Space industry arrives in Shetland with first satellite ground station antenna

The first antenna in SaxaVord Spaceport’s ground station for supporting satellites has been installed, marking a “major milestone” for the company and the Shetland community.

Located on a temporary site at the west end of Baltasound Airport in Unst, the 3.7m parabolic dish, which is housed inside a protective 4.8m diameter radome, is a “proof of concept” project in conjunction with ground station specialists Leafspace.

The installation was ably supported by four local companies – Pure Energy, 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.”

SaxaVord Spaceport has entered into a lease arrangement with Shetland Islands Council for the use of Baltasound Airport, with the intention of bringing the designated airfield back to life to support both the spaceport and the local economy.

The plans include the refurbishment or demolition and rebuild of the existing hangar and to recreate the small heliport that operated up to 1996, this time supporting aerospace and space rather than the oil industry.

SaxaVord is also working with the SIC 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 in 2022. This is the UK Pathfinder mission by Lockheed Martin and ABL Systems.


Name change and rebrand for our rocket site

Shetland Space Centre is changing its name to SaxaVord Spaceport as it rebrands to position itself at the heart of the new space economy in Europe.

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.

And as they seek to make Shetland synonymous with the new space economy as well as build on their existing client base, the company’s owners recognised that the time was right to be clear about its vision, mission, values and behaviours.

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.

In Norse mythology, Saxa was a giant who lived on the hill, while across the water resided Herma (hence Hermaness). For amusement, they threw huge boulders at one another.

SaxaVord Spaceport CEO Frank Strang said: “Having bought the former RAF Saxa Vord base back in 2005, and worked for many years looking for a theme for the Saxa Vord Resort, it was really a case of back to the future with the name change.

“We have always spoken of the progression in Shetland from the Viking age to the space age, in fact ‘from the Longship to the Spaceship’ is a strap line we use on our pop up stands, and the new name evokes that wonderfully.

“SaxaVord Spaceport is the home of the UK Space Agency’s Vertical Launch Pathfinder Programme and will become a successful, internationally-recognised new space business with safety and superior value being our hallmarks.”

Emma Beaton, creative manager at Azzurro Blu, the Aberdeen-based marketing agency selected to undertake the rebranding work and to provide on-going marketing support, said: “We are thrilled to be involved. It’s hugely exciting to be part of such a dramatic project.

“The history of the business, its commitment to the local community, and its powerful vision to be an important part of the ‘new space’ industry, combine to create a thoroughly compelling brand. In the UK space industry and abroad, it’s going to be a brand to watch.”

First come, first served for this summer’s Astronaut Job Camp at Shetland Space Centre

Children will be able to participate in “astronaut teacher” Mike Mongo’s Astronaut Job Camp, hosted from Shetland Space Centre this summer, with fees paid for.

Shetland Space Centre, together with land conservation and tourism business Wildland Limited, have stepped in to cover all the registration costs for the inaugural edition of Mike Mongo’s Astronaut Job Camp, a virtual summer camp geared to 10-12 year olds* with a passion for space and STEAM.

“We are looking for kids who are interested in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) subjects and might want to become a space professional, including perhaps humannaires, the next generation of space explorers,” said Mike.

“So my message to parents is: if your children are into creative thinking, problem solving, team play and emotional intelligence, get them signed up, they’ll love it.

“And my message to kids is: if you’re excited by space and STEAM and even video games and sports, or even just a little bit interested, get your mum, dad or guardian to sign you up – your registration is paid for!”

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “We are delighted along with Wildland to be able to support this fantastic initiative by Mike and hope lots of kids sign up for what will be an amazing experience.”

Tim Kirkwood, CEO of Wildland said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for young people to learn about space while having fun and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to help make it happen.”

The camp will be held virtually from 5th to 30th July and in three separate camps there will be space for a total of 180 children from Shetland, Scotland, and around the world.

