flight test vehicle ‘ADA’, which was named after 19th century English mathematician Ada Lovelace, who is considered the world’s first computer programmer. FINN was on hand to capture the action at the launch, which took place last Thursday (August 26).
ADA took off from Benbecula Airport, marking a successful launch for Spaceport 1, the consortium led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which aims to open at Scolpaig, North Uist, in 2022. Commercial sub-orbital space launches will begin to take place from within the UK from this base. The landmark moment represents the first success for a commercial partnership between Spaceport 1 and Gravitilab, evidencing how companies can work together commercially under the new Government space framework to deliver a successful rocket launch from the UK.
UK base will enable sub-orbital space launches
Gravitilab aims to make space more accessible by providing reliable and affordable microgravity research and testing services. ADA is the company’s first rocket designed to offer this, and the sub-orbital launch at Benbecula Airport is part of the company’s ongoing development programme.
Rob Adlard Technical Director at Gravitilab Aerospace explained how suborbital flight – when an object goes into space and comes back again on a parabolic parabolic.arc – had real possibilities as a space environment which provides microgravity. “Microgravity is a strange thing – it’s really useful for scientists to do pure research. Because of course, any physical process in the universe is defined by an equation which includes gravity is completely transformed when you remove gravity from the equation, potentially a lot of unlocking unlimited possibilities. So it’s fantastic for scientific research, but it’s also really really useful for industry, to de-risk and test and qualify products that are destined for orbit.”
It also comes just weeks after the Government’s new framework to regulate the space industry came into force. A statement issued to the press by the partners said the framework had “the potential to thrust Scotland and the UK into the global forefront of the growing space sector making spaceport developments and space launches a reality.”
For Spaceport 1, the launch offered the opportunity to become a working, viable commercial spaceport, as it looked to complete its site by 2022, with full commercial operations commencing in the same year.
Project has potential to create “significant new jobs”
Roddie MacKay, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “We’re delighted to see this launch today and this partnership between Spaceport 1 and Gravitilab. We’re looking forward to further launch activity as we develop the Spaceport 1 project. It has the potential to create significant new jobs. in Uist an area that needs jobs it needs to attract new talent and to retain its young people. So we’re delighted to be here today and to see real tangible activity on the ground.”
Other Gravitilab launch vehicles in the pipeline which will also reference pioneers in the field of discovery and science, including ISAAC (Newton) and MAX (Plank), as well as a unique UAV drone vehicle named LOUIS (Breguet).
“The starting gun of real physical activity behind the UK launch project”
Adlard said: “After a lot of talk, a lot of hard work on behalf of everybody from government, the CAA, the UK Space Agency and all the individual organisations such as ourselves and Spaceport 1, this is possibly, dare I say the, kind of starting gun of the real sort of physical activity behind the UK launch project.”
He said the ability to launch from UK sites would open up the possibilities for “The launch bit is the top of the pyramid… It’s about what it enables. So everything from climate change science to driverless cars, requires these assets in space and requires the science to be done. And that’s all enabled by launch.”
Mark Roberts CBE, Spaceport 1 Programme Director, said: “This is a historic moment for Spaceport 1, the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and the UK. Our unique partnership with Gravitilab allows us to improve our procedures and progress towards a viable spaceport in North Uist. It opens up not only a route to space for inclusive, enterprising ventures like Gravitilab, but also offers this remote area of Scotland a chance to build a thriving business, bringing much-needed quality jobs to this region.”