Shetland’s plans to host UK’s first vertical satellite launch achieve ‘significant milestone’

Plans to for the UK’s first ever satellite launch to blast off from Shetland have achieved a “significant milestone” after new details of the rocket were confirmed.

Lockheed Martin announced today (Monday) that ABL would be its launch provider for the Pathfinder programme, which is set to take place at Shetland Space Centre.

It follows LM’s announcement in October that it was transferring launch operations for the project to SSC, potentially creating hundreds of jobs.

Today’s announcement completes the Pathfinder programme team.

SSC’s chief executive Frank Strang welcomed it as a “significant milestone” on the road towards the launch, which is is planned to be the UK’s first.

The addition of Californian developer ABL to the team has also offered new insights into what the launch will look like when it blasts off sometime in 2022.

On launch day, ABL’s RS1 rocket is intended to lift off from SSC’s launchpad in Unst, before deploying up to six miniaturised satellites for space research.

LM’s regional director Nik Smith said: “The world class capability that ABL Space Systems brings will allow us to build on our long-standing partnership with the UK and strengthen the growth of the UK’s space sector, aligned to the UK Government’s prosperity and industrial strategy.”

Harry O’Hanley, co-founder and chief executive of ABL Space Systems said the company was s proud to partner with Lockheed Martin on the programme. 

“We’re thrilled at the opportunity to bring our system to Shetland’s launch site and execute this ground-breaking mission with our partners,” he added.

The UK Space Agency, which confirmed LM’s plans to move its programme to Shetland in October has also welcomed the news.

UKSA’s deputy chief executive Ian Annett said: “We want the UK to be the first in Europe to launch small satellites into orbit, attracting innovative businesses from all over the world, accelerating the development of new technologies and creating hundreds of high-skilled jobs across the whole of the UK.

“Lockheed Martin’s selection of ABL Space Systems for their UK Pathfinder launch brings us one step closer to realising this ambition – putting the UK firmly on the map as Europe’s leading small satellite launch destination.

“In this challenging time, it’s more important than ever that we support technologies that will help create jobs and economic growth, enabling people and businesses across the country to benefit from the commercial opportunities offered by the UK’s growing space sector and the many firms throughout its supply chain.”

SSC anticipates that by 2024 the spaceport site could support 605 jobs in Scotland including 140 locally and 210 across the wider Shetland region.

SSC submitted planning proposals for the launch facility last month, however it is awaiting approval and confirmation of other necessary licences.

Mr Strang said: “We look forward to working closely with LM and ABL on delivery in Shetland of this vitally important mission for the continued growth of the space sector in the UK.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said the announcement was a welcome step in Shetland’s journey to being a spaceport.

“The isles are in an ideal geographical position for rocket launches, and the spaceport should have a long-term positive impact on Shetland’s economy,” she said. 


Add Your Comment
  • Charles Tully

    • February 8th, 2021 13:01

    Is there a reason the Union Flag is upside down?

  • John M Scott

    • February 8th, 2021 15:20

    The Union Jack is upside down. Doesn’t bode well if they can’t get that right!


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