UK’s most northerly island identified as perfect for satellite launches

Unst has been identified as the best location in the UK for satellite launches, and a local company has been formed to drive forward development in a potentially major new sector of the Shetland economy.

The Shetland Space Centre Ltd has already had expressions of interest from commercial firms and the military.

The company was created after it emerged that a report commissioned by the UK Space Agency had singled out Saxa Vord as the preferred site for satellite launches.

The SCEPTRE report, part-funded by HIE, states: “The site offering the maximum payload mass to orbit is Saxavord in the Shetlands [sic], from where direct launch is possible to both SSO [Sun-Synchronous] and Polar orbits.”

Regulations dictate that spacecraft do not fly over populated areas, and due north of Unst would give satellite launchers a clear, unobstructed route into orbit, while other sites under discussion would require dog-leg turns, restricting payload size.

“From the report and our discussions with experts in the field, it is clear that the former Ministry of Defence aerial farm north of Saxa Vord hill, or the old MoD site at Lamba Ness, would be ideal for satellite launches,” said Frank Strang, director of The Shetland Space Centre.

“That, and the fact that we have had an amazing amount of interest from commercial firms and the military, suggests that there is tremendous potential for Unst and Shetland to become part of a fast-growing, £13.7 billion sector of the UK economy that supports more than 6,000 jobs in Scotland alone.

“It’s exciting, but this is a long game and we will be working together with Shetland Islands Council, the UK Space Agency and other stakeholders to progress our plans.

“We all know that Shetland has fantastic infrastructure and transport links, lots of very able people and a track record second to none in innovating to support industry.

“Key decision makers are recognising that, and it’s important that we all work together in Shetland to deliver tangible benefits across the islands.”

Together with business colleague and former RAF fighter pilot Scott Hammond, Mr Strang has set out to and received support from Shetland Islands Council and Unst Community Council for the company’s early proposals.

These include Shetland Space Centre Ltd becoming the operator of a launch facility and the provision of accommodation, amenities and additional space for companies and other organisations using the facility.