Successful test launch of space research balloon

The test launch of a space research balloon from Unst in Shetland has been hailed as a major success.

B2Space now intends to establish a permanent base with Shetland Space Centre (SSC) on the island to work towards full-scale launches of their “rockoon” system.

This will use balloons to transport rockets into the upper atmosphere before they are launched into space. Using the technology will be significantly cheaper than sending rockets into orbit from the ground.

In the meantime, B2Space, which has the backing of the European Space Agency (ESA), will deploy balloons to conduct a series of tests of satellite components in near-space, in conditions similar to those in orbit.

Watch a short video of the launch here.

Valentin Canales and Victor Montero, co-founders of B2Space, said: “We are very pleased with how the test launch has gone.

“We have a large amount of data to analyse, but from what we know already we can confirm that we intend to set up a base here in Unst in preparation for future launches.

“Interest from ESA and the UK Space Agency is huge. We know the technology will work, and this launch was the first step, with many more to come.

“We are really grateful for the support and teamwork from the Shetland Space Centre, from the local supply chain and from the community. We were amazed and delighted by how many people came to watch the launch.”

SSC project director Scott Hammond said: “The balloon launch has been a major success, proving that Unst is the best location for launching into space.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for the SSC team, working with our local partners such as Pure Energy and Ocean Kinetics, backed by Shetland Islands Council and HIE, to conduct a live operation and learn from it, which we have done.

“The support from external agencies such as Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Marine Scotland has also been excellent.”

Mr Hammond added: “The SSC team, local firms and the community has come together to make this happen – and this the model for going forward not only to more balloon launches but to a rocket launch site and ground station by 2020-21.”

Balloon test launch marks beginning of space era in Shetland

The UK’s first commercial spaceflight-related activity will take place in Shetland this weekend, with the test launch of a stratospheric balloon for a system that will eventually deliver small satellites into orbit.

The innovative launch system, known as rockoon, has been developed by Bristol-based B2Space, one of the first companies to partner with the Shetland Space Centre (SSC).

The test launch is scheduled to take place at Baltasound Airport in Unst on Sunday 14thJuly, weather-permitting.

B2Space Co-founder Valentin Canales said: “This is very exciting, both for ourselves and for Shetland Space Centre.

“We will be sending a smaller version of the balloon that we will eventually use up to a height of around 37km, carrying a complete set of instruments, trackers and control boards, as well as beaming back live images from an on-board camera.

“The purpose of the test flight is to confirm our ability to operate from Shetland by gathering data, adding to the theoretical study that we have carried out on the last 15 years of weather data.

“We believe it will support our case for a permanent base in Shetland, not only for launches to orbit, but for performing ‘near space operations’, such as testing satellite components in conditions similar to the ones faced in orbit. This is a project we are working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on.”

This technology, launching a rocket from a high-altitude balloon, is an evolution and improvement of a 1950s concept proposed by the US Navy. It takes advantage of skipping the highest density part of the atmosphere which allows a more optimised design and a more cost-effective solution to launch small and micro satellites into low earth orbit.

SSC Project Director Scott Hammond said: “The B2Space balloon launch is the first tangible spaceflight activity in Unst and will mark a truly groundbreaking day for Shetland Space Centre, the islands as a whole, Scotland and the UK.

“It will foreshadow the arrival of a whole new sector in the local economy, with rocket launches to follow from the Lamba Ness site within two years when we can secure all the necessary permissions and the creation later this year of a ground station.”

Local marine engineering firm Ocean Kinetics is supplying a boat to retrieve the balloon when it lands off the coast, while Unst company Pure Energy is also actively supporting the project, which has been part funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

SSC’s sister company The Shetland Distillery will be sending a small packet of botanicals up in the balloon that will be used to make a small batch of gin that should be out of this world.

North and south form UK partnership to develop new space capabilities

North and south form UK partnership to develop new space capabilities

Shetland Space Centre (SSC) and Goonhilly Earth Station have joined forces to develop rocket launch and tracking business capabilities for the burgeoning new space launch sector.

The two companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) committing them to collaborate on a range of projects as the UK’s space sector flourishes.

Projects include working together to support both Shetland’s and Cornwall’s aspirations for both vertical and horizontal UK space launches.