The two-hour long sessions will be held on Monday and Thursday mornings for children in Scotland, Monday and Thursday afternoons for the rest of the UK and Ireland and Tuesday and Friday mornings for the rest of the world.

Mike Mongo is director of the United Launch Alliance-sponsored Humannaires Initiative, YouTuber and US author of The Astronaut Instruction Manual.

The camp will feature professional instructors including SpaceX Inspiration 4 astronaut Dr Sian Proctor, NASA ISS and Space Shuttle astronaut Nicole Scott, and future Mars walker Alyssa Carson.

Dr Proctor and Nicole Scott are members of Mr Mongo’s high-powered Curriculum Advisory Board, which also includes Dr Christopher Washington, Executive Vice- President and Provost, Franklin University; Dr Sara Polak, archaeologist in AI, Paioneers Lab, Prague; Dr David Lockett of NASA and Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow; Lace Giles, STEM educator and historian of science; and Dr Juan José Díaz Infante, Mission Director, Ulises 1; Director, Mexican Civil Space Authority.

“Shetland’s balanced mix of nature and the modern world is the perfect location for our first Astronaut Job Camp. If you’re between the ages of 10-12 and want to live, work and play in tomorrow’s jobs in space, you have to join up,” added Mike, who is already in Unst and raring to go.

Shetland Space Centre is a natural ally in promoting STEAM careers for the students of Scotland. Combining the practical nature of the commercial technological industry with the visionary excitement of space careers, Shetland Space Centre has the opportunity to support the work of parents, teachers, headmasters, schools, and national stakeholders in championing STEAM careers, empowering student acquisition of essential STEAM skills and training, and communicating the genuine value of diversity and inclusion in STEAM careers to the benefit of Scotland and the world.

For more details about how to sign up, go to

*Exceptions may be made at the discretion of the organisers.


Successful engine tests for German rocket maker

German rocket maker HyImpulse Technologies has successfully carried out a series of engine tests in Shetland this week.

The company was quick to praise companies in the local supply chain which supported the work, hosted by Shetland Space Centre at the former Scatsta airfield. It is expected to culminate in the launch of a sounding rocket from Unst later this year.

HyImpulse CEO Mario Kobald said: “We have run a series of different short and long tests on our hybrid motor to qualify it for the first launch of our sounding rocket, and are pleased to say that they have worked well. This follows a first round of testing in Germany.

“We are using solid fuel – basically candlewax – that is easy to handle and really cheap, with a further major advantage that there can be no hazardous accidents during shipping and prior to testing and operations.

“Only during the testing itself did we introduce a liquid oxidiser and heat to make the motor fire. This has been a big step forward in proving that the technology is working.

“We have had really good support from the companies here, from Ocean Kinetics, Streamline, Shetland Power Tools and Nordri. They have been very professional and provided all of what we asked for – very good co-operation.”

The company plans to carry out further engine testing in July, and proposes to launch a sounding rocket in the autumn.

Shetland Space Centre CEO Frank Strang said: “It has been a tremendously exciting two weeks at Scatsta, with the first rocket engine testing marking a major milestone in the development of the space industry in Shetland.

“There is lots more to come, from HyImpulse and our other partners including Lockheed Martin, ahead of the first planned vertical rocket launch from Unst next year.

“Congratulations both to Mario and his team for their successes and a massive thanks to Shetland Islands Council and the local companies who have supported this operation. The can-do attitude and teamwork on display bode well for Shetland’s future as the home of UK launch.”

Managing director of Ocean Kinetics, John Henderson, said: “We were delighted to be approached by Shetland Space Centre to work on this project for Hylmpulse Technologies.

“We fabricated the main support frame for testing the rocket, which included a load-bearing support structure for the rocket engine, nozzle support, and also the stainless steel cryogenic fuel and purge pipework for supplying the rocket engine.

“We placed and secured the engine into its test location and carried out site services including inspection and testing of the pipework.

