Shetland is on the cusp of a major boost with UK government approval of an isles spaceport in Unst – a “tremendous” move which could lead to the creation of hundreds of new jobs in the fledgling sector.
It follows the approval of plans by American aerospace company Lockheed Martin to develop UK launch operations from the isle.
By 2024, the spaceport site could support 140 jobs in Unst alone, as well as another 210 jobs across the isles.
A further 150 jobs are also being pledged to wider manufacturing and support services.
Over 600 jobs are expected across Scotland.
It offers a bright glimmer of hope for the isles economy still bruised by the effect of coronavirus.
The UK Space Agency (UKSA) sees Lockheed Martin’s plans to locate its UK Pathfinder Launch at the Lamba Ness site as key to helping establish a “sustainable launch market” as part of the UK spaceflight programme, LaunchUK.
It comes after Shetland Space Centre’s (SSC) operations director Scott Hammond spoke of “major announcements” due to be made in last week’s Shetland Times.
Lockheed Martin is in discussions with a preferred partner to provide launch services.
SSC are expected to submit their formal planning application later this year. Its chief executive Frank Strang said he was “absolutely delighted” to be welcoming Lockheed Martin to the isles.
Leader of Shetland Islands Council Steven Coutts said: “This is tremendous news for Unst, and for Shetland, and puts the isles in the forefront of this growing global industry.
“The opportunities this potentially provides, both in terms of direct employment and in increased and diversified economic activity across the isles, are very welcome.”
Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart added: “Congratulations to all the team who have worked hard to bring this new industry to Shetland.
“The isles are in an ideal geographical position for rocket launches. Unst is at the top of the UK and ready to fly high.”
Her Westminster counterpart, isles MP Alistair Carmichael said it was good news for Unst, Shetland and the UK space industry.
“After a challenging year the prospect of new, high-quality jobs in the isles has to be welcomed and is a confirmation of the faith that those behind Shetland Spaceport have put in its location. I hope it will be just the first of many such developments.”