Unst identified as suitable for satellite launches

Unst could play a part in the space programme after being identified as suitable for satellite launches.

A new company has been formed to drive forward the development in what is being hailed as a potentially major new sector.

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 Highlands and Islands Enterprise, 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 company director Frank Strang.

“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 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.

Chairman of the council’s development committee, Alastair Cooper, said: “This is potentially very exciting news for Unst, and for Shetland as a whole. If the bid is successful, the project could have significant and welcome implications for the local and Shetland economy.

“Obviously there is a lot of work ahead for Shetland Space Centre Ltd and in a relatively short period of time, but the council will do what it can to support the project bid and the local community as this process goes forward.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott added: “Unst is the best geographic location for satellite launches in the UK. So this should be a new and exciting industry for Shetland. I have spoken to Scottish government ministers in supporting Unst. To win the bid we need the Scottish government and its main agency HIE to be 100 per cent behind Unst. As Unst is the location that industry wants, that should be straight forward.

“The Ministry of Defence reinstating the radar at Saxavord is a game changer in Unst being the place for satellite launches. The radar means that industry can track the launches. No other site in Scotland can offer this service. So there are huge advantages to the Unst case. I will be working with all the parties concerned to make sure Unst wins this work.

“The island has had some hard knocks and this would be a huge fill up both for local people but also the wider Shetland economy.”


Add Your Comment
  • Allen Fraser

    • November 14th, 2017 11:22

    Unlikely to happen unless there is a massive change in suitable rocket launch meteorological conditions. Assuming that they can get permission to launch rockets into the great circle aircraft polar flight path, highly variable weather conditions over Shetland will make this project a non-starter.
    It is extremely unlikely that there will 8 weather suitable launch days a year in Shetland especially as launches have to be planned weeks ahead and delay costs vast amounts of money.

    • john oakes

      • November 14th, 2017 13:21

      Just curious I thought Hermaness bird site with the nesting period would hinder most extreme noise projects like these. Plus what are the concerns if any unfortunate explosion on the launch pad that might happen. More power to Unst community elbow if the do get the old hill moving once more. Also wasn’t there an article recently mentioning RAF Saxa Vord reopening.
      Ex-RAF Saxavordian 88-89

  • Bill Adams

    • November 14th, 2017 13:20

    I had to check the calendar to make sure it is not April 1st.
    Good idea for an Up-Helly -Aa skit tho.

  • Bartek Chalas

    • November 14th, 2017 14:12

    Well – but if they think to use only small satellites – I mean few kgs, so u don’t need rackets to shoot them, u could use kind of cannon and shoot satellites as a cannonball… ergo weather is still important but not decidable.

  • Spence Jamieson

    • November 17th, 2017 20:46

    One has to hope that Unst is not strangled with space race ambitions.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.