“Although we are very familiar with delivering bespoke projects, this is, of course, a completely new sector for Ocean Kinetics. The space economy is a fascinating one, and certainly an area for which our services are particularly suited, and we very much look forward to being involved in it, as it evolves.”

Will Rodger, Operations Supervisor for Streamline, said: “Good planning and co-ordination with the teams at HyImpulse and Streamline led to a well-executed movement of their test equipment direct from Germany to Shetland, as part of this exciting first campaign with Shetland Space Centre.

“We look forward to supporting the team and project further with our services both in Shetland and Europe/Worldwide. This is a great example of how Streamline work collaboratively with many partners to ensure goods are shipped on schedule to meet customer requirements.”


Statement on Historic Environment Scotland refusal of Scheduled Monument Consent

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “We are greatly surprised that Historic Environment Scotland (HES), an organisation that has done nothing to preserve the site for the last 50 years, has refused Scheduled Monument Consent, particularly given that the Shetland regional archaeologist saw no reason to object to our plans in principle.
“We will now review in detail the reasons behind the HES decision and our understanding of that will inform our next move. Our team will take stock and hopefully enter into constructive dialogue with HES to allow them the appropriate comfort to allow consent.
“But be in no doubt: we will vigorously contest HES’s refusal of permission to develop and enhance a site which, while evidently of national significance, has for years been left in a dilapidated state. Our mitigation plans include the provision of resurfacing and repairing the visitor road access, building of an interpretation centre and public conveniences as well as the creation of local jobs. Our plans show little or no negative impact on the old RAF concrete buildings and by melding the old with the new will create economic prosperity in Unst and Shetland for years to come.”

German rocket maker plans to launch from Unst

Shetland Space Centre secured a further boost today with a German rocket maker announcing its intention to launch from Unst. 

HyImpulse Technologies plans to begin engine testing and launching sub-orbital sounding rockets in Shetland this year with a view to a maiden orbital flight in 2023. 

The company has pioneered environmentally-friendly hybrid fuel technology which will be deployed in all launches. 

HyImpulse Co-CEO Christian Schmierer said: “We have signed letters of intent with several potential customers to take their payloads into orbit. 

“It was therefore very important for us to secure a launch pad and site ahead of time and to start with our mission planning. 

“Shetland Space Centre allows us to offer frequent, reliable access to space with a great variety of efficient flight routes.” 

CEO Mario Kobald added: “Our engine will be green and we are pleased to see their emphasis on environmental and social responsibilities.”  

Shetland Space Centre CEO Frank Strang said: “We are truly international in our outlook and are delighted that long discussions with Christian, Mario and their team through our German subsidiary have culminated in common activities starting this year. 

“Post-Covid, we look forward to welcoming everyone associated with the HyImpulse project to Shetland and to the beginning of a strong partnership.”  

Prospect of major boost to Shetland economy as space launch site plans lodged

The creation of a space launch facility in Unst will result in hundreds of new jobs and significantly boost the local economy.

Major planning proposals have now been submitted to Shetland Islands Council on behalf of Shetland Space Centre by town planning consultants Farningham Planning Ltd.

The proposals take the form of three separate but related planning applications, including the launch site at Lamba Ness.

Provision is made for the construction of three launch pads and associated infrastructure incorporating a satellite tracking facility, hangarage and integration facilities, the creation of a range control centre at the former RAF Saxa Vord complex, use of the fuel storage facility at Ordale Airport at Baltasound, and significant improvements to the launch site’s approach roads.

The proposals also include the building of a wildlife hide at Lamba Ness to help facilitate enhanced public access for the enjoyment of bird and orca watching.

Supported by a thorough and extremely comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR) prepared by a team of experienced specialist environmental consultants, the application, if successful, will be a major economic boost to the North Isles, Scotland and the UK.

The launch facility will eventually create circa 140 jobs on Unst and inject at least £4.9m per annum into the island’s economy. It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, adding a further £2.9m in gross value per annum to the economy.

