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UK gives green light to rocket launches from its first spaceport on a remote Scottish island

Situated about halfway between Norway and the Faroe Islands, Unst is Britain’s more northerly inhabited island according to Scottish tourist authorities.
Situated about halfway between Norway and the Faroe Islands, Unst is Britain’s more northerly inhabited island according to Scottish tourist authorities. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Roselyne Min with AP
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The spaceport's operators say up to 30 rockets can be launched from the island of Unst each year, with the first launches planned for 2024.

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The UK has solidified its place in the European space race with the licensing of its first spaceport on a remote Scottish island.

The country attempted to launch a rocket horizontally from a spaceport in Cornwall on the British mainland in January but its bid failed.

Putting its recent setbacks behind, the UK is now steering its ambitions toward regular space launches with the UK's Civil Aviation Authority granting a license to a spaceport at SaxaVord on the island of Unst.

Situated in the Shetland archipelago about halfway between Norway and the Faroe Islands, Unst is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island.

"It puts the UK right at the head of the European space race and it shows the world that the UK is very serious about the space economy," said Frank Strang, the Chief Executive of SaxaVord.

"It’s about inward investment, all of our clients are international, it’s about the supply chain, education, it’s huge, it’s massive and the next year is going to be pretty pivotal in where the UK stands in the global space industry".

30 rocket launches a year

SaxaVord is expected to become the country’s first spaceport which allows rockets to take off vertically.

Most traditional rocket launches are vertical; horizontal launch, on the other hand, involves a carrier aircraft that takes the rocket to a high altitude before releasing it. Once released, the engine of the rocket ignites and ascends into space.

Officials say up to 30 rockets can be launched from SaxaVord each year, with the first launches planned for 2024.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK plans to expand its presence in the space industry.

"This launch activity is really important but only one part of the UK’s sort of space heritage and capability. The UK’s got a fantastic track record over many decades of designing and manufacturing satellites," said Tim Johnson, the policy director of the Civil Aviation Authority.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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