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.”