The EIAR, authored by ITPEnergised, concludes that the launch facility will have no or negligible impact on all local bird species except for one confidential Schedule 1 breeding species which may be subject to minor disturbance. Carefully considered mitigation measures have been identified to ensure there is as little disturbance as possible.

The EIAR further states that due to the intermittent nature and short duration of the rocket launches and engine tests, the effects of noise associated with these activities will be much less than initial concerns voiced by local residents anticipated, and will actually be less than that historically associated with Baltasound Airport when it was active and when the RAF was operational at Saxa Vord.

The report acknowledges there will be an obvious effect on the degraded infrastructure at the former RAF Skaw and on the setting of Inner Skaw Scheduled Monuments.

However, a comprehensive programme of measures is proposed to refurbish and enhance the dilapidated assets to encourage more visitor footfall to the site and provide greater understanding and appreciation of its significance, melding the old aerospace with the new.

Scott Hammond, Shetland Space Centre project director, said: “The economic decline of Unst since the closures of Baltasound Airport and RAF Saxa Vord has been well documented.

“We believe our proposals will help regenerate the island by providing skilled jobs and helping with repopulation that can only benefit the social fabric, including the school, health centre and small businesses. The space industry attracts young people and the island needs a healthy population of young families to maintain economic viability.”

Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “Scott and Alan Farningham and his team have assembled a very comprehensive and detailed application that has taken over two years to produce.

“In many ways the UK is in very new territory and while there are other spaceports situated elsewhere in the world, we are just starting out on the journey and it is very important that we get it right.

“We are trying to portray all the positive aspects of the new space economy and hopefully light a small beacon of hope in these dark times, not just for the Shetland economy but Scotland and the UK in general.”

Shetland Space Centre secures investment from Wild Ventures Limited

The Shetland Space Centre is pleased to announce that it has secured a significant minority investment from Wild Ventures Limited.

It follows the UK Space Agency’s announcement last month that Lockheed Martin is transferring its satellite launch initiative to Unst to deliver long-term value for the industry and help establish a sustainable, commercial launch market as part of the UK’s spaceflight programme – LaunchUK.

Wild Ventures Limited is a sister company to Wildland Limited formed to facilitate direct investment into projects with potential long term economic benefits for Scotland’s rural areas.

Welcoming the investment, Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “They have done their diligence on the space economy and got to grips with their understanding of the industry and the commercial realities of the space sector.

“The Scottish Space Leadership Council and Scottish Spaceports Alliance are united in their belief that space is a force for good and that the technologies associated with the sector can be harnessed to support initiatives that protect the environment. 

“All the various facets associated with the space sector, such as sustainability, STEM, education, business start-up, research and development and innovation, are core to the Wild Ventures ethos and we are completely aligned in our vision as to how space science and nature can combine to create an exemplar.”

Wild Ventures Limited has looked at all the prospective Scottish spaceport sites and they believe that the Shetland location combined with its business model affords the best chance for sustainable success for Scotland and the UK.

Tim Kirkwood, for Wild Ventures Limited, said: “We have long been supportive of the idea that, if developed appropriately, the space industry can deliver great benefits for Scotland’s rural economy. What is needed is the right development in the right place.

“As a project involving an ex-RAF base, a brownfield site, a promising location, and now with backing from HIE, the UKSA and Lockheed Martin, it has become clear that Shetland Space Centre is a realistic investment prospect to be asked to be involved with.

“Even so, a planning application for a sensitive area has yet to be lodged and a high environmental bar will need to be thoroughly crossed. As a minority investor we look forward to watching its progress with interest.”

The Wild Ventures investment amounts to £1.43m.

Transfer of Lockheed Martin UKVL Pathfinder Programme to Unst

Shetland Space Centre today welcomed the announcement from the UK Space Agency that Lockheed Martin is transferring its satellite launch operations to Unst, creating hundreds of jobs.