The firms will jointly promote and deliver launch, monitoring and tracking capabilities from the two sites at the extremities of the UK.

SSC is planning to construct a commercial rocket launch centre on the island of Unst and is developing a teleport and other space-related ground infrastructure, while Goonhilly will invest in and install a new highly capable tracking antenna on Unst. The two firms will also co-develop data centres in both Unst and Cornwall.

Frank Strang, CEO of SSC, said: “As soon as we met the team from Goonhilly, we all recognised that there are potentially huge benefits from collaborating. We have a shared drive and determination to increase the footprint of the UK space industry, from launches on UK soil to a huge range of ground station activities.”

Ian Jones, CEO of Goonhilly, added: “We’re really looking forward to working with the Shetland Space Centre team at this hugely exciting time in the development of UK launch activity.

“We’re already working with Spaceport Cornwall to support horizontal launch. Shetland is the obvious choice for supporting vertical launch – there’s infrastructure, data connectivity and transport links already in place, in addition to the vitally important clear air space towards polar and sun-synchronous orbits.

“I think it’s obvious that Shetland is recognised as the best location by key launch companies. The team at SSC have the skills and determination to make this a viable business opportunity.”

About Shetland Space Centre

Shetland Space Centre Ltd was formed in 2017 by Frank and Debbie Strang. Five people are employed full-time on the project working towards securing planning permission for the satellite launch facility. The company is working closely with the local community and Shetland Islands Council to ensure maximum benefit from what will be a major new sector of the local and national economy.

About Goonhilly

Goonhilly is a global communications services hub and satellite station located in Cornwall, UK. It provides a comprehensive range of leading-edge connectivity and operational solutions to the space industry, GEO, MEO and LEO satellite fleet operators, broadcasters, as well as a wide diversity of enterprises seeking to grow their businesses on earth and in near and deep space. Customers include SES, Intelsat, Eutelsat and Inmarsat, as well as space agencies, governments, broadcasters and others. Since 2014 the partners in Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. have been focused on building the company and investing in the site. Goonhilly has Enterprise Zone status – the government’s flagship programme for technology parks. www.goonhilly.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SSC seals launch site partnership with ArianeGroup

The Shetland Space Centre today announces a major partnership with ArianeGroup.

The joint venture, equally owned by Airbus and Safran and lead contractor for Europe’s Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 launchers, will define a concept of operations and assess the range of missions for the SSC spaceport project in the frame of a three-month study. The spaceport will be designed from the ground up to be a commercial facility operated by SSC.

During a visit this summer ArianeGroup representatives acknowledged that Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island, is a “perfect location in Northern Europe” to establish a spaceport for launching small satellites and supporting associated services such as data-linking and storage.

Dialogue has been ongoing since then between the SSC and ArianeGroup experts for the development of the launch facility.

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “This is a huge step forward in further establishing a space economy in Shetland, and indeed Scotland. 

“We are flattered that yet another major industry player supports Shetland and Unst in particular as the optimal location to promote small satellite launch and support activity within the UK and Europe. 

“It is also especially exciting that we have strengthened our links with Europe and the European aerospace and space industry by forging a relationship with such a prestigious European partner.

“By accessing ArianeGroup’s expertise and capabilities we will be able to accelerate our application ensuring that the UK will be able to launch small satellite launch vehicles by the end of 2020. Shetland Space Centre is in detailed dialogue with a number of rocket manufacturers building small rockets and expects to make further announcements over the next few months.

“This is an enormously exciting deal for us. ‘One small step for the UK and one giant leap for Shetland’.”

Olivier Reuther, head of Critical and Space Infrastructures at ArianeGroup, said: “Bringing our space infrastructure expertise to the Shetland Space Centre on the launch facility project in Unst is a great New Space opportunity and we hope to be a key player to make this venture possible.”

Development of the launch facility will be subject to planning consent and a licence to operate in Unst.

 

Shetland and Faroe join forces to drive space industry developments

Shetland Space Centre (SSC) has joined forces with telecom experts in the neighbouring Faroe Islands, forming a unique international partnership to drive forward space industry developments in the two island groups and beyond.

