Shetland Space Centre satellite launch plan gets £2m boost

Shetland Space Centre (SSC) has received a £2m cash boost to its plans to build “the UK’s only satellite launch site”.

The £2,050,000 investment from Leonne International, a global private equity firm, will be used to develop a proposed launch site and ground station at Saxa Vord, Unst.

The significant cash injection gives the firm a 20 per cent stake in the space centre business, which is aiming to have a satellite launch base and ground operations centre ready by late 2021.

This is a year later than SSC’s original intention to have “a fully functioning satellite launch facility in place by 2020”.

Saxa Vord was identified as the best place in the UK to launch small satellites into space in an independent report released in 2017, commissioned for the UK Space Agency (UKSA), with other Scottish locations in Sutherland and the Western Isles also considered.

While SSC has announced it plans to build the UK’s only satellite launch site, UKSA said there is potential for multiple vertical launch sites in Scotland.

UKSA said: “We support the ambitions of all potential spaceport sites and welcome Shetland’s partnership with Leonne International.

“The potential to have multiple vertical launch sites in Scotland demonstrates the health of the UK’s vibrant space sector and puts the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading launch destination.”

Separately, UKSA announced in 2018 it would back Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) proposals for a Sutherland vertical launch site, with millions poured into that project by UKSA and HIE. The Space Hub Sutherland planning application was published by the Highland Council this month.

UKSA has not invested anything in Shetland Space Centre, with private investment instead being used to fund the proposed development.

SSC chief executive Frank Strang said the centre was “delighted” to have the private equity firm as a partner in the venture, which he claimed would help realise “the benefits of space exploration for the UK, and for Shetland’s economy: bringing jobs, revitalising the economy, attracting visitors and establishing Shetland as a northern hub supporting vertical launch and ground station activity.”

“Importantly, the investment enables us to proceed with the first stages of gaining the necessary permissions and licences required to operate the facility and get on with building our launch site and ground station.”

Shetland Space Centre, which is registered in the Highland town Grantown-On-Spey, does not anticipate any major environmental issues in the development of the site on Unst. The company intends to build a “green space centre”.

Michael Haston dubbed “The Scottish Wonder Kid” online, is chief executive at Leonne International.

He said: “We are always excited to partner with firms which exhibit ambition, innovation and excitement, and Shetland Space Centre exceeds this criteria with the plans they have in place for their satellite launch programme.

 “With the help of the SSC, Shetland’s space economy is unique and will inevitably become a very valuable asset to the UK.”

Todd Rupert, an adviser to Leonne International and part of its management team, is also a director at the space centre.


Add Your Comment
  • James J Paton

    • February 19th, 2020 11:01

    Can anyone advise if the launch station itself would then become an ‘earth station’ for receipt of transponder communications and a potential hub for improved Shetland web/ internet communications? ( Short-span microwave dishes, rather than would fibre-opitic cable, across Shetland would then be required to spread the enhanced broadband capability I assume?)

    It is of course not automatically the case that the launch sure would be s communications reception site, as the eventual satellites could end up in any geo-stationary or orbiting position in relation to the satellite owner’s intended business use.

    All of this of course may be commercially sensitive, but aware of ongoing broadband/ signal limitations across Shetland on my recent trip home.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • February 19th, 2020 11:41

    This is a surprise! If nothing else it Kills the lie all will be lost if we leave the EU. A £2 million investment and no scaremonger nor remoaner in sight.

  • Stuart Hannay

    • February 20th, 2020 12:00

    Perhaps we could use this facility to negotiate an economic deal with the rest of the universe following our departure from the EU? I don’t feel this is unrealistic- the Conservative go are already holding up the non-existent ‘Australian Model’ as a potential framework.

    • Graham Fleming

      • February 21st, 2020 21:18

      Or enter the Klingon free trade area(whether we like it or not),along with a new fish deal wi the penguins o Tristan da cunha,kinte, it is all getting a bit daily Expressive, we will be experiencing a polar vortex for the next ten years, (anything to hide the oncoming Brexit recession ,)Beam us up Spock,affirmative, we are leaving the E.U safety zone,Captain!Klingons or Tories are on the starboard bow.Is that Davros ?,oh no its Thatcher rejuvenated.

  • George Kippets

    • February 22nd, 2020 13:23

    Since the former RAF Skaw radar station is a listed site, how does Shetland Space Centre expect to get planning permission?


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