The site – on the Lamba Ness peninsula site in Unst, on the northerly coast of the islands – becomes the UK’s first licensed vertical launch spaceport as Spaceport Cornwall was previously licensed for horizontal launches using rockets from a modified Boeing.
The award follow a range of safety, security, and environmental assessments by the UK’s space regulator, and it permits SaxaVord to host up to 30 launches a year.
For all the glamour and engineering of multi-stage rockets and satellites, without a UK CAA licence nothing will leave the ground, as Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall faced this time last year.
“Granting SaxaVord their licence is an era defining moment for the UK space sector,” said Tim Johnson, Director of Space Regulation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
“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.”
With the announcement, the spaceport also becomes the first fully licensed vertical spaceport in Western Europe.
“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,” said Frank Strang, CEO of SaxaVord Spaceport.
“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,” he added.
The authority highlights that this licence is the 352nd space activity it has approved since becoming the UK’s official space regulator in July 2021.
The CAA monitors 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, it said.
The licence award follows an announcement earlier this month of £3.4 million UK Space Agency funding for HyImpulse UK to undertake its Hybrid Propulsion Test Programme.
This will be done ahead of the proposed launch of its launch vehicle, named SL1, from SaxaVord Spaceport in Shetland. The company is based in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, as well as its UK base in the Shetland Islands.