Faroese Telecom, which provides Shetland and Orkney with access to high speed fibre broadband through its SHEFA cable, isthe preferred supplier of infrastructure supporting high speed fibre broadband and future 5G to SSC. It will also provide technical and commercial support for ground station activity and data download and storage in Unst.

At the same time, SSC will provide specialist support for the establishment of a Faroese ground station.

Frank Strang of SSC said: “The Faroese share our ‘can do’ culture and love to get on with it and make things happen.

“There are already established links between our two groups of islands and this partnership makes absolute commercial and cultural sense. The strategy is to create a network of satellite tracking stations, making the best use of our geography and locations.”

Faroese Telecom is already looking into space with preliminary research on an Arctic satellite program in partnership with strategic allies in the region.

“The space economy is moving at a tremendous speed and I believe that we have to be able to match that pace to maximize the huge opportunities that exist in the commercialisation of space,” said Jan Ziskasen, CEO of Faroese Telecom.

SSC is a privately-funded company that aims to establish a ground station in Unst, Shetland’s most northerly island, by late 2019, and has a Memorandum of Understanding with Lockheed Martin with whom it is developing this project.

SSC also intends to develop a launch site in Unst after it was identified in the Sceptre Report for the UK Space Agency as the best location in the country for sending rockets with small satellites in their payloads into polar and sun-synchronous orbits, free of overfly restrictions due to islands or oil and gas installations.

It is already working closely with a major player in the space industry on technical specifications for launch infrastructure and will make further announcements on this in the near future.

New board of directors to take SSC to next level

A high-powered board of directors has been appointed by the company behind plans to bring the space industry to Shetland. 

Chairman of Shetland Space Centre will be Chris Phillips, who is non-executive chairman of Hadleigh Waymoth, an independent advisory and fund management business, while the former government minister Brian Wilson will be vice-chair.

The original team behind SSC, Frank Strang, Debbie Strang, Scott Hammond and Bill Gibb, will also be on the board. 

Non-executive directors will be Todd Ruppert, founder and CEO of Ruppert International, who has 40 years’ experience in financial services, and Tavish Scott, MSP for Shetland. 

SSC has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Lockheed Martin and Shetland Islands Council and further agreements with other major players in the space industry are in the pipeline. 

The aim is to develop an all-encompassing space centre in Unst that can launch satellites into space in small rockets and capture data from existing satellites. 

Mr Strang said: “This is a major step forward in the evolution of Shetland Space Centre and with the wealth of experience in a wide range of fields on this board we are sending a strong signal of positive intent about building a brand new industry in Shetland.”

SSC to collaborate with B2Space on stratospheric balloon launches

Shetland Space Centre has joined forces with B2Space, a Bristol-based firm that is developing a small satellite launcher centred on a stratospheric balloon.

The two companies have agreed to collaborate on a study into the feasibility of using Unst as a launch site for the innovative new system, which is known as rockoon.

B2Space Co-founder Valentin Canales, who visited Shetland for the space symposium in May, said: “The study will demonstrate the convenience of Shetland as a launch location for polar and sun-synchronous orbits, and will show the potential of Shetland for other launch operators.”

SSC Project Director Scott Hammond said: “We’re delighted to have teamed up with Valentin and his team and look forward to taking the next steps on developing what is potentially a major new sector of the Shetland economy.”

B2Space is already working with the Llanbedr Spaceport in Wales to develop a prototype of its launch system, which carries a small rocket into high altitude that then launches to deliver the small satellites into their required orbits.

The system will be tested and operated between Llanbedr and Shetland to meet the launch rates necessary for the business to operate successfully.

Space Centre and SIC join forces with Lockheed Martin

Shetland Space Centre and Shetland Islands Council are to join forces with one of the world’s biggest aerospace and security companies on the development of space-related activity in the islands.

They signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lockheed Martin today at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow.

The two companies will now press ahead with work on the creation of a satellite tracking and communication centre in Unst.

The MoU was signed by SSC Project Director Scott Hammond, SIC Chief Executive Maggie Sandison and Patrick Wood, head of Lockheed Martin Space UK.

“This partnership with Lockheed Martin is a huge vote of confidence in the potential of Shetland to become a major hub for the space industry in the UK,” said Mr Hammond.

“We look forward to working with some of the finest experts in the world on space to turn our plans into reality.”