UKSA said that the move from Sutherland followed a thorough process of due diligence and the project would deliver long-term value and help establish a sustainable, commercial launch market as part of the UK’s spaceflight programme – LaunchUK.

Shetland Space Centre anticipates that by 2024, the spaceport site could support a total of 605 jobs in Scotland including 140 locally and 210 across the wider Shetland region. A further 150 jobs will also be created through wider manufacturing and support services.

Lockheed Martin is in discussions with a preferred partner to provide launch services for its UK Pathfinder Launch, which would take place from Shetland Space Centre.

Frank Strang, CEO of SSC, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming Nik Smith and the Lockheed Martin team to Unst as we develop Shetland Space Centre.

“The UK is in a space race with other countries in Europe and beyond, such as Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, to supply payload space in a rapidly growing international market, and we intend to exploit our favourable geographical position to meet this demand.

“The benefits for Shetland, Scotland and the UK of Pathfinder and the additional launch projects that we are actively working on, in terms of skilled jobs, are evident.

“As well as launch, we aim to offer a full range of services, including telemetry, tracking and navigation, space situational awareness and data download and storage.

“We look forward to deepening our good relationship with Lockheed in the months and years ahead.

“This is a significant moment, and we intend to succeed in this new space race. The sky is no longer the limit.”

UK Government science minister Amanda Solloway said: “We want the UK to be the best place in Europe to launch satellites, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs.

The potential to have multiple spaceports in Scotland demonstrates the scale of our ambition, and I want to support industry by pressing ahead with our plans during this challenging time.

“This government is committed to backing our growing space sector, developing a comprehensive space strategy and supporting transformative technologies that will benefit people and businesses across the country.”

Ivan McKee, Scottish Government minister for trade, investment and innovation, said: “This is an extremely exciting time for the emerging space sector globally, and Scotland is situated at the very forefront of this.”

Nik Smith, UK country executive at Lockheed Martin, said: “The UK has a vibrant space sector, which can stimulate the national as well as regional economies. As a long-standing strategic partner to the UK, Lockheed Martin is committed to building on its proud heritage to support the UK government’s role of growing capabilities in space, exciting imagination and advancing the frontiers of science.

“From the outset our focus has been on realising the greatest economic benefit for the UK through the Spaceflight programme. The transfer of our UK spaceflight operations to Shetland will not only broaden launch options available in the UK, but also ensure the economic benefits of these endeavours are felt more widely.”

Brother and sister from Aith triumph in space art contest

The winners of Shetland Space Centre’s art contest, whose prize is a trip to Cape Canaveral in Florida, are a brother and sister from Aith.

Signe and Lockie Bullough, aged eight and 10, submitted a joint entry of a female astronaut with a puffin on top of her helmet and a rocket taking off in the background. The pair have an Unst connection as their mum, Lynn Ritch, is from the island.

Theirs was one of a remarkable 192 entries received, and the quality of the submissions was so high that the judges decided to award prizes to three children in three different age groups, five-seven, eight-11 and 12+. They will each receive a voucher for Mareel.

They were (five-seven): first Aly Work (aged seven), second Isla Somerville (six) and third Thea Tallack (six).

(Eight-11): first Levi Cogle (10), second Rashik Saravanan (10) and third Vaila Gunn (eight).

And 12+: first Prasheeta Saravanan (13), second Connie Dickie (16) and third Emma Henry (14).

SSC administrator Carol Duncan, who judged the entries along with SSC director of Shetland operations Yvette Hopkins, Graeme Howell, chief executive of Shetland Arts, and Unst artist Pat Cerasale, said: “It was a fantastic competition, with a really high standard of entry.

“Congratulations to Signe and Lockie, who will be heading off to Florida along with their mum and dad when the travel situation returns to normal.

“We will shortly be putting up a selection of the artworks on our website for all to see, as they deserve to be seen.”