He added: “The support for proposed space activity in Sutherland is good news, and shows the strength of the sector in Scotland. We are continuing with our launch site plans and this work is attracting a great deal of interest from a number of launch providers.”

Mrs Sandison said: “It’s clear that Shetland has geographical and physical advantages for the development of both launch and tracking facilities, backed up by supply chain and logistical knowledge and expertise that will benefit the space industry.

“On behalf of the SIC, I’m pleased to have signed this agreement with SSC and Lockheed Martin and we look forward to making progress for the benefit of Unst and the wider Shetland community.”

Mr Wood said: “As the UK launches into the next space age, the Shetland Space Centre is an ideal location for vital ground stations as well as space situational awareness technology.

“Lockheed Martin is committed to supporting the UK’s goal of expanding its national space industry, and we are excited to work with the dedicated team in Shetland. This effort is a strong complement to our work on the UK Spaceflight Programme, where we will launch the first orbital rocket from UK soil. The future of space across the UK is very bright.”

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 100,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

 

SSC to feature at Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Shetland Space Centre has been invited to take part in this year’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in conjunction with the Royal Air Force and Edinburgh-based launch provider Skyrora.

The company’s logo will be emblazoned on a life-size model rocket that is being built by the Skyrora team and will be on display throughout the Tattoo.

And members of the SSC team will be attending the annual event to speak about their plans for a small satellite rocket launch site and data download centre in Unst, Shetland’s and the UK’s most northerly island.

The invite came from the RAF, which is celebrating its 100thanniversary this year and the force’s history will feature prominently at the Tattoo.

SSC Director Scott Hammond said: “We are naturally very pleased to have been asked to have a presence at this year’s Tattoo along with the RAF and Skyrora.”

Mr Hammond, a former RAF fighter pilot himself, added: “We are delighted in our own small way to be able to contribute to the celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the RAF.”

 

Natural advantages put Unst at forefront of satellite launch race

Shetland’s unrivalled natural advantages for delivering small satellites into space were spelled out today as the team behind the proposed launch site on the islands stepped up the campaign to win support for their plans.

Shetland Space Centre (SSC) bosses are adamant that their site in Unst is the prime location in the UK because:

  • It is the farthest north, and for small satellite market operators who need to deliver their devices into Polar and Sun-Synchronous orbits the farther north the better;
  • There are no obstacles to direct launch to these orbits, such as population centres, including towns and oil & gas installations, which safety rules prohibit the overflight of;
  • Airspace around Unst is clear, with no major trans-Atlantic routes or military restrictions, e.g. for bombing practice;
  • Operators in the industry, both commercial and public sector, have beaten a path to the SSC door and are very keen to work with the company.

SSC Director Scott Hammond said: “We want to make as many people as possible aware of the abundantly clear natural advantages that Unst has in terms of physics and geography.

“But is important to highlight the fact that it is not just us who are saying this – from government to academia to the space industry, there is a strong grasp of the situation.

“Firstly, Unst was identified in a report commissioned by the UK Space Agency as the preferred site for small satellite launches.”

This, the SCEPTRE report, part-authored by HIE, states: “Commercial launch is driven by two questions: which orbits are accessible, and what payload mass can be delivered to those orbits at an attractive price? The site offering the maximum payload mass to orbit is Saxa Vord in the Shetlands [sic], from where direct launch is possible to both SSO [Sun-Synchronous] and Polar orbits.”

By contrast, direct routes into these orbits from other sites under discussion would go directly over oil & gas installations or the Faroe Islands. The alternative, to carry out dog-leg turns, would require more robust, more expensive rockets and restrict payload size.

Mr Hammond, a former RAF fighter pilot, added: “This is before you look at the issues elsewhere with airspace. The re-routing of trans-Atlantic flights would be expensive for airlines and environmentally damaging due to the extra fuel burn required.

“And military exercises around the north of Scotland would significantly cut down the number of potential launch days for a site there.”

SSC Founder and Director Frank Strang said: “Our natural advantages are obvious and are right there for everyone to see.

“Of course, Shetland has many other attributes as well, including formidable logistics and supply chain expertise developed over almost 50 years as host to the oil and gas industry, and we will be highlighting these strengths in the weeks and months ahead.”